Deseret NEws
Evan McMullin, who's running an independent bid for president, talks with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

This week could be exhibit A in the case to prove 2016 is the most abnormal presidential election year in modern history.

The Democrat, Hillary Clinton, was dealt another body blow — the release of 44 previously unseen emails that seemed to show an inappropriate relationship between her former position at the State Department and the Clinton Foundation.

The Republican, Donald Trump, was hit by something no previous GOP candidate could have survived — a letter signed by 50 prominent Republicans tied to national security, saying he “would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

And then Evan McMullin announced his candidacy.

Evan who?

The fact people nationwide were even asking that question could be exhibit B.

When have you heard of an unknown candidate — a former CIA spook who spent much of his life trying not to be seen — entering the presidential race roughly 90 days before the election, with no prior political experience, and getting instant national media attention?

And when was the last time you heard of someone like this being most closely associated to the state of Utah, with its six electoral votes? And yet here he was, a native of Provo and the lead story on several newscasts the day he announced.

In a piece published by the New York Daily News, conservative columnist S.E. Cupp wrote that, “… if this race tightens over the next three months, it’s conceivable Evan McMullin could become the most significant spoiler in election history.”

Really? So, again, who is Evan McMullin?

If you’re expecting Rambo, you’d be disappointed. When I met him on Wednesday, as part of his visit to the combined editorial boards of the Deseret News and KSL, McMullin was dressed in a conservative pinstriped suit with a blue patterned tie. He has a slim build, stands a few inches shorter than I do (I’m 6-foot-1), has shaved bald what little hair might naturally grow on his head, and is soft-spoken.

He is a young 40 with no political experience and no name recognition. He says America has been “trusting me for a long time” in his role with the CIA.

But of course America didn’t know that.

After a career as an investment banker, a Capitol Hill staffer and a CIA operative whose job it was to “recruit penetrations of foreign government and terrorist organizations” in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, he must have become politically connected. As he put it, he got tired of waiting for a credible third-party candidate to emerge.

About three weeks ago, he started talking with people who have been hoping to recruit such a person, including Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. He spoke with major funders, tested media response, sought support from family and friends and spiritual guidance.

“It took about 10 days,” he said. “I wrestled with it. It was a very, very difficult decision. … It felt like jumping off a cliff without being able to see the ground.”

He may find that ground soon.

McMullin is a likable guy with a reasonable grasp of the issues and a conservative philosophy. He obviously has an intimate understanding of the war on terror and a more hawkish approach than the current president.

He also insists there are more ways to get on the ballot in each state than meets the eye — he may align with third parties in places or take legal action in others. And he says he may not need 270 electoral votes to win, hinting he might keep the other candidates from reaching 270, thus throwing it to the House of Representatives.

But the path from here to there, over what now is only 80-some days, is far from clear. Despite the initial media attention, he will fade quickly from view, even in Utah, unless he has a lot of money to spend.

He needs 15 percent in the polls to qualify for the presidential debates, but first he needs pollsters to include his name in surveys. Who knows what percent he needs to get Trump to call him “crooked, lyin’ Evan.”

It is indeed an unusual year. Whether it’s that unusual remains to be seen.

Jay Evensen is the senior editorial columnist at the Deseret News. Email him at [email protected]. For more content, visit his website, jayevensen.com.