Will Evan McMullin Really Hurt Trump? It's Certainly Possible

Now that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been confirmed as their parties' respective presidential candidates after months of campaigning, primaries, and caucuses, it seemed pretty safe to assume that the election in November would be a neck-and-neck race for the White House between the two of them. But in an unexpected announcement Monday, Evan McMullin, former CIA operative and current House Chief Policy Director — and staunch anti-Trump conservative — has thrown his hat into the ring as an Independent, in an attempt to shore up support among #NeverTrump conservatives, and in a last-ditch effort to offer up the kind of third-option leadership many Republicans who dislike Trump's brand of politics have been looking for. But will Evan McMullin really hurt Trump? There's still a lot left to be seen about just what the relatively-unknown McMullin can actually accomplish during his campaign.

In an official statement announcing his bid for POTUS, McMullin framed his decision in response to what a lot of more traditional Republicans are feeling — not wanting to support someone like Trump, but still wanting a Republican leader in the White House. According to The Guardian, McMullin said,

In a year where Americans have lost faith in the candidates of both major parties, it’s time for a generation of new leadership to step up. It’s never too late to do the right thing, and America deserves much better than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can offer us. I humbly offer myself as a leader who can give millions of disaffected Americans a conservative choice for President.

There is much that can debated about this announcement — can McMullin even run when he's missed ballot-filing deadlines in the majority of states? — but the most important question naturally seems to be how McMullin will affect Trump's campaign. According to The Wall Street Journal, McMullin (who holds an MBA from Wharton) "could potentially have an impact in key battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire," though he would have to work fast to raise money and gain voter support in order to do so.

According to CNN, however, there may already be one state McMullin could certainly succeed in: Utah. Thanks in large part to the high number of Mormon voters, Trump fared very poorly, winning only 14 percent of the vote to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 69 percent. According to ABC News, McMullin once served as a Mormon missionary, and attended Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Mormon church. It's likely McMullin could appeal to Republican Mormon voters in Utah, as well as other Mormon-heavy states, like Idaho and Arizona. But even then, as CNN notes, McMullin would likely only end up throwing the state to Clinton instead of keeping it for himself.

And that seems like it could end up being a theme of McMullin's campaign overall. According to Roll Call, as it stands, it wouldn't be possible for McMullin to win a majority of electoral college votes (though, as ABC News suggested, he could sue to get on the ballot in states where the deadline has passed). But in such a close presidential race, if McMullin could keep Trump from winning Utah, it's possible he could keep Trump from winning the election — which would, at least make his #NeverTrump goal a reality.

Ultimately, McMullin's goal at this point seems to be to finally present a real Republican challenge to the Trump campaign, and in that sense, it might actually be possible. According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump's campaign has been losing support as of late, and so McMullin's campaign announcement could be perfectly well-timed to take advantage of the division within the Republican Party. But without McMullin having a realistic chance of actually becoming president, it's unclear whether Republican voters would be willing to vote for McMullin if it means Clinton could win. The answer will likely become clear as (if?) his campaign ramps up, and his chances of having a real shot become apparent.