An interview with presidential candidate Evan McMullin on why Evangelicals should not vote for the lesser of two evils
Independent candidate invites people of all faiths to join a new conservative movement
During the primaries, we ran interviews with the candidates. We asked every major party candidate, and several national candidates agreed [Faith of the Candidates]. Then, we asked Evangelical leaders to write about their support for candidates, including Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, and McMullin.
When we did the endorsement series, one of the articles was overwhelmingly more widely shared than any other. It was for a little-known candidate named Evan McMullin. McMullin’s platform is like most Republicans of the last few decades [pdf]. He calls himself the “true conservative.” And his plan is to throw the election into the House and he may, indeed, be the first third party candidate to win Electoral College votes in decades.
I’ve heard his name mentioned among many Evangelicals, so when Evan reached out, I was glad to interview him.
Ed: What is going on in Utah? People of faith, Mormons, have bucked a decades-long Republican trend and you may be the first independent candidate to win a state in decades. What’s going on?
Evan: I think a lot of people have this traditional understanding of Utah as a red state. That’s what they say, associating it with the Republican party, but I think in order to understand the state, you need to go even deeper than that. Utah is what I call a principled conservative state. This is a place where they are very much committed to the fundamental ideals enshrined in our founding documents—the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I’m not saying that others aren’t, but it is a part of what this state is about.
There are other things as well. People in Utah care about their fellow man and fellow woman. They have experienced some degree of persecution historically in this country, so they’re sympathetic to other minorities, whether religious or otherwise, who might experience some kind of persecution. They see it and feel that they must stand up to it, because if they don’t, then they might be next and just because they feel it’s the right thing to do.
There are a lot of people who are very kind and decent and charitable in these parts, and when Donald Trump campaigns, he has a bit of a different style, and all of that combined just rubs people the wrong way.
Ed: What you’ve described is Mormons rejecting the tone. What would you say to Evangelicals who statistically don’t seem to be rejecting Trump in the same way?
Evan: In the case of Donald Trump, he’s somebody who does not embrace the truth that all men and women are created equal. If you’re a person of faith—and I think many faiths share this perspective, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition—we have the idea that we all have a God, a Heavenly Father, and we are made in His image and He loves all equally. If that’s the case, then we must all be equal. We are firmly committed to that and we see Donald Trump attacking people based on their race, religion, or gender, and we feel fundamentally that this is in opposition to natural law or the truth.
This, at a very fundamental level, drives what we’re doing. That’s why I call people of all faiths to join us in this cause. I think a lot of us feel that religious liberty is under threat and we feel that coming from the Democrats. Many of those who are supporting us have felt that coming from Donald Trump as well.
We believe that we need a new conservative movement in this country that will defend a range of liberties, but first among them being religious liberty, so that’s what we’re standing up to do. We invite people of all faiths to join us. I think we’re at a time in our history when we need to get over, to a degree, our differences.
We’re all going to have our own faiths or no faith at all, and it’s wonderful that we live in a country where we have that freedom. Sometimes, however, we tend to be divided in a way that weakens the opposition to encroachments on religious liberty. It’s time for us to unite.
Ed: I think the religious liberty question is where a lot of Evangelicals—and I can’t speak for all of them—feel they have to support Donald Trump for Supreme Court nominees. Evangelical votes have coalesced around, in part, this religious liberty concern. So what do you say to people who say, “A vote for Evan McMullin is a vote ultimately for Hillary Clinton?”
Evan: It’s something we hear a lot. It’s in combination with the wasted vote idea. It’s a wasted vote to vote for a third-party candidate. We also hear that you just need to choose the lesser of two evils. There’s so many things to say about that. Some of them are deeply spiritual in my view—we must act for good; in our actions, we must align ourselves and promote good. That’s a vote-your-conscious argument, but I think it has real practical implications for our country.
I think one should always vote for the candidate he or she really wants to see in office. If you do that and your candidate doesn’t win, that’s okay. Your vote has still been registered and you’re sending a message to the government, in this case to Washington, about what kind of leader you’d like to see. For example, if Hillary Clinton wins, but she just barely, it sends a different message. If Donald Trump wins, but he just barely, it sends a message. We have to understand that if we continually cast our votes for people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we are going to continually get leaders like them.
If we cast our vote for a third party and our third party doesn’t win, we’ve still sent a message to whoever did win. We are saying that there are people who are not just going to come along. I think a wasted vote is truly a vote that you make for a candidate who hasn’t earned your vote and who doesn’t support what you believe in. If you’re willing to vote for somebody who doesn’t represent what you believe in and who isn’t going to try to earn your vote, especially because you’ve given them your vote without them having earned it, then you can count on not having much influence over them.
That’s the situation I think we all, as Americans, find ourselves in. We’ve gotten into this rut of believing we can only vote for the Republicans or the Democrats. They’ve benefited greatly from that, but I don’t think we have. We see that in what I believe is a leadership crisis in our country.
Ed: Is it better, in your mind, to vote for Evan McMullin on principle—to make a point, to take a stand—and to have Hillary Clinton win? Or is it better not to do that and have Donald Trump possibly win?
Evan: If we constantly accept that we must choose a lesser of two evils, I think a lot of us agree that Hillary Clinton does not represent a positive way forward for our country. And of course, many believe the same thing about Donald Trump—and I’m one of them. If we continue to choose between the lesser of two evils, we will only get evil options, so to speak, in our candidates.
A lot of people ask that question, and my perspective on it is that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are big government liberals who will encroach upon our liberties. Donald Trump has long shared the same positions as Hillary Clinton. This is a man who, for 30 years, was pro-choice and even spoke publicly about his support for partial birth abortion rights. This is someone who, even in the Republican primary, defended Planned Parenthood. This is a man who was opposed to the second amendment before running. He was in favor of single payer healthcare.
This is who he’s been for 30 years, and then all of a sudden he changed his positions as he was running for President. I think we have to be honest with ourselves. This is a salesman. I think Donald Trump is not a man we can trust. I think we cannot trust him to appoint conservative justices. He needed a list from The Federalist to prove that he would do that in order to appease conservatives. At the same time he said that his sister, who is a very liberal pro-choice judge, would make a great justice on the Supreme Court.
He’s also proposed a range of policies that are clear violations of the Constitution and of our core values. So whether it’s a nationwide stop and frisk plan that would target African Americans, a religious test for entering the country, or restrictions on the press and a violation of the first amendment, all of these things are clear violations of the Constitution.
When I was in the House of Representatives as the Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference, Donald Trump visited us and one of our members stood up and asked him about his commitment to the Constitution. He actually interrupted her and went on and on about how committed he was to the Constitution, even to parts that don’t even exist.
This is somebody who doesn’t know the Constitution. The policies he’s proposed have been direct violations of the Constitution. I believe that even if we had a court stacked with originalists and conservatives who would enforce the Constitution, over our executive branch (which has become way too powerful) Donald Trump would run right over the court and its authority.
This is something people aren’t used to thinking about, because they haven’t lived and experienced authoritarians. But I served with the CIA and did experience them and lived under them overseas, I know what they’re like. I can identify them quite easily.
Donald Trump, I believe, is cut from the same cloth. It’s a bigger problem than I think most people realize; he is a true authoritarian who would run right over the court. The court doesn’t have its own army; it can’t execute anything. The court only has the power that the rest of the government respects it to have in accordance with the Constitution, but if you’ve got an executive branch as powerful as ours is, with a President like I believe Donald Trump would be, I believe he would run right over the courts. It would be a new day in America—and not a positive way.
Ed: When I read your platform positions, I could be reading some of the conservative Republicans of a couple of decades ago, but has that Republican party left those values? Are you trying to restore that? What happens after this election if you get traction for this new conservative movement?
Evan: What you’re referring to, I think, is a compassionate side of conservatism. That, by the way, is what I believe real conservatism is. That’s why we’re so eager to welcome people of all faiths to the movement, because we’ve got to care about our fellow man and woman.
This means criminal justice reform, reforming our anti-poverty program so that they actually help people out of poverty, not just help them survive it. It means education reform, so that especially people in our minority communities can have better educational opportunities so that we can break the generational challenges that many of our minority communities struggle under. I’m talking about using the fundamental ideal of liberty as we reform criminal justice. The same thing for education. The same thing for anti-poverty programs.
We haven’t done this as Republicans for some time, and I think we need to. This is the right thing to do by our faith, by many faiths, and it’s the best thing for our country. We can prosper most when we do that.
Yes, we believe that this is true conservatism. This is what we’re advancing and we believe that it’s a key, by the way, to bringing other people into the conservative movement. We’ve spent time talking to African American Evangelicals in Atlanta and Muslims in Michigan and Hispanics all over the place. A lot of these people are actually conservatives, but they just haven’t felt welcome for one reason or another, especially under Donald Trump’s leadership of the Republican party. They know the Constitution better than a lot of people in the party.
I think that there’s a great opportunity to not compromise what we believe, but bring the value of what we believe to other people, to show them that we love them and respect them regardless of the color of their skin or their gender or their faith, and bring them into our movement.
Ed: Let me ask one last question. This interview is hosted at Christianity Today, the evangelical flagship magazine. How would you invite Evangelicals to cast a very long shot vote?
Evan: Those of us who believe in God, who believe that religious liberty is important, must take a stand for what is good and against what we know is not. If we will not do this, then we will never have the kind of leaders we need in this country.
The kind of leaders we’re being offered in this campaign from the two major parties do not rise to the challenges we face in this country. They cannot unify us. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are dividing us by attacking the reality that we are all created equal and have a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We need to stand up for these principles, because just as they were key to the founding of this great country, they are absolutely vital to our future. I fear that if people of faith will not stand for equality and liberty, no one else will. We must do it, and I invite all to join this cause.
This story originally appeared on Christianity Today.