2016 mystery: Who is stealth-VP candidate Nathan Johnson?

Not many people outside of the political cognoscenti have heard of Evan McMullin, a Capitol Hill staffer drafted by #NeverTrump conservatives to run for president as an independent. Compared to the running mate listed along with him on nine state ballots, however, McMullin ranks as an A-list celebrity. Nathan Johnson has yet to make an appearance in the campaign, and Team McMullin remains tight-lipped about the man they claim as a “placeholder” … until McMullin picks his real running mate.

By the way, today is September 7th, just for a little context here. Politico’s Daniel Strauss reminds readers that the election is 62 days out :

In all nine states where he has officially qualified on the presidential ballot, McMullin has listed a “Nathan Johnson” as his vice presidential nominee. McMullin’s campaign won’t provide any more information about Johnson — including which of the thousands of people named Nathan Johnson the campaign is referring to — saying he is only a placeholder until McMullin names an actual running mate.

But in eight of the nine states, top election officials say McMullin’s campaign can’t pull Johnson’s name off the ballot, and that it’s “Nathan Johnson” — not whomever McMullin eventually names as his pick for Vice President — that will appear on the ballot.

If McMullin is indeed stuck with Johnson on the ballot, it marks an embarrassing setback for a candidate already struggling with a lack of national name recognition, a small budget and a late start to his race. And it provides more fodder to McMullin critics, who say his bid for president is less a serious run for higher office than an attempt at self-promotion.

It’s not as much about self-promotion as it is a protest stunt. Even for that, though, this shows that Team McMullin doesn’t have a surfeit of competence in its organization. McMullin declared his candidacy four weeks ago at a time when half of the states had ballot access deadlines that had passed or would pass within days. McMullin’s advisers insisted that they could win access by pressing lawsuits to reopen ballot access, which is a long shot in and of itself. With the deadlines a major issue, having the correct running mate on the ticket mattered even more than it would have mattered in, oh, April or May, when this campaign should have started.

How does Team McMullin plan to resolve this? More lawsuits, apparently:

“It’s a placeholder,” said Rick Wilson, McMullin’s senior adviser and chief communications officer, in response to questions about Johnson. “We will have a V.P. nomination. I don’t personally know the guy. He’s somebody that they vetted as a placeholder. That’s all it is.”

“We thought it would be inappropriate to just grab the first person that walked off the street instead of vetting them, which is what we’re doing,” Wilson said Tuesday. “Nathan is a guy who’s on the ballot right now with the full understanding that this is going to swap out in the immediate future. Our legal people have also had a long look at this thing and they’re confident that we can do this, we can make this thing work.”

Defenders of the McMullin candidacy could argue that four weeks is not long enough to discern and vet a potential running mate … and they’d be correct. However, that itself is one very good reason why starting a presidential campaign less than three months before the general election is a very bad idea — or at the very least, a deeply unserious idea. The execution of the campaign demonstrates that lack of seriousness, and contradicts the claims made a month ago that the activists behind this effort had made a serious study of ballot access issues, funding, staffing, and campaigning. How did they miss the need to get a real running mate named before applying for ballot access?

The stealth running mate does seem like a good pairing for a candidate who still remains off the radar for most Americans. Maybe they should just leave Johnson on the ticket.