The Slatest

A Utah Republican Is Challenging Trump More Effectively Than 99 Percent of Democrats

Evan McMullin on Nov. 8 in Salt Lake City.

George Frey/Getty Images

Evan McMullin is the Utah Republican operative who ran for president as a self-described conservative independent. He received 21.5 percent of the vote in Utah but only totaled about 600,000 votes nationwide. In other words, he is 1) not especially well-known and 2) not a Democrat. And yet in the past day alone he has done more than almost any Democratic figure to organize opposition to Donald Trump’s kleptocratic and Constitution-hostile tendencies.

Example 1 is this series of tweets that McMullin wrote on Sunday, outlining a set of principles for civic life in Trump’s America. Example 2 is the op-ed he wrote Monday in the New York Times called “Trump’s Threat to the Constitution.” An excerpt:

We cannot allow Mr. Trump to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights. Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation. Others will need to offer hands of kindness and friendship across the traditional political divide, as well as to those who may become targets because of who they are or what they believe.

Little of what McMullin is saying is radical or surprising. His guidelines are instructions like “Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now.” But there’s one part of his analysis that sticks out as relatively original:

We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy. We need a new era of civic engagement that will reawaken us to the cause of liberty and equality.

McMullin has been keeping close tabs on the details of Trump’s transition, and he compliments and engages with liberals who share his Trump-related concerns. He clearly thinks of himself as being involved on a day-to-day level in a new movement, one with the goal of restrengthening the democratic, constitutional, and not-being-openly-racist norms that Trump and his army of white nationalist hacks have spent the last 18 months peeing on. And it should embarrass the Democratic Party, which reacted to Trump’s election by recertifying the longstanding leader of its perennially irrelevant House minority that a Utah Republican is doing a more active job of organizing this new opposition coalition than most of the party’s ostensible leaders. (Look at that list—and ignore Harry Reid, who’s retiring—and you’ll get all the way to Elizabeth Warren before you find someone who’s done anything in the past month that’s registered in the national news.)

I was recently and appropriately chastised, in a despondent email exchange with a friend who works in Democratic politics, for being too smug in my 20-20 hindsight criticism of the people who worked to elect Hillary Clinton and/or believed in her candidacy. But it’s simply a statement of fact to say that the current Democratic Party—the one that has produced such classic object lessons in failed play-it-safe-ism as “vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine”—isn’t reaching enough voters to adequately defend basic American principles.

There are, fortunately, a huge number of Americans who abhor Trump and what he’s doing—but most of them exist outside the apparatus of the existing Democratic Party. I don’t know for certain that Democrats could rally them and retake Congress in 2018 by giving more power and attention to figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Chris Murphy, whose personalities and positions resonate on Facebook, or by organizing new activist groups and communities around opposition to Trumpism and commitment to equality before the law. But I do know that the other party has successfully used that model—has ridden its own social-media-fueled wave of popular discontent—into control of all three branches of government. Shouldn’t the Democrats at the least be trying out something other than business as usual?