SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
We continue to follow the situation in North Korea. Last night, President Trump spoke by phone with China's president, Xi Jinping, who urged both sides to dial back their rhetoric about fire, fury and missile threats. We're going to turn now to Evan McMullin, the former CIA officer and Republican staffer who ran against President Trump last fall, criticizing his temperament and qualifications. He won about 700,000 votes. Mr. McMullin has continued to speak out. He's in Philadelphia this weekend for a meeting of the Centrist Project, which urges qualified independents to run for office at all levels. He's co-founder of the group Stand Up Republic. Mr. McMullin, thanks so much for being with us.
EVAN MCMULLIN: Great to be with you, Scott. Thanks for having me.
SIMON: It's traditional for Americans from all parties to support the president in time of crisis. What do you think of President Trump's statements and actions surrounding North Korea?
MCMULLIN: Well, I would say that I do support a harder line with North Korea. Presidents of both parties for decades have tried a more traditional diplomatic approach with the Kim regime unsuccessfully. They do present, I believe, a threat to U.S. and global security. But I've questioned whether Donald Trump's rhetoric has been part of the smartest, wisest strategy. And I also would advocate for a little more caution around some of the red lines and threats that the president is drawing now. I think a much more productive approach is to increase the cost of the status quo for China in North Korea so that China can be then more inspired to do more to rein in that regime.
SIMON: But you spent years at the CIA.
SIMON: What's your realistic assessment. Is? There any policy the U.S. can pursue that would prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons if that's what they want to do and if that's what the regime feel it has to do to stay in power?
MCMULLIN: You're exactly right. That is the primary motivation for the Kim regime in pursuit of nuclear weapons - is to preserve its power. And so the goal then, if - the goal has to be to change the way they think about the best way to do that. Right now they think the best way to do that is to develop nuclear weapons. It's understandable that they would think that, by the way. It's a rational conclusion, but we have to change that dynamic. And the only way we can really do that is with a lot more help from China. And so that's got to be the approach. China provides most of North Korea's energy and other support - humanitarian, et cetera. And we've got to change the dynamic there so that the regime actually fears, you know, its demise through lack of that support rather than through its lack of nuclear weapons.
SIMON: A tough question - but I think it's on the minds - a lot of Americans have expressed this over the past few days. Do you, Mr. McMullin, trust President Trump with U.S. military power, including nuclear weapons?
MCMULLIN: I can't say that I completely trust him with that awesome power. No. I'm sorry to say that. But I would say that there - he does have good people around him. I know General Mattis. I have confidence in him. And there are others around the president like that. And I'm hopeful that they will help prevent any terribly unwise actions.
SIMON: Let me give you a chance to talk about the Centrist Project, too. I'm not quite clear, having read your website, if it's a movement or a party.
MCMULLIN: It's more akin to a movement, although I'm not exactly sure I would call it quite that at this point. It's more a coordinated effort between potential independent candidates and those who would support them to drive change in American politics.
SIMON: You might be an independent candidate for something, I gather.
MCMULLIN: It's possible. I do believe that I'll run again. Of course, the next opportunity for that would be in 2018. It is possible. I just haven't made the decision yet.
SIMON: Evan McMullin, thanks so much for being with us, sir.
MCMULLIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.