Since the moment former CIA counterterrorism officer and House GOP staffer Evan McMullin jumped into the presidential race, he’s been ignored, mocked, and dismissed. Few pollsters even bother to list him as an option in their surveys of the race. He’s nowhere near the 15 percent threshold to qualify for the debates. CNN hosted prime-time candidate forums for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein and their running mates, but not for McMullin and his running mate, Mindy Finn.
Then Wednesday morning, a new poll showed him at 22 percent in his home state of Utah — with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied at 26 percent.
The result makes intuitive sense; Representative Jason Chaffetz and Governor Gary Herbert withdrew their endorsements of Trump over the weekend, while Senator Mike Lee and former governor Jon Huntsman called on the GOP nominee to quit the race. It seems reasonable to believe that a significant number of Utah Republicans might be newly motivated to seek out non-Trump, non-Clinton options, and the hometown boy with a career of CIA service might be the most appealing of those options.
McMullin’s surge of support means he could end up having a much bigger impact on the 2016 presidential election than anyone expected. If he gets one more burst of momentum in Utah between now and Election Day, McMullin will be able to boast of having done what John Anderson, H. Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader never could: win a state. The last independent presidential candidate to win a state was George Wallace, who won five in 1968.
If McMullin won Utah’s six electoral votes, he would make it almost impossible for Trump to reach the 270 needed to win the White House. Right now, with leads in almost all of the key swing states, the overwhelming likelihood is that Clinton reaches 270. But if she doesn’t, and Trump doesn’t either, then the presidential election will be settled by the House of Representatives, in the process laid out by the Constitution’s Twelfth Amendment:
The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.
Presuming Gary Johnson and Jill Stein win no electoral votes, McMullin’s Utah win would mean he ranks among “the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President.” Meaning the House could vote to make Clinton, Trump, or McMullin the 45th president.
#related#Each state would get one vote, determined by a majority vote of the incoming members of its House delegation. This would give Republicans control of the election’s outcome, presuming the incoming House doesn’t look too different from the current one. Right now, Democrats hold a majority of the seats in the delegations of just 14 states. Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey have an even number of House seats and their delegations are evenly split. (If a state’s members cannot agree on a candidate during the Twelfth Amendment process, the state loses its vote.)
Would House Republicans hand the Oval Office to a guy who won a negligible number of votes nationwide and only one state? Would those who have stood by Trump this far suddenly abandon him and choose the candidate who finished third over the candidate who finished second?
It’s a bizarre, almost unimaginable scenario. But then again . . . it’s been a bizarre, almost unimaginable year.