Why a third-party conservative candidate won't crush Trump's presidential campaign

Evan McMullin
Source: evanmcmullin.com
Evan McMullin

If the Donald Trump campaign called central casting for an opposing candidate to help prove Trump himself is truly the anti-establishment/ not your father's Republican candidate they'd be hard-pressed to come up with someone better than Evan McMullin.

Who is Evan McMullin?

Currently he's the chief policy director for the House Republican Conference on Capitol Hill. He's also a former CIA operative and Goldman Sachs employee. He has a Wharton MBA and he's even given one of those hoity toity TED Talks about the continuing scourge of genocide worldwide. And he's been an outspoken Trump critic for months.

And now, he is reportedly about to become a third-party presidential candidate, offering a conservative alternative to Donald Trump.

There's really only one thing to say about McMullin's candidacy and that would be: "Of course!"

Of course an operative in the Republican Congress that Trump has basically thumbed his nose at is running against him now. Of course someone who once worked for the CIA is running against Trump when Trump has stood out as the first major GOP presidential candidate to openly attack previous Republican foreign and intelligence policies. Of course a former Goldman Sachs employee is running against Trump after Trump's frequent knocks on Wall Street. And of course, a totally unknown young man under the age of 40 with nothing to lose is willing to spurn his party's nominee for president and enjoy the free publicity that an independent campaign for president will bring.

But, while McMullin really has nothing to lose, he doesn't have much to gain either. His announcement is coming at a low ebb in Trump's polling, but it also comes as the GOP nominee's fundraising is picking up considerable steam. From a big-picture standpoint, McMullin doesn't get it. McMullin gets that he can't win, of course, but he won't even be able to push a single toss-up state into the Hillary Clinton column.

What he, so many other Republicans, and most of the news media don't get about the Trump campaign is that it's been deliberately running against the traditional Republican Party all along. They don't get that the GOP stands no chance in national elections if it continues to rely on its traditional branding and messages. They don't get that millions of American voters who despise the Democrats and their messages have regardless been sitting at home on Election Day because they don't see anyone who acts or sounds like them on the GOP side.

It's not that Trump doesn't want the traditional GOP vote, but he's known all along that the traditional GOP block would not be enough for him to win. He took a very risky gamble that blowing up that block in hopes of attracting long-ignored voters from both parties would be the best way to go. Right now, most of the polls say it's not quite working, though we still have a long way to go until Election Day.

Every Republican candidate could have played it safe and hoped to beat that built-in ceiling of about 48 percent of the popular vote for the GOP. Or they could have done what Trump has done by slaying dozens of sacred cows and hoping a new coalition of protest voters would change the math.

And so, many Republicans and most of the news media still don't get that Trump supporters don't care what he says. Most of them really aren't voting for him, they're voting against the real and perceived establishment politics, elitist advantages, and progressive orthodoxy — all of the things embodied by Hillary Clinton, and in part by someone like McMullin. For all the talk about how the Democrats try to instigate a form of class warfare in election years, it's the Trump campaign that's done a much better job of that on all fronts. It's messed up both the Democrats' traditional pitch as being the party of the "little guy," and the Republicans' traditional pitch for fiscal responsibility, free trade, and more aggressive national defense. Trump believes he needs to mess that up to win, and McMullin's entry into the race proves he's messed things up for sure.

This all comes as Trump is trying to stave off his latest slide in the polls with a major economic policy speech in Detroit. Much of his message will sound like the traditional Republican tax cuts/lower regulation mantra. But at this stage in the game, Trump's maverick style is more than established among a good number of those formerly disaffected voters. And established economists and media pundits have already trashed just about all of the economic policies he's going to announce anyway. As far as the reaction to Trump's economic plan is concerned from the voters and the pundits, this will be more of the same. For Trump, that works out just fine.

The experts in and outside the GOP continue to focus on how Trump is fracturing the party. That's encouraging the pundits to proclaim with absolute certainty that Trump cannot win. And it's encouraging an establishment elite like McMullin to take a shot at running himself.

But what McMullin, the media pundits, and the powers that be in the Democratic/liberal establishment all don't understand is that there's a difference between telling people what you believe and telling people what you insist they should believe. Right now, they're all in the chorus of those telling the voters they mustn't vote for or even listen to Donald Trump. In that vein, McMullin isn't a protest candidate against Trump, he's a protest candidate against about 40 percent of the people.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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