Ordinarily, the prospect of serving alongside one’s former staffer would elicit pride from a member of Congress, but the potential congressional run of GOP staffer-turned-independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin has been received unenthusiastically by his former bosses, to say the least.
McMullin has been a polarizing figure in Republican politics since he decided to field a quixotic challenge against Donald Trump. But he took a turn towards pariah-dom under the Capitol Dome after he was quoted Wednesday in The Washington Post confirming the contents of an inner-circle Republican leadership meeting he attended when he was policy director for the House GOP Conference.
“I don’t think I’m ready to comment on that one,” said McMullin’s former boss, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“Who?” answered Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry with a glare, when asked about the prospect that McMullin could join his chamber.
“I think he’d have a hard time winning,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “He didn’t do well in his last race there. … Is he from that district?”
McMullin, who won 21 percent of the presidential vote in Utah, is considering running for the Utah seat that Rep. Jason Chaffetz has said he will vacate at the end of the month, and he has also mused about challenging Sen. Orrin Hatch. McMullin was born in Utah but raised in Washington state, and he has lived around the Beltway for the last several years.
It is clear, however, that his former bosses and colleagues would just as soon never see him again.
It is one thing, according to current and former House GOP staffers, that he essentially left the party to run against its chosen presidential candidate. But with the Post article, they say he broke the cardinal rule of being a Hill staffer: Thou shalt not discuss the private meetings of your current or former boss.
“The fact he was willing to go on record with The Washington Post to confirm details of a private member meeting says a lot about his character and integrity,” said one House GOP member. “If he were somehow to be elected to Congress, he’d have a very hard time gaining the trust or respect of the vast majority of our conference.”
That perceived sin is compounded by the fact that the meeting McMullin discussed with the Post wasn’t just any meeting. It was the so-called daily management meeting, held in Speaker Paul Ryan’s inner sanctum and privy only to the top four GOP leaders and their most trusted aides.
In the article, which was based on a leaked recording of a meeting from June 15, 2016, McMullin confirmed that he was in the meeting, and that McCarthy said Trump was being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ryan worried that the information would leak.
“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan said, according to the transcript.
McCarthy and Ryan have since said the McCarthy comment was a joke.
Some members and aides think McMullin is the source of the leak of the recording, although there is no proof of that.
“I’m working that; I’m figuring that out,” McMorris Rodgers said, when asked whether she thinks he recorded the meeting.
Kurt Bardella, a former House GOP staffer, said staff are expected to keep conversations they’ve witnessed private, but it comes down to context and judgment if they choose not to.
“There is an expectation that whatever you see, hear, and are privy to while working for your boss is kept private,” Bardella said. “I think at the end of the day, you have to weigh the value of what you might be revealing to the public at large against your commitment and loyalty to your former boss and colleagues.”
McMullin, who did not return a request for comment for this article, appears to have made the calculation that speaking out against Trump and those who support him is more important than toeing the party line or conforming with the decorum of his former job. He referenced the same meeting in a February op-ed for The New York Times, noting that GOP leaders privately think the worst of Trump but publicly side with him in hopes they can advance their policy goals.
That jaded view of his former colleagues has some thinking that McMullin would not run for Congress as a Republican. He indicated during a taping of the Slate Political Gabfest earlier this month that he would not run as a Democrat.
A source close to McMullin said he is still considering running, and since Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said he will call for a special election within a few months of Chaffetz stepping down, McMullin will assess the landscape and decide whether and how to run.
“He’s been steadfastly a conservative, and I think that’s where he’ll start,” the source said. “He will take a look at the most viable path and make a decision based on those facts.”