McMullin advisers Joel Searby and Rick Wilson, both longtime GOP consultants, also attended the Monday meeting, which took place at Cranford House, a club on 22nd Street in Washington near Dupont Circle.
"It was great to have a chance to hear a conservative who's running for president. It's August 29, and I hadn't heard one since the end of the primary campaign," Stevens said in an interview. "I'm encouraging him, and I think he's doing a great thing. Someone who's stepping up, with tremendous knowledge on foreign and domestic affairs. Someone people could be proud voting for."
When reached by phone, Wilson said there were discussions about how to “scale” McMullin’s campaign and build his operation and about how to further court Republicans who are wary about Trump and disappointed with the Republican National Committee.
Stevens, a harsh critic of Trump who hails from Mississippi, has decades of campaign experience at the presidential and congressional levels, including stints working for George W. Bush and Bob Dole.
McMullin's is not the only non-Republican presidential campaign with which Stevens is speaking. Stevens is a friend and former adviser to former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld, who is running on the Libertarian Party presidential ticket as its vice-presidential nominee.
Wilson and Searby, along with the Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, have been key figures on the right in organizing an independent anti-Trump campaign. Kristol met with Romney in May about supporting such an endeavor, while Wilson and Searby have been in regular touch with Stevens, which led to Monday’s session about McMullin’s strategy.
Romney has not yet made an endorsement in the 2016 race but he is monitoring McMullin’s progress, according to several people who have spoken with him.
Like Romney, McMullin, 40, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah.
McMullin, a former policy aide to House Republican leaders and a former counterterrorism officer at the CIA, has been running as a fiercely anti-Trump conservative and working in recent weeks to get his name on the ballot in states across the country.
So far, McMullin has qualified for the ballot in Minnesota, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Colorado, Louisiana and Utah, though he has missed deadlines or failed to meet the requirements in several other states.
In Virginia, McMullin has submitted more than 9,000 signatures, well above the threshold of 5,000, and expects to make the ballot in that state.
For Trump, McMullin does not represent a rival nationally but is a possible threat in states such as Utah, where Trump is unpopular and McMullin could pull away votes that would traditionally go for the Republican, especially if Romney allies got behind his bid.
And even if, as is likely, McMullin does not win a state, a strong showing in Utah, Arizona and other states with sizable Mormon populations could prevent Trump from racking up votes in the Electoral College.
According to an internal campaign memo obtained by The Washington Post, McMullin plans in the coming days to mount legal challenges in states where deadlines have passed, work with minor parties to use their ballot lines as he has done in Minnesota, and aggressively seek petition signatures in states where it is still possible to earn a place on the ballot.
Ann Herberger, a veteran Miami-based fundraiser for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, has joined McMullin’s campaign and has been reaching out to donors in her network.
Still, some prominent conservatives remain skeptical of McMullin and see his campaign as a quixotic protest that they agree with in spirit but find themselves struggling to take seriously. Anti-Trump Republicans have not rushed to endorse him.
Ricochet, a center-right podcast website, has called McMullin’s campaign an “impossible dream,” and conservative writer Michael Walsh has described him as a “spoiler candidate” with “no chance” of getting on 50 state ballots.