Evan McMullin’s Presidential Campaign Not Going So Well

The "independent conservative" running for President is finding it hard to even get on the ballot.

Evan McMullin

Evan McMullin, the ‘independent conservative’ who is being backed by a group of Republican activists and pundits opposed to the candidacy of Donald Trump, is hitting some bumps in the road in what was already a quixotic bid to become a viable Presidential candidate:

Better for America, the group that attempted to entice a #NeverTrump candidate into the presidential race by promising him mass ballot access, has folded after falling short.

“While polling continues to show that the electorate is dissatisfied with both candidates, and believes the country to be on the wrong track, the opportunity for BFA to influence this election cycle has diminished over the summer months, and BFA will therefore end its candidate recruitment and ballot access efforts,” the group explained in a statement.

Launched only after Donald Trump began winning primaries, Better for America did not even play in as many states as 2012’s star-crossed (but well-funded) Americans Elect. But while Americans Elect never found a candidate, Better for America seemed primed for one: Evan McMullin, the former House Republican policy aide now running to give anti-Trump voters a choice.

As The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin first reported, McMullin was nudged into the race after Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) passed on a bid. Kinzinger introduced McMullin to Bill Kristol, who introduced him to John Kingston, who had founded Better for America. It wasn’t the only connection McMullin made, but it suggested that ballot access might not be as big a hurdle as it seemed.

Without Better for America, McMullin’s hurdles are towering, and vaulting over them will require a mixture of legal luck, third-party goodwill or a sudden surge of support. As of Tuesday afternoon, he had made the ballot in four states: Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and Utah. Each success earned McMullin national headlines.

They obscured a running debacle for his campaign. As of Tuesday, McMcMullin had missed the deadlines for ballot access in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Combined, those states offer 390 electoral votes, meaning that McMullin is at the moment mathematically eliminated from any shot at the presidency.His team did not see it that way. “We have not exhausted all of our ballot access methodologies yet,” McMullin strategist Rick Wilson said in a short interview. “We’re suing in Texas, and we’re told by legal experts that legal victory in one state could have effects in other states.”

Wilson was referring to the case against the Lone Star State’s uniquely onerous ballot rules, which require independent candidates to hand in tens of thousands of signatures by early May — and disallow any signatures from people who voted in party primaries. But McMullin was hoping for better luck than Ralph Nader, who sued the state over those requirements in 2004 and lost. A district court judge ruled that the ballot requirement was not too onerous, based on a misreading of the law. McMullin, who began his legal challenge months later than Nader, is left hoping for a more careful and generous judge.

The other “ballot access methodology” available to McMullin is support from minor parties that already have ballot access, or organizations, in states. “They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Wilson said. Obscure parties like Hawaii’s American Shopping Party and Florida’s Independent Party have time to dump their candidates and give their nominations to McMullin. In one state, Minnesota, that’s already happened — the Independence Party, which grew out of the old Reform Party, is petitioning for McMullin.

But a memo from the McMullin campaign, first reported by ABC News and then analyzed by Richard Winger, suggests that very few states can bail the campaign out. While the campaign suggested access was winnable in Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and South Carolina, the third parties in Delaware and New York have endorsed Trump for president. If he does not win any ballot access lawsuits, McMullin may climb back on in just three of the states where he has missed the independent deadline: Florida, Hawaii and South Carolina

To put things in perspective, so far McMullin has ballot access in states totaling 23 Electoral Votes. If he’s successful in Minnesota, where as noted above the Independence Party has agreed to give him their nomination but where he still needs to successfully petition for ballot access, and in the remaining states where it’s possible for him to get on the ballot without resorting to litigation, he would be on the ballot in states totaling 190 Electoral Votes. As for the litigation strategy, reality has taught us that these efforts to rewrite ballot access laws after the fact through the courts have generally not been successful. Typically, the Courts have ruled that the campaigns arguments regarding the difficulties that third-party and independent candidates face compared to major party candidates are barred because they were filed too late in the process and that, by waiting so long the Plaintiffs have waived their right to challenge the requirements at a later date. This was the argument that the Court that rejected the arguments of several Republican candidates who missed the ballot access requirements in Virginia for the 2012 primary based its ruling on, for example, and that ruling was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Additionally, the Courts have generally been rather deferential toward the states when it comes to ballot access laws notwithstanding the fact that those laws usually make it harder for independent and third-party candidates to get on the ballot. Finally, like ballot access drives themselves, lawsuits such as these cost money and divert the campaign from actual organizing. Given all of that, it’s not surprising that McMullin’s campaign doesn’t seem to be going much of anywhere even though he seems to have developed a strong presence on social media.

None of this should be surprising, of course. By the time the anti-Trump activists behind his bid settled on McMullin as their candidate after being turned down by established Republican politicians such as Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse among others, it was clear that far too much time had passed for a viable campaign to be launched. At best, all that McMullin can hope to do at this point is play the role of a spoiler in some red states and, along with Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, garner enough votes to deny Trump a victory in states that Republicans would otherwise win easily, such as Utah. If that was the goal of the group behind McMullin, though, it’s unclear why someone inclined to support their goal shouldn’t just throw their support behind Gary Johnson, who is already on the ballot in all 50 states and polling in the high single and low double digits to the point where there is now serious talk about the possibility of including him in the Presidential debates that begin next month. That isn’t going to happen for McMullin. Indeed, it will be surprising if McMullin manages to poll higher than Jill Stein in a single national poll between now and Election Day, or if he manages to show evidence in any statewide polling in states where he has made the ballot. Perhaps things would be different if he’d started this effort much, much earlier, but that’s water under the bridge at this point. As thing stand, though, the backers of Mullin’s campaign would seem to me to have a better chance of having an impact on the race if they joined those Republicans who have endorsed the Johnson/Weld ticket. Instead, we’re getting another quixotic effort to “Stop Trump” that amounts to too little, too late.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Getting behind Johnson/Weld only empowers the Libertarian Party at the expense of the Republican Party, and BFA is really more about protecting people’s position within the Republican hierarchy than it is about getting someone elected President.

  2. SKI says:

    I’m pretty sure what he is running isn’t an actual campaign. It is a spleen-venting exercise for frustrated educated Republican partisans.

  3. Mu says:

    The thing that make it clear someone is losing to the windmills was when they reported that the McMullin campaign failed to get him on the ballot in Tennessee, something requiring less than 300 signatures. If you can’t get 300 signatures in any state you’re not running a serious operation.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    While his bid was always, indeed, quixotic, he’s on the ballot in Colorado and Utah, and hasn’t been precluded from Idaho. If he gives conservative Mormons a tasty alternative to Trump, he further locks in Colorado for Hillary, opens up the possibility of a truly contested Utah, and maybe….maybe…could make a go of it in Idaho (about 1/3rd of their population is Mormon).

    So he’s playing an important role, even if he’s never going to sit in the Oval Office.

  5. Hal_10000 says:

    The purpose of the McMullin campaign is not to make any difference: it’s to convince the establishment wing of the GOP that they still have some power over the masses.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Evan McMullin’s Presidential Campaign Not Going So Well

    In other news water is wet.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: It’s also probably because everyone says: “Evan WHO?!!”

    When nobody knows you exist, it’s a little hard to run a Presidential campaign that was started 1 year too late anyway.

  8. Kylopod says:

    When you look at the history of third-party candidates who have made any splash at all in presidential elections, one glaring fact stands out: most have been current or former elected office-holders (Teddy Roosevelt, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, John Anderson), and those who weren’t (Ross Perot, Ralph Nader) were still individuals with high name recognition and a certain cult following long before they entered the race. McMullin is neither of those things, and he’s running while there’s another third-party candidate who does have elected experience, is much better known, and is playing to many of the same voters (anti-Trump Republicans). In theory I can see the logic to the idea that he could prove appealing to Mormons in Utah, as well as to other socially conservative voters who aren’t enamored by Trump, but he’s probably entered the race far too late to take advantage of this potential, and is likely to be drowned out by the media coverage toward Johnson, not to mention Clinton and Trump.

  9. al-Alameda says:

    Evan McMullin, the ‘independent conservative’ who is being backed by a group of Republican activists and pundits opposed to the candidacy of Donald Trump

    Frankly, Evan McMullin is catastrophic insurance, and it seems to me that Republicans did not purchase enough coverage.

  10. Thor thormussen says:

    Trump is the essence of the modern republican. Angry, old, loud, white, racist, dumb but think they’re superior, don’t give a shit about poor people, don’t want to pay their share, don’t know/care/admit how much free shit they got, think they earned it….

    There’s no enthusiasm for another candidate because trump covers all the major GOP bases.

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’m not trying to be cute to make a point. My legit first reaction to seeing this article on the main page was “Who?”

    So, yeah. Good luck with that.

  12. Pete S says:

    If I have been reading correctly the Republican establishment does not believe that he won the primary because the party has been cultivating a racist base for years and in 2016 the rent on that decision came due. Instead they believe he won by sneaking through an overcrowded field. Stupid belief but they seem sincere.

    So in that case why do the never Trumpers think the best way to stop him now is to overcrowded the presidential ballot? How many times did these morons burn their fingers on hot stoves as kids? At least they seem about as competent and organized as they are smart, so McMullan won’t be on too many ballots.

  13. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:..My legit first reaction to seeing this article on the main page was “Who?”

    The well informed citizen reads OTB every day!

  14. Mr. Bluster says:

    …in what was already a quixotic bid to become a viable Presidential candidate:..

    Maybe Evan is counting “undercover voters” to carry the day!
    I don’t know who is having the more hallucinogenic visions (however you measure those kinds of things), this guy or Kellyanne!

    Trump campaign manager: The polls are wrong because we have ‘undercover Trump voters’

  15. Gustopher says:

    @Pete S:

    If I have been reading correctly the Republican establishment does not believe that he won the primary because the party has been cultivating a racist base for years and in 2016 the rent on that decision came due. Instead they believe he won by sneaking through an overcrowded field. Stupid belief but they seem sincere.

    It’s really kind of both, though. The establishment candidate sucked (sorry, Jeb(!), but you really failed at not sucking), and the “conservative” vote was split 15 ways (whatever definition of conservative includes radicals like Cruz).

    I think there’s a lot less of a “conservative” vote in the Republican Party than a lot of the “conservative” “thinkers” expected. A large chunk of the support for the non-establishment wing came from racists, and they were surprised to see it split off.

  16. Gustopher says:

    Also, every time I hear of McMullen, I think I have never heard of him before.

  17. Mr. Bluster says:

    One of the first signs of dementia is short-term memory loss.

  18. Jen says:

    Only slightly off-topic–I think Kinzinger is a potential candidate down the line. He is smart, articulate, and conservative but not crazy. I’m not sure what his path is given Illinois politics, but unless there’s a skeleton in his closet, I think he’s one to watch.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @Mr. Bluster: some people are just forgettable. They love their lives in undistinguished mediocrity, never rising to the level of notability.

    McMullen (I actually had to double-check that name) is one of them. Sure, he’s running for president on some wacky third party thing, but he isn’t the Libertarian, or the Green, or Vermin Supreme. He brings neither an interesting viewpoint nor novelty.

    He will, at best, be a footnote to footnote with this sad, doomed endeavor. He has as much relevance to the presidential race as the guy sitting to my left at the bar, who thinks that both parties are corrupt and that we just need common sense solutions.