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Photo: Griff Fitzsimmons / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Former independent presidential candidate and 2011 Wharton MBA graduate Evan McMullin addressed a group of Penn students at Houston Hall on Wednesday night. He spoke about conservative opposition to President Donald Trump, who he said he believes endangers democratic values.

“We have a president of the United States who I believe is an authoritarian and someone who is eroding our democratic ideals, norms and institutions,” McMullin said, adding that the need to stand up to challenges to these democratic principles is a nonpartisan issue.

"it’s not a conservative thing, it’s not a liberal thing,” he said.

McMullin was an operative in the CIA for over a decade. After graduating with an MBA from Wharton in 2011, he went into investment banking at Goldman Sachs. He later became a senior advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. In August 2016, he ran for president as an independent.

“His campaign became a home for conservatives who could not get behind Trump,” said College junior Costa Costidis, who introduced McMullin.

After the election, McMullin and his running mate, Mindy Finn, founded Stand Up Republic to take action and oppose Donald Trump. They also oppose what McMullin said he believes are dangerous trends in the Republican Party. He said he thinks the party is moving toward authoritarianism. 

McMullin said he is afraid Trump and his supporters will “co-opt” the word conservatism, and true conservatives may have to find another term to describe their beliefs.

“For me, [conservatism] is that we are all born equal and that we are all born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

McMullin did not hold back from criticizing the Republican Party.

“I get a lot of heat for saying this and I’m going to keep saying it,” McMullin said. “There are a lot of Republican voters and Republican leaders who don’t really embrace the idea that all men and women are created equal. And that’s a big, big problem.”

The event was co-hosted by Penn in Washington and College Republicans.

“I think it is very nice to have a speaker here who represents conservative values in the more traditional sense,” Chairman of the College Republicans and College senior Matthew Shapiro said. “And in the era of Trump I think it is important to bring in someone who represents the conservative values that have been espoused throughout the past few decades.”

While he had many bleak predictions about the immediate future of the country, McMullin said he is “optimistic” and believes the country “will emerge from this.”

“I believe that there is natural opportunity for alliances between constitutional conservatives who are standing up to Trump and people on the left who are concerned about the erosion of democracy and what holds it together,” he said.

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