Two months ago, I wrote a column about the relatively unknown Libertarian candidate Evan McMullin (see “The McMullin Mulligan,” which ran in this space on Aug. 16), in which I spoke about the former CIA intelligence operative as the best chance for U.S. voters to find a do-over rather than having to choose between a bombastic megalomaniac who said he was ready to drop nuclear bombs on Berlin and an untrustworthy prevaricator who callously dumped 32,000 sensitive government emails to avoid presenting them before an F.B.I. investigation and whose incompetence led to the death of four U.S. State Department employees in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
The chances of McMullin winning the election at that point seemed like a long shot, but after the disturbing rantings that passed for the third (and, mercifully, last) presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last Wednesday, a lot more voters may be looking for a way to make certain that what happened in Las Vegas last week stays there.
Which brings us back to McMullin, a dark horse by any definition, but, surprisingly, a potential winner in this unparalleled topsy-turvy U.S. election cycle.
Yes, believe it or not, there is still a way that McMullin could win.
Of course, it’s complicated, but then, what in this no-holds-barred brawl that has debased the U.S. presidential campaign trail not been?
So how could McMullin — the devout Mormon, Wharton School graduate, Goldman Sachs investment banker who, before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and being a CIA counterterrorism operations officer, was a resettlement volunteer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan — pull it off?
By winning at least two states — specifically his native (and very Mormon) Utah, where he already is leading in the polls, and possibly Nevada, where he has invested practically all his campaign dollars.
The state of Georgia is also very pro-McMullin, and there is even some indication he might win out over the tug of war between Trump and Clinton in Florida, which has 29 winner-take-all electoral votes.
Utah has six electoral votes, Nevada has six and Georgia has a whopping 16.
There are currently a total of 538 Electoral College votes, and to be elected, a candidate must win a clear majority of 270 votes.
If McMullin can win enough Electoral College votes to deprive either Trump or Clinton from the mandatory 270 votes needed to be declared president, the entire election results would be voided and (unlike in many countries where a runoff vote would be held), the U.S. House would be in charge of choosing between the top three candidates.
Yup, that little clause is written right smack dab into the U.S. Constitution under the 12th Amendment.
And believe it or not, there is precedence.
Back in 1825, the U.S. House got the chance to flex its political muscles by choosing John Quincy Adams as president over Andrew Jackson.
So, supposing that McMullin takes Utah and another Western state or two, leaving both Trump and Clinton just an inch short of the magic 270 Electoral College vote goal line, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives gets a shot at deciding who to proclaim president.
The minority Democrats wouldn’t stand a chance of electing Clinton in that vote, so they could opt to hash a deal out with the Republicans (many of whom share a disdain for Trump) to elect McMullin as a compromise candidate.
Game, set, match!
The dark horse wins and the entire country has an honest, articulate, respectable, libertarian president that practically nobody has ever heard of.
It could happen.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]