Ad from Super PAC Misleadingly Edits Utah Candidate’s Comments About Republican Base

In TV and social media ads, Club for Growth Action misleadingly edited remarks by independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin of Utah to make it appear he said that “the Republican base is racist.”

In fact, McMullin said “there is an element of the Republican base that is racist,” and that the party’s leaders won’t stand up to them for fear of losing votes. McMullin made his remarks on CNN the day after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. 

Club for Growth Action, a super PAC that says its goal is to “reclaim control of the U.S. House and Senate from the liberal Democrats,” is running the ad in the surprisingly close Senate race in Utah between McMullin, who is not affiliated with any party, and Republican Sen. Mike Lee. There is no Democratic candidate on the ballot.

The ad, titled “Charlatan,” includes a TV clip of McMullin seemingly saying “the Republican base is racist — these bigots” on CNN. The ad, which began running on TV and Facebook in late September, has received more than 11,000 views on Facebook and 16,000 on YouTube

The ad edited portions of McMullin’s comments during an Aug. 12, 2017, panel discussion on CNN about the Charlottesville rally and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s message to white nationalists that there’s “no place for you in America.” One person was killed and dozens were injured when James Fields, a neo-Nazi sympathizer, drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at the rally.  

In his full comments, McMullin — a former CIA agent who left the Republican Party and ran for president as an independent in 2016 — said this about Republicans and race: 

McMullin, Aug. 12, 2017: The reason why they don’t do that and I know because I’ve been a part of it, I’ve seen it myself, is that there’s a taboo within the Republican Party about attacking racism in America, and I know that that’s the case because when you do it as a conservative, you get attacked by elements within the party, and that’s where we are, and not all Republicans, of course, are racists. I was raised by Republicans who are not at all and who welcome Americans of all backgrounds and are not at all like this, but there is an element of the Republican base that is racist, and our leaders are afraid to stand up to them because, if they do so, they’ll be criticized, and they’ll potentially lose votes. And so they don’t do it, but that’s not public service. That’s self-service, and we need leaders especially on the Republican and conservative side these days who will serve the country and serving the country means standing up to these bigots.

McMullin filed a lawsuit on Oct. 4 against Club for Growth Action and three stations that aired the ad, seeking “damages for egregious, damaging dishonesty in the context of a political campaign.” 

The lawsuit said that out of the four stations mentioned in the suit — ABC 4, Fox 13, KUTV and KSL — only KSL has pulled the ad.

“Mr. McMullin never said this,” the lawsuit said. “On the contrary, his public work has been centered on earning the trust of Republicans and conservatives in this State and throughout the country. Mr. McMullin does not hold to the sentiment wrongfully put in his mouth by Defendants and did not ever express that view.”

We reached out to Club for Growth Action about the claims in the ad, but we didn’t hear back.

Club for Growth Action said in an Oct. 14 press release that McMullin is using the “judicial system to censor political speech.”  

In an earlier press release on Oct. 7, the super PAC expressed surprise at McMullin’s lawsuit, claiming the candidate “routinely relies upon brackets and ellipses to revise quotes when making his own political points.” The group claimed it used a “similar” technique when “cleaning up McMullin’s quote from ‘there is an element of the Republican base that is racist’ to ‘the Republican base is racist.’”

David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth Action, said in the Oct. 7 press release, “McMullin’s complaint is a transparent attempt at censoring Club for Growth Action and television stations across Utah. We believe this is not a situation where any television station should interfere with the public debate that is healthy for our democracy, especially considering McMullin’s voluminous, incessant, and public criticisms of Republicans.”

McMullin, who trails Lee by only four points in a recent poll, has said he would not caucus with the Democrats or Republicans if he is elected.

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