SALT LAKE CITY — Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin and his running mate, Mindy Finn, announced the launch of a nonpartisan organization Wednesday with the warning the country is in peril.
“We’ve come to a time when our democracy, Constitution and basic rights are in jeopardy," McMullin, a 40-year-old with ties to Utah, said in a statement announcing the organization, Stand Up Republic.
He said the challenges faced now "can only be overcome by a new era of civic engagement, in which Americans are more vigilant, informed and engaged in the defense of our democracy.”
That defense "will necessarily include standing up to the Trump administration when warranted,” McMullin said, part of advancing "the timeless truths upon which our nation was founded."
The former CIA officer and Republican congressional aide won 21.5 percent of the vote in Utah last year running as a conservative alternative to now-President Donald Trump, finishing third behind the GOP candidate and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Even though he didn't get in the race until August 2016, by fall McMullin, a Mormon, was attracting national attention when he moved within striking distance of Trump and Clinton in polling in Utah, putting the usually Republican state up for grabs.
McMullin and Finn said then they were in the race not just to win but also to create a new conservative movement in the wake of Trump's troubles with voters in Utah and elsewhere over his own graphic statements about women and other issues.
"We are highly skeptical that the Republican Party will be able to make the reforms it needs to make in order to be a politically viable vehicle to the conservative movement," McMullin told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in October.
Wednesday's announcement appears to be the start of that effort. Stand Up Republic has a website and social media accounts, as well as a digital commercial targeting Trump's connection to Russian leader Vladimir Putin posted to YouTube.
Finn, a former GOP strategist, said in a statement the organization's "goal is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who want to hold the Trump administration accountable to upholding the Constitution and protecting our rights.”
She warned "embracing an authoritarian cannot be the solution to our problems; we should face our fears boldly and refuse to cave to our worst impulses," but said a unique opportunity has been presented "to unite around the cause of liberty."
It's not clear how much impact the new organization will have now that Trump is in the White House, said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
"Evan McMullin captured the spotlight at a very pivotal time in the campaign. He was trying to reform the Republican Party, to carve out a new Republican Party," Perry said.
But with the GOP in control of the presidency and Congress, "movement is going to happen within the party" and not as easily from the outside, he said. "I think it remains to be seen whether (McMullin) can capitalize on what angst is out there."
Tim Chambless, a U. political science professor, said McMullin may benefit from frustration with the new administration from the right and the left because Stand Up Republic will be seen as anti-Trump.
He said McMullin's organization may even hold some appeal to participants in the recent women's marches, including a demonstration that brought thousands to the state Capitol on the opening day of the 2017 Legislature Monday.
Trump is "a lightning rod. He has motivated people who would not ordinarily be involved in politics," Chambless said. "I think Donald Trump feeds it almost every day. Because almost every day, he exhibits behavior we've never seen before."