CASPER — An establishment Republican challenger to Donald Trump is making a hurried effort to stand as an independent presidential candidate on Wyoming’s general election ballot in November. Supporters of Evan McMullin are hoping to gather the 3,302 signatures required by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Monday deadline.
McMullin, a former CIA operative and chief policy director for House Republicans, joined the race on Aug. 8. He said he was waiting for a conservative candidate with national name recognition to challenge Trump, the Republican nominee, and entered the race after realizing that was not going to happen.
“It’s clear he’s not going to be able to challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidency,” McMullin said of Trump. “He just isn’t a viable candidate.”
Debbie Neuenschwander is collecting signatures, which must come from eligible voters, for McMullin in the Casper area. She was inspired to reach out to his campaign earlier this week after searching for an alternative to Trump, she said.
“I just can’t vote for Trump — and I’m a Republican and a conservative,” Neuenschwander said. “I can’t trust him and he isn’t credible to me. He just seems kind of like a jerk.”
She’s not alone among Wyoming Republicans, who overwhelmingly backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during the state caucus. Support for Trump has also been largely tepid among GOP leaders in Wyoming.
Neuenschwander said she was attracted to McMullin’s conservative bona fides and his temperament.
“He’s very good at balancing compassion with common sense,” Neuenschwander said.
McMullin touts his support for the Second Amendment and global trade on his website. On immigration, the 40-year-old prioritizes securing the borders but suggested he is open to granting some undocumented immigrants legal status.
When it comes to issues relevant to Wyoming, the Utah-born McMullin said he favors an “all of the above” energy policy and would like more federal land to be turned over to the states.
“States need to have control over their own land,” McMullin told the Star-Tribune. “It’s very arrogant of the federal government to suggest the people of the West cannot manage their land.”
McMullin said federal environmental regulations were restricting the energy industry and reducing these regulations would enable energy independence and encourage innovation.
“Our energy industry is not really driven by the free market,” he said.
McMullin acknowledged that climate change was a problem but that regulation would not help move the country toward cleaner energy sources.
“I believe that we have a responsibility for stewardship over this earth and we need to limit carbon emissions,” McMullin said. “The way to do that is through innovation.”
McMullin insists he is not a protest candidate. His campaign is currently relying on a quixotic strategy of blocking both Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from winning the 270 electoral college votes required to clinch the presidency. In the case that neither candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, the winner would be decided by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At that point, the campaign hopes they could persuade congressmen that McMullin is their best option.
The House of Representatives has not decided a presidential election since 1824.
“We’re in it to win,” McMullin said. He added that there is a chance Donald Trump will withdraw from the race or that the Republican National Committee will rescind its support, which Trump has relied heavily on in the absence of a robust national campaign structure.
“He’s been such a disaster for the Republican Party,” McMullin said. “I believe there’s still time left for Republicans and Americans to rally behind a (new) candidate.”
McMullin has struggled to gain ballot access around the country, entering the race after the deadlines in many states. He is currently on the ballot in six states including Colorado and Utah.
“I’d really like to be able to campaign in Wyoming and compete for the votes of the people,” McMullin said.
Neuenschwander collected signatures during Rock the Block at Casper’s Old Yellowstone Garage on Thursday evening. The McMullin campaign said they planned to canvass for signatures at other events over the weekend.
By Arno Rosenfeld