Interview with Evan McMullin: ‘Time For Something New’

With 70 days to go until Election Day, for many voters, the name Evan McMullin doesn’t ring a bell.

But considering that many Republican voters are dissatisfied with their party’s nominee, and the fact that many national security experts and former administration officials consider both major party candidates unacceptable, McMullin is definitely someone to be reckoned with.

McMullin, a former CIA counterterrorism officer, and until recently a congressional policy director, entered the race three weeks ago as a conservative alternative to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. His campaign slogan is: “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

His goal is to deny Trump and Hillary Clinton the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. As of Monday, McMullin is already on the ballot in Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Utah, Minnesota, Arkansas and Idaho, and expects to make the ballot in Virginia after submitting 9,000 signatures.

“We’ll have to ensure that she doesn’t win a couple of states that she otherwise probably would win,” McMullin said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Monday. “There are states where we believe we can do that. Colorado’s one of them. Iowa’s another. Minnesota’s another. Virginia’s another. We’re going to be competing in swing states where she would otherwise win, and, hopefully, we’ll prevent her from doing that.”

“At this point in our nation’s history when eighty-two percent think the country is on the wrong track, and the negative ratings of both of these major party candidates are historically high, it’s time for something new, so we think this is worth fighting for.” 

In a wide-ranging interview, McMullin discussed the United States role in brokering a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, expressed his opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal, and explained why Donald Trump’s hiring of Steven Bannon as his campaign’s CEO should worry Jewish and Republican voters.

In 2000, McMullin studied Arabic in Israel for about six or seven months while an undergraduate at Brigham Young University as a David L. Boren Scholar with the Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program, through The David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. He left Israel as the center closed after the onset of the Second Intifada. He continued studying Arabic and volunteering at the United Nations in Jordan after that. “I had good several months in Israel, and aside from the obvious downside of the conflict and all that, which nobody enjoys, I learned a lot, and it was an excellent opportunity to connect with the country,” McMullin recalled.

But if someone had hoped that this would make it easier for him to interact with Middle Eastern leaders, they are in for a disappointment. McMullin doesn’t speak fluent Arabic. “It’s so rusty now I don’t claim it,” he said. “I can still get around with it, but it’s certainly not fluent.”

Nonetheless, McMullin believes that it’s the role of the U.S. to broker a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Israeli reports, preliminary talks have been taken place about the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin hosting a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow in October. But McMullin warned of giving Putin any legitimacy to broker a peace deal. “The Russians are committing war crimes, in my view, right across the border in Syria against the Syrian people, dropping bombs on residential areas in order to clear out populations from opposition-held areas,” he said. “The Russian government is not an honest broker for peace. There’s not a doubt about that.”

“I think the U.S. leaders should do more to support our Israeli allies and the Palestinians to find peace,” McMullin stressed. “It certainly goes without saying it’s very challenging and that the Israelis and the Palestinians are the primary parties, not anyone else, in that negotiation, but I do believe that the United States, as Israel’s primary ally, should be playing a role there. We should not cede that to Russia certainly.”

As it relates to the two-state solution, McMullin said, “I’m open to whatever solution can be agreed upon between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The two state solution had some momentum for a time. It’s certainly not for the United States to dictate what the solution is. I simply think U.S. leaders should have a role in supporting continued dialog and the continued search for some sort of an agreeable solution to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. I think the United States should play a role in supporting its ally, but I think it’s a little bit misguided for even the United States to sort of dictate what the agreement would look like. I think it closes off options.”

The Iranian nuclear, according to the independent presidential candidate, was a “terrible deal.”

“It was negotiated unnecessarily from a position of weakness,” he asserted. “The Obama administration, I believe, did not fully leverage U.S. power in achieving a better deal, which it simply should have done. It took military action off the table. Obviously having served in wars myself, I’m eager to do everything possible to avoid them, but our military capability vis-a-vis a country like Iran is a major source of leverage in any negotiation that we should never, ever give up. Also, we had very effective sanctions on Iran that brought them to the negotiating table in the first place, and it was a mistake to quickly abandon those sanctions at Iran’s first hint of being interested, not sincerely I’d add, in finding an agreement. We should have kept negotiating. We should have kept sanctions on. We should have maintained pressure with a number of sources on Iran to achieve a much better deal.”

So how should the next administration address the nuclear deal, tear it up or enforce it?

“We’ve got to certainly enforce the deal as it is, but I believe in strengthening sanctions on Iran to force them to make further concessions,” said McMullin. “I also believe in putting the military option clearly back on the table if Iran decides to not keep its end of the deal and if it ultimately decides to pursue nuclear weapons. We’ve got to leave all options on the table. We simply cannot have the world’s greatest sponsor of Islamist terrorism also be a nuclear arms state. We simply cannot allow that to be.”

During the interview, McMullin revealed that former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden is advising him on national security matters. “General Hayden has been very helpful, and I greatly respect him,” he said. “I think he’s got one of the greatest national security strategic minds in the country, and he’s been very supportive. There are others too that I imagine will be public about their engagement with my efforts.”

Hayden is among fifty top Republican national security officials, mainly former aides for President George W. Bush, who issued a joint statement saying they will not vote for Donald Trump. “From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief,” they wrote in a letter earlier this month. “Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

McMullin said that other than Hayden some of the signatories are also advising him and some have indicated that he can count on their support, but he wouldn’t name them. “These are good men and women who put the interest of the country first,” he said. “They understand, like me, having served in the capacity they have, that Donald Trump is a true threat to our republic given his admiration for authoritarianism, his embracing of racial hatred, and his alignment with Vladimir Putin.”

On the money end and in terms of Jewish support, McMullin anticipates Republican Jewish donors who are “alarmed” by Trump’s recent hiring of Steve Bannon as his campaign’s CEO will speak out and jump aboard his campaign. “His campaign manager, Steve Bannon, is somebody who has published anti-Semitic articles in Breitbart as well as other racist, hateful commentary in his publication,” he said. “This is the kind of candidate that Donald Trump is. This is who he surrounds himself with, and this is who he is himself. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so motivated to prevent him, as well as Hillary Clinton, but in the case of Donald Trump prevent him from winning this election. I think he is a dictator, an authoritarian poured from the same mold as those that I saw in the Middle East, and in Latin America, and in elsewhere around the world.”

According to McMullin, Trump “foments racial bigotry in order to strengthen himself,” and all Americans should be alarmed by it. “This is a man that cares about no one other than himself and at every opportunity targets people who he thinks are vulnerable in some way. This is not the sign of a strong leader. It’s not the sign of a leader at all.”

McMullin added that he agrees with Clinton’s assertion that Trump has helped to mainstream anti-Semitic and racists views by the alt-right movement into the political conversation. “Even as a candidate he’s done enormous damage to our culture in that way,” he explained. “We already were struggling under some divisions in this country along many lines, but then to have a presidential candidate, indeed the nominee of the Republican Party, come in and embrace the hateful rhetoric and philosophies of the alt-right movement in the United States I think is truly deplorable, and it’s something that Republicans need to stand up to especially.”

In conclusion, we asked the presidential candidate what’s his favorite Israeli dish. “Well, it’s hard to just pick one actually,” he replied. “I will never turn down a good plate of hummus, or falafel, or shawarma. I just never will. You know what I really loved in Israel was that at the time at least I could buy so many fruits and vegetables there for very inexpensive prices. I’m not sure how they were so inexpensive, but at the time they were, and I ate very healthily while I was there, which was wonderful.”

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