Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
"Rules and Order of Business" signs sit at the ready in a spot off the convention floor as members of the "Never Trump" movement mounted a push against Donald Trump's candidacy, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Evan McMullin: A conservative makes a last-ditch attempt to unseat Trump

A little-known GOP policy director and ex-CIA operative has declared his candidacy for president on an independent ticket.

Anti-Trump conservative and former chief policy director for the House Republican Conference Evan McMullin is reportedly launching an independent bid for president.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough broke the news on Twitter early Monday morning, writing that Mr. McMullin, who has never held elected office, had “the backing of key $$ contributors in the Republican Party”, without elaborating.

McMullin, who became a senior advisor to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2013, spent eleven years as an officer with the CIA, in addition to stints as a volunteer refugee resettlement officer with the United Nations, an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, and a deckhand for a commercial fishing vessel, according to his LinkedIn profile. On Monday morning, he resigned from his post as the chief policy director for the US House of Representatives Republican Conference, ABC reports. 

The McMullin candidacy appears to be a last-ditch effort from some of the most outspoken conservative opponents of Donald Trump, who tumbled in the polls following his criticisms of the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq. It represents not only a further splintering of the Republican party, but an effort to regain control of the party's message and values. 

“If [Trump] was doing better and this was announced, maybe you wouldn’t put as much stock in it,” says Steve Jarding, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and longtime Democratic campaign consultant. McMullin's campaign might not come close to overtaking Trump's, but it could chip away support among conservatives by serving as a reminder of the GOP's core values, Mr. Jarding told the Christian Science Monitor. “I think Trump could win, but I don’t think he could win big. If your best scenario for winning is small, you can’t afford to lose anything.”

McMullin is backed by "Better for America," which earlier this year began an effort to get on the ballot in as many states as possible, with the hopes of drafting a candidate, The New York Times reports. 

In contrast to the Republican nominee, McMullin has not shown much of a taste for social media, posting rarely on Twitter and Facebook. But he has devoted a considerable part of what little social media presence he has to criticizing Mr. Trump – accusing him being an “authoritarian,” calling for him to release his tax returns, and rebuking his slighting of Muslims’ contributions to the country.

“As someone who served our nation in war, I find Donald Trump's religious attacks on Ghazala Khan, the mother of a fallen U.S. soldier, profoundly despicable,” he wrote on Facebook on August 1. “Her son gave everything for our country and she, like thousands of other American mothers, has also made a painful lifelong sacrifice. No one who fails to understand this is fit to be our commander-in-chief.”

CNN notes that McMullin – a 2011 graduate of Brigham Young University, where he majored in international studies – could cause the Trump campaign problems in Utah, a reliably red state where Trump nonetheless has held little appeal. One poll last week showed Hillary Clinton in the lead there, though more recent ones put her slipping back behind him, as Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson continued to ascend.

Rick Wilson, a veteran GOP media strategist who has been a vociferous critic of Trump, will likely be involved in the campaign, according to Buzzfeed. In a New York Daily News op-ed published on Sunday, Wilson made no mention of an alternative conservative candidacy, but called for voters to deal Trump an "epic loss" that would "break us out of the direction Trump and Trumpism would take this nation."

“This is a legitimate guy, a legitimate conservative with legitimate credentials, and he’s got a legitimate group that’s backing him,” Dr. Jarding says of McMullin.

“I think they’re saying, ‘we realize that we’re in trouble and if we want to survive, we cannot let this guy who’s parading himself as the new face of the Republican party do well at all, because if he does, he could fundamentally damage our brand.”

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