Independent presidential protest candidate Evan McMullin is a decent man and an American patriot, but under no circumstances should his view of conservatism form the basis of a rebuilt Republican Party post-2016, or form the bedrock of a new conservative moment.
There is no question that at time when both major political parties have nominated fundamentally distasteful and deeply flawed candidates, individuals whose basic human decency is open to question based on their previous records and remarks, Evan McMullin is a respectable human being. But while respectable and decent are now – remarkably – enough to fuel a nationwide protest campaign, they are not all that is required to rebuild a GOP that will emerge deeply divided on November 9th.
From social issues to foreign policy issues, and even touching an important fiscal issue, McMullin’s articulation – or lack of articulation – betrays good intentions that are not backed up by concrete principles or policy proposals.
Maggie Gallagher, a social conservative activist, expressed skepticism of McMullin back in August in a piece for National Review Online. Citing his general silence on domestic policy issues, she asserted that the former CIA officer turned Capitol Hill staffer is “not the savior conservatives are hoping for.”
On the life issue, Gallagher pointed out that McMullin’s website was then – and still is – pretty sparse on details even though the candidate declares that, “Our respect for life is the most important measure of our humanity.” Well put, and certainly very much in line with a conservatism that respects the equality of human beings and a belief that government should protect human life. But the only policy specific McMullin embraces is no taxpayer funding for abortion. “A culture that subsidizes abortion on demand runs counter to the fundamental American belief in the potential of every person – it undermines the dignity of mother and child alike,” his platform reads.
A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is already the law of the land. What is still allowed – and what McMullin is silent about – is the use of taxpayer money to fund the non-abortion operations of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. That’s a recent debate that McMullin, if interested in proving his pro-life credentials as a serious candidate, could have easily weighed in on. Instead, he has remained silent on his website and a search for news clips and public statements turned up nothing.
Gallagher suggests that McMullin may be seeking “to be a unifier through vagueness, as many consultants would no doubt advise.”
In contrast to his one paragraph statement about the importance of human life, McMullin spends 19 paragraphs outlining his immigration reform plan. The plan is chock full of policy principles that McMullin wants to see implemented after the border is secured. It is a realistic and thoughtful plan – proof that even as a last minute candidate, McMullin can put meat on broad position statements provided the issue is one he cares about.
On another social issue – the hot button topic of the definition of marriage, and who defines it – McMullin has adopted a passive tone. Professing that he personally believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman, McMullin told Bloomberg that he “respect[s] the decision of the [Supreme] Court and I think it is time to move on.” Pressed if perhaps the issue should be resolved at the state level, a position similar to those embraced by Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz, McMullin again emphasized the matter is settled law: “Ideally, yes, but it has been handled by the Supreme Court, and that’s where it is.”
When queried about whether or not he favors appointing Supreme Court justices who might take the view that Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that forced all states and the federal government to accept same-sex marriage, was decided incorrectly, the nascent candidate said he would not favor those types of judicial nominees.
Sen. Marco Rubio famously said of Obergefell that, “I don’t believe any case law is settled law. Any future Supreme Court can change it.” Promising to nominate strict constructionist judges, the then-presidential candidate told NBC News, “I don’t think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage. That belongs at the state and local level.”
Rubio wasn’t afraid to use some political capital to defend his position. According to another NBC News story, “Rubio seems unconcerned his positions on social issues might cost him younger voters.” He also pushed back against the argument that supporting the traditional definition of marriage makes someone a bigot.
For his part, Sen. Ted Cruz promoted the idea of an amendment to the Constitution that clarifies that the definition of marriage is settled at the state – not federal – level.
Beyond just social issues, however, McMullin has been oddly unwilling to say whether or not he agrees with a widely embraced conservative reform proposal for Social Security. Facing financial unsustainability, the entitlement program is certainly not poised to live up to its promise to future generations of retirees. One plan to make it more sustainable is to allow younger workers to take a small portion of their current Social Security and Medicare payroll deduction and put it in a personal savings account that could be invested in traditional retirement securities. It’s a plan championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and it’s modeled on federal employee retirement plans.
“I support most conservative solutions to entitlement reforms,” McMullin said when specifically asked about the idea of allowing younger workers to take Social Security contributions – taxes – and invest some of them into personal accounts. Pressed for a more clear-cut answer, he refused to say whether he agreed with the Ryan plan.
In the area of foreign policy, McMullin has sounded extraordinarily hawkish notes. Having spent a decade of his life helping chase down terrorists and bad guys who threaten America’s security, there’s no question that McMullin has personal credibility on the topic. But experience doesn’t always begat wisdom even as it reveals impeccable intentions.
Speaking at TEDx event earlier this year, and before he entered the presidential race, McMullin argued that genocide is a good enough justification for American and Western economic and military intervention in foreign affairs. Complaining about Western “governments’ lack of political will” to stop genocide, he proposed a fairly sweeping interventionist outlook where the public pressures democratic governments to do more to halt internal violence in troubled nations.
“Western countries and governments are some of the most empowered to stop atrocities given their economic and military strength. But they also happen to be democracies. And in these systems political will begins and ends with the people on all issues,” he explained.
But in making the case against genocide (an easy case), McMullin didn’t explain why it was moral or appropriate for democracies to always intervene in cases of genocide even if none of their strategic or security interests were at stake. If evil is justification for military action, endless conflict may be had at any point. Expending American blood and treasure to right the world’s wrongs without any other justification will not only be a tough sell to the American people, it will be a questionable use of national resources.
In an editorial for Foreign Policy magazine, McMullin did appear to want some unspecified limits placed on the employment of military force. Saying he disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, he went on to outline why the U.S. should do more in Syria, even though the Obama Administration’s policy there has been one of eventual increase of military commitment.
Then he claimed this: “As president, instead of being constrained by rigid doctrines that call for either constant action or total passivity, I would carefully evaluate the situation at hand and determine how best to respond.”
In calling for both more strident military, economic and diplomatic action, while also promising to eschew “rigid doctrines” in foreign affairs, McMullin sounds remarkably like candidate Barack Obama and his foreign policy advisors in 2008.
If the new conservative movement is to be erected on a foundation that avoids social issues – particularly the pro-life issue – refuses to offer concrete fiscal solutions to looming entitlement problems, and promotes a moralistic but confused foreign policy, it is not a movement destined to seriously shape American politics. It will cede much to those who do not constrain their view of government to the parameters of the Constitution.