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SALT LAKE CITY — A BYU graduate with a decidedly anti-Trump bent launched an 11th-hour bid for president Monday in an effort to disrupt the election in states where Republicans aren't sold on the billionaire businessman.
Evan McMullin, a former CIA counterterrorism officer, will run an independent campaign with the backing of several prominent Republicans and anti-Trump donors. Better for America, an organization that says it's clearing a path to the presidency for an alternative candidate as part of the Stop Trump movement, also supports McMullin.
"In a year where Americans have lost faith in the candidates of both major parties, it’s time for a generation of new leadership to step up," McMullin said in a statement. "It’s never too late to do the right thing, and America deserves much better than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can offer us. I humbly offer myself as a leader who can give millions of disaffected Americans a conservative choice for president.”
McMullin, 40, resigned Monday as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. He was born in Provo and graduated from high school in Auburn, Washington. He served a Mormon mission to Brazil. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international law and diplomacy from BYU and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
An unknown who has never held public office, McMullin regularly targets Trump on social media. But he said his candidacy is about more than throwing a wrench into the GOP nominee's campaign. He said Trump is taking himself out of the race on his own.
"He is a weak candidate. Donald Trump is weak," McMullin said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show." "We don’t need to stop Trump. He is stopping himself."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said McMullin seems to be aiming to take Utah and another Western state or two, but is more likely a "spoiler" who would benefit Clinton.
"I think he's not a viable national candidate," Karpowitz said. "He can't win the presidency."
McMullin called Trump a "true threat" to democracy who is running a campaign filled with bigotry and misogyny.
Meantime, he said Clinton is presenting old, top-down ideas, and has repeatedly shown she believes she is unaccountable to the people.
"We just can't have that," he said.
McMullin intends to run his campaign from Utah and said he has a multifaceted strategy to appear on as many election ballots as possible across the country. He has until next Monday to collect 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot in Utah. The deadline has passed in some states.
"We're going to fight and claw and scrap our way all the way to the end," he said.
Though McMullin is offering himself as an alternative to the Republican and Democratic nominees, he has mostly gone after Trump on social media.
On Twitter last week, he said "America would be a police state" under Trump. He also tweeted about a recent Trump speech saying, "Really? A baby knocks you off your game? No wonder Putin is already in your head."
On Facebook earlier this month, McMullin criticized Trump's rhetoric about Muslims and terrorism.
"As Donald Trump continues attacking Muslims and as a former CIA officer, I'd like all Americans to know the truth: American and other Muslims have played a central role in virtually every counterterrorism win we've had since 9/11. They are an indispensable asset in this fight. Attacking them as a group makes America weaker, not stronger."
The Stop Trump movement has tried to recruit Utah adopted favorite son and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others. Romney, one of Trump's harshest critics, declined to run again.
Romney has not met or spoken with McMullin but looks forward to hearing what he has to say, a Romney source said. Romney has also said he's considering the Libertarian presidential ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld.
"This seems to be a candidacy that is geared toward Utah, finding a candidate who will tick all the boxes for Republican voters in the state in a way neither Donald Trump nor Gary Johnson is likely to do," Karpowitz said. "The problem is nobody knows him."
After graduating from BYU in 2001, McMullin worked as a volunteer refugee resettlement officer for the United National High Commissioner for Refugees.
McMullin began training with the CIA. He served for eight years as an undercover operations officer with the National Clandestine Service. His assignments included multiple tours of duty in the Middle East, Northern Africa and South Asia.
In 2009, he took a leave of absence to attend the Wharton School, and ultimately resigned in 2010. He took a job at Goldman Sachs raising capital, as well as working on mergers and acquisitions across several industries, including technology, energy, consumer goods, biotech, industrials and real estate.
McMullin then became a senior adviser on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 2015, he took a job as chief policy director for the House Republican Conference.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
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