It’s very, very unlikely — but new conservative independent candidate for president Evan McMullin can win. But only if he runs only in Utah.
If, among swing states, Trump wins Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, he’ll have 273 electoral votes, three more than the 270 he needs to win. If he wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Iowa, he’ll have 272 electoral votes. Likewise if he wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Nevada. If he wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire, he’ll have 270 exactly. If he wins Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire (the states political prognosticator Nate Silver had him leading in before the Khizr Khan dust-up), he and Hillary will be tied, 269 each. There are a few other scenarios along these lines, wherein a) Hillary has too few votes to win outright, and b) Trump ends up with fewer than 275 electoral votes. These are the most likely ones.
In any of these cases — and none is outside the realm of possibility — Mr. McMullin could force the election to the House of Representatives by winning Utah, which has six electoral votes (in a 269–269 tie, of course, the election would go to the House anyway). And McMullin winning Utah is well within the realm of possibility: Mitt Romney won 73 percent of the vote there in 2012; in current Utah polls, Trump is averaging just 38 percent. In the primary, Trump lost Utah in a landslide, and — with the Utah electorate tending to be Mormon and straitlaced — he remains, for a Republican candidate, tremendously unpopular. McMullin, on the other hand, is being supported by a Romney-supporter super PAC. McMullin is a Mormon; he went to the Mormon school BYU, and he’s a former Mormon missionary; he’s also a Utah native.
If McMullin could force the election to the House, he has a decent chance. A better chance than Hillary, in fact, who would have none: When the House decides a presidential election, each state delegation gets one vote. Currently, 32 state delegations have Republican majorities, 15 have Democratic majorities, and 3 are tied. That rules out Hillary. If House Democrats are sincere when they talk about Trump being dangerous, they would cast their 15 votes for McMullin. (If they’re cynical enough to gamble that a President Trump would guarantee a Democratic president four years from now, then they vote for Hillary.) As a compromise candidate, McMullin would also, presumably, get the votes of the three tied delegations. Bringing him to 18 votes. Add Utah, and he has 19. He would have to swing 7 more state delegations to beat Trump. And that’s possible: of the remaining Republican-delegation states, several will have voted for Hillary in the general election. Probably Colorado, probably Wisconsin, possibly Iowa, possibly Nevada, possibly North Carolina. That would give them cover to choose a compromise candidate. Additional states with Republican delegations could justify voting McMullin instead of Trump because they voted against Trump in the primaries: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho.
So, a McMullin win — not impossible.
Note, however: If McMullin were to run anywhere but Utah, he will tip the race to Hillary, Ross Perot–style. If he does that, he kills any chance he has of winning, because if Hillary wins outright, the House will play no role. Which means, if he does run anywhere besides Utah, he’s making it clear that he isn’t interested in winning, just in guaranteeing that Trump loses. Which would be perfidious, to say the least.