It’s not China or Russia. Nor is it climate change or illegal immigration. It’s not a pandemic or an economic recession.

To independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin, the greatest threat to the United State is “our unmooring from truth.”

“The conspiracism that has infected our politics has made it impossible for us to govern ourselves,” McMullin told the Deseret News editorial board in a response to a question Monday.

“The extremism and division makes it more likely for any of us to believe the worst of our political rivals or enemies, as some call them,” he said. “As the hate we feel for each other increases, we become vulnerable to misinformation and to lies.”

McMullin is taking on two-term Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who easily won last month’s GOP primary election against two challengers. A former Republican, McMullin is trying to win over Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters in his attempt to unseat Lee. He has the backing of the Utah Democratic Party, which did not put up a candidate in the Senate race.

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Lee, he said, is the “poster child” for the divisiveness and extremism that pervades politics. McMullin pointed to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as senators who exhibit the leadership needed in Washington.

Romney has not endorsed Lee or McMullin.

McMullin, a former undercover CIA operative, ran an 11th-hour, anti-Trump campaign for president as an independent in 2016. He’s no fan of President Joe Biden, either. Both Biden and former President Donald Trump could wind up on the 2024 presidential ballot.

Lee voted for McMullin in 2016 before going all in on Trump, who has endorsed his reelection campaign.

Asked if he has a candidate in mind that he could support, McMullin said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and then added Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Romney to the list.

Cheney is in a reelection battle with a Trump-backed candidate in her home state. Although his name shows up in presidential polls from time to time, Romney, a 2008 presidential candidate and the 2012 GOP nominee, has said he would not run a third time. Kinzinger, who is not seeking reelection to the House, has not ruled out a run for the White House.

“I think all of those types of leaders are the kind our country needs,” he said.

Cheney and Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. McMullin said he is encouraged by the “small degree of bipartisanship” in response to Jan. 6. He said they’re putting country over party at an important time in the nation.

As for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible 2024 presidential hopeful, McMullin said, “he seems like more of the same broken politics to me. I don’t think we need any more of that.”

Why is a potential Republican presidential candidate coming to Utah?

McMullin sees himself as a bridge in the Senate between the two major parties. But some have questioned how effective McMullin could be in the Senate if doesn’t belong to either one.

He said if he’s elected, he would caucus with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, which could render him unable to have any impact at all. (Sens. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and Angus King, of Maine, are the only independents currently in the Senate. Both caucus with the Democrats).

McMullin argues that he would have more influence as an independent.

Senators like Romney and Manchin, who are willing to stand up to party bosses and special interests to represent their states, have the most influence in the evenly divided Senate, he said.

“Those senators are the most powerful now in the chamber, but I’d go a step further. They’re the most powerful, they’re the most influential people in Washington and in the nation. I want that for Utah,” he said. “If we prevail in this way, we will be the most influential state in the union.”

On critical votes, McMullin said, he would be the one of deciding votes if not the deciding vote on critical issues facing the country.

McMullin sees himself teaming up with Romney on a vast number of policies that benefit Utah and the nation, and would have far more influence than the state has now.

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“Look at Sen. Lee. What do we get out of him? Nothing,” he said. “He’s one of the least productive senators in the Senate.”

Romney is in the room where things get done, McMullin said, while Lee is outside “throwing stones,” referencing the recently passed Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Romney, who helped negotiate the legislation, voted for it, while Lee voted against.

Utah, he said, should have two senators who work to solve problems.

“I will be in those rooms,” McMullin said. “This will be a vote that both sides want.”

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