Opinion writer

A woman wears a shirt reading “Trump Putin ’16” while waiting for Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event in Plymouth, N.H. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Months ago, conscientious Republicans went searching for an alternative to Donald Trump. No big-name Republican stepped forward. Since then, both parties have had their conventions and Trump has experienced a huge polling meltdown, and numerous Republicans have come out for Hillary Clinton or the Libertarian Johnson-Weld ticket. It looks far more likely that Clinton will carry Arizona and/or Georgia than Trump will carry Michigan, Virginia or Pennsylvania.

Finally, an independent Republican, Evan McMullin, a veteran of the CIA, has stepped forward. Who he is? Will he have any influence on the election?

ABC News reported:

“With the stakes so high for our nation and at this late stage in the process, I can no longer stand on the sidelines,” McMullin said in a statement. “Our country needs leaders who are in it for the right reasons and who actually understand what makes this country the greatest on earth. Leaders who will unite us and guide us to a prosperous, secure future, beyond the dysfunction of a broken political system.” . . .

McMullin, who resigned this morning as the chief policy director of the House Republican conference, was planning to incorporate an election committee today, get a bank account for it and start raising and spending money in a manner consistent with all applicable Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service requirements, according to the operatives launching his campaign. They plan to file FEC candidacy forms by Aug. 15, they said.

Better for America says prominent Republicans will back McMullin, who has some well-known GOP operatives behind the effort, including Republican consultant Rick Wilson and Floridian pollster and operative Joel Searby. The group has been partly funded by John Kingston, a Boston conservative donor who bundled for Mitt Romney.

Political pundits were understandably dismissive. Maybe if he had shown up months ago? Well, there is certainly no downside to running if people want to spend their money on him. And if he is a serious voice on national security, one more voice lambasting Trump is always welcomed. In his letter on a new website, he told voters, “Given his obvious personal instability, putting him in command of our military and nuclear arsenal would be deeply irresponsible. [Trump’s] infatuation with strongmen and demagogues like Vladimir Putin is anathema to American values. We cannot and must not elect him.”

His candidacy may have the most impact in Utah, where he was born (in Provo) and went to college, at Brigham Young University. Trump is already lagging in Utah, so any more votes drained away from this traditional GOP state could take Utah away from Trump.

McMullin is unlikely at this late date to get much traction, but for Republicans who cannot abide by either Clinton or Trump and who take national security seriously, he is as good a protest candidate as any.

More significant than McMullin, however, remains the steady stream of foreign policy gurus who warn that Trump is a threat to national security. A letter signed by 50 foreign policy gurus, who have served in a multiple GOP administrations and span a variety of perspectives, including former CIA chief Michael Hayden, former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, former deputy secretary of state and trade representative Robert Zoellick, make clear:

From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

Most fundamentally, Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. . . .

Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding of America’s vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances, and the democratic values on which U.S. foreign policy must be based. At the same time, he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends. Unlike previous Presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics. Despite his lack of knowledge, Mr. Trump claims that he understands foreign affairs and “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.”

With or without McMullin, more Republicans now realize Trump is a nonstarter. Yes, even Hillary Clinton is better than Trump. By a lot.