Former CIA operative and GOP adviser Evan McMullin launched a long-shot bid for the White House on Monday in what looks like a protest campaign for Republicans seeking an alternative to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE.
Though he’s little-known, the 40-year-old McMullin has extensive experience in international affairs and potentially some influential backers.
He spent more than a decade as an undercover CIA agent in “hostile environments,” according to his LinkedIn page, with a focus on counterterrorism in the Middle East.
McMullin earned a graduate degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where Trump was an undergraduate. He briefly spent time in the private sector as an investment banker in the highly competitive mergers and acquisitions department for Goldman Sachs in San Francisco.
McMullin also has close ties to House GOP leadership, spending the last two years acting as an adviser to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and as policy director to the Republican Conference.
Here are five things to know about the latest entrant into the presidential race:
He’s a Never Trump Republican
McMullin’s Facebook page reads like a point-by-point rebuke of Trump’s candidacy and those Republicans who have fallen in line behind the controversial nominee.
Florida-based GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a vocal Trump critic who previously backed Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (R-Fla.) for president, is assisting McMullin with his campaign launch.
McMullin also has ties to a group of mostly Republican operatives involved with an organization called Better for America (BFA), which has been working for months to put placeholder spots on state ballots across the nation in case a candidate emerged.
BFA Chairman John Kingston is a conservative donor with ties to President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.) and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
In a statement, a Better for America spokesperson said the group is prohibited from coordinating with any individual campaign and that its ballot lines are not committed to McMullin or any candidate at this point.
But several members of BFA have left the group so they can begin working on McMullin’s campaign or a supporting super-PAC, seemingly putting him in position to benefit from their ballot access work.
Republican pollster Joel Searby and conservative lawyer Mohammed Jazil have resigned from BFA to join McMullin’s campaign, a source said, while ballot access expert Kahlil Byrd and Democratic strategist Ileana Wachtel have left the group to launch a pro-McMullin super-PAC.
He’s a foreign affairs expert
McMullin, who says he speaks “beginners Arabic,” spent more than a decade in the CIA’s elite National Clandestine Service, which took him to Syria, Jordan and Iraq, among other places.
“Managed clandestine operations related to counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, energy, political stability, and counterintelligence, while serving mostly in hostile environments,” his LinkedIn biography says.
McMullin is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, and earlier this year gave a TedX talk at the London School of Business about genocide with a focus on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s atrocities.
McMullin launched his career as a United Nations volunteer in Jordan, where he helped displaced refugees, which seems to be one of his primary interests.
On social media, McMullin is a fierce advocate for Middle Eastern refugees.
That puts him at odds with Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country and warned that terrorists are looking to infiltrate the U.S. through refugee resettlement programs.
“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,” McMullin wrote on Facebook. “They are an indispensable asset in this fight. Attacking them as a group makes America weaker, not stronger.”
He has ties to GOP leadership on Capitol Hill
McMullin has spent the last two years acting as an adviser to Republicans on Capitol Hill, first as an adviser to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and more recently as chief policy director to the House Republican Conference.
His tenure on Capitol Hill appeared to come to an end recently, with one source telling The Hill that House Republicans had no knowledge of his presidential ambitions and that he is no longer employed by the conference.
McMullin’s Facebook page is full of photos of him with influential GOP figures, including Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (Wis.) and former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (Ohio).
One House source who knows McMullin described him as “incredibly smart” and frustrated by Congressional gridlock.
The source said colleagues had long believed McMullin harbored political ambitions.
He’s a Mormon
McMullin is a Mormon and received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University.
His Facebook page shows he has deep ties to the state of Utah, making him an intriguing pick for Never Trump Republicans.
Polls show Trump running poorly in the deep-red state, with one survey showing Libertarian nominee Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonBiden broadened Democratic base, cut into Trump coalition: study New Mexico lawmakers send recreational marijuana bills to governor Judge throws out murder convictions, releases men jailed for 24 years MORE running neck-and-neck with Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE there.
Trump has angered many Mormons, who find common cause with other religious and ethnic minorities that the GOP nominee has disparaged.
Romney, one of the nation’s most prominent Mormons, has still not backed a candidate and has ties to Better for America founder John Kingston.
A Romney endorsement would give McMullin instant credibility and potentially put him on the radar in Utah.
He has private sector experience
McMullin received an MBA from the Wharton School of Business following his stint in the CIA.
He flipped that into a job as an investment banker at the San Francisco office of Goldman Sachs.
McMullin’s LinkedIn page says he worked in mergers and acquisitions as an associate, a junior but highly competitive position in the cutthroat world of high finance.
McMullin was with the investment banking firm for three years before moving on to Capitol Hill.