BYU alumnus Evan McMullin is trying to win a presidential election as an independent candidate.
He said his motivation to run came because he believes that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are good candidates.
“At a certain point I realized that no one else was going to step in and offer the American people a better option,” McMullin said. “If somebody else wasn’t going to do it, then I would.”
McMullin’s campaign manager, Joel Searby, had been researching what it would take to run an independent campaign for months by the time the two met in July. Searby had similar feelings about the major parties’ candidates.
“I began this because I was so disturbed over the prospect of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being our president and felt someone had to do something,” Searby said. “I could not imagine 15 years from now, when my kids asked me what I did in 2016, saying, ‘It was complicated, so I did nothing.’”
McMullin started his campaign on Aug. 8, 2016 — only three months before the election.
Due to the campaign’s late start, McMullin missed the deadline to be on the ballots in Alabama, California, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
However, he has successfully made it onto the state ballots in Arkansas, South Carolina, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Utah and Virginia. McMullin is also registered as a write-in candidate in 12 additional states.
“We expect to be either available as a write-in or appear on over 40 ballots across the country,” McMullin said.
His campaign’s current strategy is to deny both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the 270 electoral votes they need to win, forcing the election into the House of Representatives. The last time a presidential election was decided by the U.S. House was in 1825.
Some critics say the strategy is so unlikely to succeed that the campaign is less about the presidency than it is about self promotion.
“It would’ve been much easier for me to not do this,” McMullin said. “Whatever anyone thinks about what I’m doing, they should know that I’m doing this because I sincerely believe that it is the right thing to do, both in this election and beyond.”
McMullin sees his campaign as a movement that extends beyond simply denying both Clinton and Trump the presidency.
“We’re getting such a positive response from people across this country who believe that it’s time for a new generation of leadership and who are so unhappy with these two major party nominees that it’s just been very exciting,” McMullin said. “We’re building something for the future.”
McMullin said his campaign is in the process of selecting a running mate. Because many states require a running mate to be listed in order for a presidential candidate to be included on the ballot, McMullin’s friend Nathan Johnson is listed as a placeholder on many state ballots as his vice presidential candidate.
McMullin said he’s more concerned about selecting the right person for the position than making a decision quickly.
“There are certain things that can only be accelerated so much,” McMullin said. “We will announce a running mate when we have one that we’re prepared to announce.”
McMullin’s career aspirations as a child began not with politics, but with espionage when his dad brought home a spy movie for the family to watch.
“My imagination was completely captured,” McMullin said. “My main goal then became to work for the CIA. I decided that that was my purpose in life — to serve with the agency.”
The CIA hired McMullin when he returned from his mission in Brazil and started school at BYU.
“I would spend a semester on and a semester off, going back and forth between Provo and Washington, D.C., where I worked for the agency,” McMullin said.
Because McMullin was supporting himself financially and the CIA expected him to maintain high grades, he said he essentially did nothing but study while at BYU.
“I pretty much just studied all the time, so unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to have quite as much fun at BYU as I wish I had,” McMullin said. “I was just on a very different schedule than a lot of people, and so it wasn’t a traditional university experience.”
After graduating from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in international law and diplomacy, he went undercover for the CIA. McMullin said he conducted covert operations against terrorists while undercover.
McMullin’s time undercover with the CIA wasn’t his only experience in the Middle East — he also served as a volunteer refugee resettlement officer with the United Nations in Jordan while studying Arabic in the area.
“It was one of those jobs where you see so much suffering, and your ability to help seems to never be enough,” McMullin said. “It made me very grateful for my liberty here in the United States — for the universal freedoms that we have that are enshrined in our Constitution.”
McMullin believes the U.S. has a responsibility to both address the cause of the refugee crisis and resettle some refugees in the U.S.
“These are the world’s most vulnerable people,” McMullin said. “(Other countries) watch what we do here, and one of the things they pay attention to is how they treat the world’s most vulnerable people.”
One of McMullin’s other proposed policies as president of the United States is to increase defense spending.
“We’ve got the world’s greatest military, but our military is using equipment … from the ’80s and ’90s, and at the same time we’re asking it to protect us in a world that’s increasingly unstable,” McMullin said. “We just can’t continue — we won’t continue — to have the greatest military in the world if we don’t invest in it.”
McMullin said he’s particularly passionate about the issue of poverty. According to the United States Census Bureau report “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015,” the U.S. poverty rate was 13.5 percent in that year.
“It’s just an incredible number for a country that’s as wealthy as ours,” McMullin said.
He said an earned income tax credit, wage subsidies and shifting control of poverty programs from the federal government to state governments are possible solutions to the poverty in the U.S.
McMullin believes one way to address increasing gun violence in the U.S. is through mental health reforms.
“If we’re serious about decreasing gun violence in the United States, we need to be better about addressing mental health,” McMullin said.
He said it’s also important to prevent terrorists from obtaining firearms while still protecting Second Amendment rights.
“If someone appeared on a terrorist watchlist, law enforcement officials should be notified of their efforts to purchase a firearm. But I believe that person should have due process so that we protect our country but also so that people’s constitutional rights aren’t violated without due process,” McMullin said.
McMullin sees his faith as a member of the LDS Church as a motivating factor in his decision to run for president.
“We’re taught in our faith to serve in our communities and to serve our country and most importantly to serve our fellow man, and that is something that has always driven me,” McMullin said. “I firmly believe that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are truly unfit for the responsibilities they seek … and that I needed to step forward to offer a better option for people in this election.”