Win or Lose in Utah, conservative Evan McMullin must play a role in the future GOP
A week before the election, no-named ex-CIA operative turned conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin released a Facebook video with his running mate, Mindy Finn. In the video, McMullin, a Mormon, proclaims himself a staunch pro-life advocate.
“That’s my faith; that’s my heart, and that’s how I’ll lead,” the 40-year old says. His running mate, a 36-yeard old mother of two, adds that being pro-life “Isn’t just a campaign slogan.” The two go on to promise to promote pro-life judges to the bench, and to encourage adoption over abortion.
It’s a touching video: authentic, humble, and indicative of the social conservativism that the longshot presidential candidate has championed ever since declaring a run for president on August 8th. It’s also the kind of video, and the kind of exposition of values, that has helped McMullin surge in the polls in his native state of Utah. Not only is he polling close to or near Trump, but renowned statistics website FiveThiryEight gives McMullin a 25 percent chance of winning the state come Tuesday.
That McMullin has had success in Utah should come as no surprise; the LDS Church, after all, is staunchly conservative, especially on social issues. Having lived in Utah for two years, I was often struck at how similar the Mormon population viewed the importance of social conservativism to not just the faith of its members, but society at large. Placing an emphasis on the family, the brand of social conservativism native to Utah and its Mormon population was in many ways what I’d come to admire from my Catholic background. Indeed, the LDS Church has been right alongside the Catholic Church in rebuking the Obama administration in its policies that threaten religious freedom, embracing a culture of life, and promoting the family.
McMullin has been right there with his faith community, as well as other faith communities, in calling attention to the various laws that threaten religious liberty. In August he told FreedomCrossroads.com that he supports the rights of business owners, such as bakers or florists, to politely refuse service if it interferes with their religious beliefs. Above all, he’s been vocal in defending life from conception to natural death. A statement on his website reads that “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.”
It is statements like these that make McMullin’s sudden relevancy more important than ever. Win or lose, Donald Trump will leave a legacy of fracturing the GOP in ways from which the party may never recover. While Trump has consistently made promises to protect religious freedom and appoint pro-life judges (promises he recently made on EWTN) he’s brought a new ‘Republican’ voter into the fold who is neither patiently pro-life, nor particularly sympathetic to social conservativism. Indeed, many of Trump’s most vocal supporters, including PayPal founder and billionaire Peter Thiel, have libertarian backgrounds that tend to treat issues like abortion and religious freedom as periphery matters. That is to say nothing of Trump’s past indiscretions towards women, or the harshness with which he’s treated other issues related to immigration, the second amendment, and foreign policy.
For social conservatives who risk either a backseat in a Trump presidency or complete expulsion under a Clinton presidency, the prospect that pro-life and religious freedom issues will play a role in future elections looks, well, bleak. Yet as Avi Woold wrote in the National Review a week ago, social conservativism is neither dead nor something that Republicans (or any American) should wish for. Instead, social conservatives like McMullin serve as a check to the extremes on the Left and on the Right, and articulate the philosophical basis from which we define our laws and our values.
What makes McMullin’s social conservativism unique is that it’s younger, fresher, and more inclusive. That’s not to say it compromises on principles; rather, in reaching out to all Americans, including people or all faiths and no faith, McMullin looks to take social conservativism from a primarily white male evangelical platform, and broaden its base to anyone who has ever really thought about the meaning of freedom, family, and respect for human life. And while he may be forgotten when it comes to his role in the 2016 election, Catholics and other people of faith would be well served to encourage his continued advancement in politics.