The outlook for Donald Trump is not good, and getting grimmer by the day. As a Tuesday Washington Post headline blared: “Donald Trump Needs a Miracle to Win.” Since the conventions, and thanks to some disastrous missteps, the slim margin between Trump and Hillary Clinton has widened to a nearly 10-point chasm. As a result, even red states like Georgia and South Carolina — South Carolina! — are now in play for Clinton. The Palmetto State hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1976.
Could Trump clean it all up before November? Sure — if he became a totally different person. And if anyone’s capable of shape-shifting, it’s politically promiscuous Trump.
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But short of a metamorphosis, Trump is likely to be trounced, which many anti-Trumpers have been promising for months. See, for those of us on the right who denounced Trump early, it wasn’t just that his campaign and policies were repugnant — it was that his anti-“everyone else” rhetoric was going to make it impossible for him to win in an “everyone else” general election. And as the general bears out, it’s not too early to say, told ya so.
But the emergence of an unknown independent nominee at the not quite 11th hour may seem foolish and desperate. The #NeverTrump movement has unequivocally lost — he is the Republican nominee and, despite the grave numbers, could conceivably become the president of the United States. But Evan McMullin’s bid for the presidency, announced to a chorus of “who?”s on Monday, isn’t as crazy as it may seem.
You may remember — but definitely do not — an earlier attempt by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol to recruit National Review writer David French to run for president, an effort that lasted less than a week. If it’s possible, McMullin is maybe even less well known, a former CIA official and Capitol Hill staffer without even the backing of his own former employer: “The House Republican Conference has zero knowledge of his intentions,” said spokesman Nate Hodson.
Still, a Republican House member I spoke with Monday, who knows McMullin, said “he’s the real deal — but the next 72 hours will be critical.”
That’s because, like French’s, McMullin’s bid will be summarily dismissed by Republicans and Democrats alike. And for good reason — the odds of him becoming the next president are worse than slim.
But that’s not the only goal of the McMullin campaign, and here’s what he has that French and other would-be saviors do not: Utah.
The Beehive State? I know what you’re thinking — who cares about Utah? And why should Trump be worried about it? Utah has voted Republican every year since 1964.
Here’s why: a June poll has Clinton trailing Trump by just three points there. That’s jaw-dropping. And it means that if Clinton manages to win Utah’s six electoral votes, Trump could win Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio and still lose the election.
Born in Provo, a graduate of Brigham Young University and a Mormon, McMullin comes with a solid Utah resume. He’s reportedly backed by a group called Better for America, which in turn is backed by John Kingston, a former donor to Mitt Romney. If McMullin can wrangle the support of Romney, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — who has thus far refused to endorse Trump — it’s possible he could mount a significant enough anti-Trump campaign, that lives solely within the Utah borders, and tip the election for Hillary.
To be clear, McMullin, undoubtedly, does not want to help Hillary Clinton get elected. He does want to keep Trump from getting elected, however, and if one is the consequence of the other, he can presumably live with that. And for many anti-Trumpers, his is also a project to give them a respectable, conservative option to vote for.
Imagine it: an unknown latecomer — from Utah, of all places — could hold the key to ending Trump’s implausible White House bid.
I’m still confident that Trump himself holds that key. His inane comments about nuclear weapons, NATO and Russia have just earned him the condemnation of 50 national security experts who find him dangerous and unqualified to be President. Because, of course.
But if this race tightens over the next three months, it’s conceivable Evan McMullin could become the most significant spoiler in election history.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
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