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Today on The Takeaway: Who Is Evan McMullin, And Why Is He Really Running for President?

August 15th, 2016, 8:15am by Sam Wang

Today on The Takeaway, I discuss the impact of Evan McMullin’s entry into the Presidential race. His biggest effect will be downticket, where control of Congress is in the balance. The basic evidence: McMullin is a House GOP staffer, not a politician; and for every 1% of Republican turnout that he can salvage, they can recover up to six House seats – which could be crucial in determining control. As of this weekend, McMullin will be on the ballot in Colorado and Minnesota, where six swing districts are on the line (CO-03, CO-06, MN-01, MN-02, MN-03, and MN-08).

The show airs nationwide at various times starting at 9:00am Eastern. Find a radio station near you, or listen to it here.

Incidentally, activists on both sides are turning their attention to downticket races. Democrats, see ActBlue. Republicans, see the NRSC.

Tags: 2016 Election

22 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul

    It doesn’t seem like the GOP can reasonably expect McMullin to draw no votes away from Trump. The “he’s distasteful but we’re loyal” vote seems substantial. Does the McMullin strategy thus imply that the GOP is quietly giving up on Trump being able to win? Or is it a bet-hedging move, and the GOP quietly buries McMullin if Trump regains ground?

    • Robert Egenolf

      The GOP has indeed given up on any hope for a Trump victory and now are merely deciding how best to deal with that choice for down-ticket candidates. McMullin is clearly not intending to draw votes from Trump but rather only trying to return GOP votes that would otherwise not vote for Trump, so they will then more likely also vote for down-ticket Republicans.

    • Sam Wang

      Exactly. In particular, I think this is a way to deal with depressed turnout.

    • Paul

      Right, Robert, your explanation was the starting point for my question, not the answer to it: while McMullin is clearly not _intending_ to draw votes from Trump, it’s seems inevitable that he _will_. The question is thus whether McMullin’s run is strong evidence that the GOP establishment has in fact given up on Trump if we don’t already take that as a given.

  • Phil

    The biggest problem here is that it’s too late for many states for McMullin to get on the ballot. Just as an example, I believe he has already missed Ohio and North Carolina’s deadlines. Jon Ralston said today he missed Nevada. He has already missed California. Apparently he did make Colorado, and we’ll see about Utah (where he could actually affect the Presidential race) today.

  • dr. fancypants

    One thing I wonder: Is there a risk that this move alienates Trump voters who would otherwise vote GOP downticket, on the basis that they’ll see this as the party backstabbing him? Or will the party be far enough removed from individual candidates that this won’t have an effect?

  • Amitabh Lath

    Stupid technical question: How does McMullin’s name get out to Republicans who are thinking of skipping the election? He will not have access to the RNC databases of names and addresses, nor (I suspect) will he have money to reach voters via mail/email/door-to-door.

    Here in NJ in 2012 we had 10 parties running candidates. In addition to the Republicans and Democrats and Green and Libertarians there were the Socialist Workers, American Third Position, NSA did 911, Justice, Constitution, Socialist party, etc etc. How does Evan McMullin hope to stand out among this chaff?

  • Just Dropping By

    That theory requires that some non-trivial part of the electorate is simultaneously so “high information” that they are aware McMullin is running while also being so “low information” that it wouldn’t occur to them that they should show up and vote for down-ticket races even if they don’t like the presidential candidate. The more plausible explanations to me are that (a) McMullin will actually try to win Utah so that if neither major party candidate gets a majority of the electoral vote and the race is thrown to the (Republican-controlled) House, McMullin will be a non-Trump/Hillary option; and (b) McMullin is there to try to bleed off support from Gary Johnson in an effort to keep Johnson from qualifying for the presidential debates and to keep the Libertarian party below the 5% national vote cut-off for federal funding.

    • Sam Wang

      No, you have it backwards. It is precisely the case that this only needs to be true for a trivial part of the electorate. In the right district, 1% would be enough.

      Quantitatively, your alternatives require a larger share of the vote.

  • Rick

    McMullin is running to give Mormons in Utah someone to vote for.

    The LDS Church is often perceived as an American church outside the USA. The church sends thousands of missionaries throughout Latin America. Given the church’s long association with Republican politics, this presents a dilemma. Most of their growth and outreach is among Hispanics, but the R candidate has a 15% approval rate among Hispanics. Voting for Democrats is also problematic because the church strongly opposes gay marriage.

    Finally, the church is probably not thrilled with a thrice divorced playboy whose wife posed for a softcore porn lesbian pictorial.

    McMullin is designed to solve all these issues.

  • Mark F.

    It seems to me a fair number of anti-Trump Republicans will also vote for Gary Johnson and then vote for the Republicans down ticket, so I would be surprised to see the GOP lose the House, even if it’s a Hillary landslide. The Senate looks pretty good for the Democrats, however.

    • Sam Wang

      Could be…but I am struck by the parallel movement in Clinton-v-Trump polls and the generic Congressional ballot. Both moved down around the time of the RNC, and both came back up. This seems potentially ominous for Republicans.

    • Andy


      My thought on that is even if this year sees an uptick in ticket-splitting compared to the last few elections, the overall trend of polarization has really strengthened the parties that much as national brands. Disgust at the direction one’s brand has taken at its most prominent level will lead to more voters punishing their brand to send a message, rather than take the more nuanced approach of assessing each individual on the ballot.

      The rise of 24 hour news, social media, and live instant reactions has chipped away at the “all politics is local” paradigm. Where presidential elections used to be like the Olympics (a couple of weeks every 4 years), they’re now more like the NFL and have people talking basically all year, every year.

      And despite seeming like such a bad fit for the GOP, this may actually be the ideal circumstance for a Trump candidacy: polarization has given him a floor he would have lacked in previous elections, and his opponent doesn’t seem to be a generational figure reshaping the map with an expanding electoral coalition (like Reagan or Obama). That this is the perfect storm for Trump says a lot about where his numbers have been.

  • Eli Rabett

    McMullin is Paul Ryan’s FU to Trump. As likely as not if Trump’s voters are aware of McMullin they will return the favor to Republican candidates everywhere

  • Phoenix Woman

    It’s too late to get on the ballot as a Republican in Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, and a few other spots.

    • Sam Wang

      Doesn’t matter in those states, with the exception of NJ-05, where Garrett (R) won by a margin of only 12% in 2014. He is vulnerable.

  • Alan Cobo-Lewis

    I give you…the Gerrymonculus

    You’re welcome

  • rachel Findley

    A previous commenter said “I see a GOP House/Senate as well as 4,125 of 7,383 state legislators.”
    I’m already thinking 2020 when the next census will take place followed by redistricting done by those state legislatures. Is it better to work through the legal system to control partisan gerrymandering, or to start now to change the party composition of the legislatures? ActBlue doesn’t give me a clue.

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