Justin Amash is exploring a run for President of the United States, likely under the libertarian banner. Naturally, there are plenty of people who would criticize the move, either for political reasons or just because the numbers don’t look good and they think it’s a wasted opportunity.
Since Amash began vocally opposing President Donald Trump, he has taken a lot of heat from people on the right while being praised by people on the left, as well as disaffected Republicans who despise Trump. Those on the right would call him a sell-out, or a traitor, or any number of things because he would not swear fealty to Trump. In fact, when he voiced his support for the impeachment of Trump and left the Republican Party, he was viciously attacked.
But what everyone, from left to right, purposefully ignores for their own political benefit is that Amash is who Amash has always been. He’s been a libertarian candidate who routinely attacked and was attacked by the more hawkish members of the party. He has always been a fighter for reduced government spending and government influence in our personal lives. It is not difficult to see why he would oppose Trump over many policies.
There are many “principles first Republicans” who are upset with Amash, however, because they were so set on supporting Biden in order to make it an “anyone but Trump” point, and even someone like Biden — a longtime progressive who is being forced left in order to consolidate the Democratic coalition — was going to be their protest vote. But Amash complicates things.
Jay Caruso really put it way better at the Washington Examiner than I could.
The real quagmire for people such as George Conway and others in the Lincoln Project (launched in part, ironically, to help reelect Amash to Congress as an independent) and like-minded people is, with Amash in the race as a Libertarian, it tosses a grenade into the entire “binary choice” scenario. What that did was not only give them cover to vote for Biden but also to advocate for his candidacy openly.
No word in the world of politics rolled off the tongues of more people over the last five years than “principles.” Anyone who threw their support behind Trump, people in Congress friendly to Trump, or Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination or defended Trump in any way had the finger pointed at them. “J’accuse! You’ve betrayed your principles!”
The possible candidacy of Amash creates quite the conundrum for those willing to claim an air of moral superiority over those who don’t think precisely as they do. The critics of Trump are correct about his fitness for office. Trump is not very smart, has no desire to learn, doesn’t understand how a republic functions, couldn’t care less about the separation of powers, and has no set ideology beyond what he thinks will make him look good at the moment.
And Caruso is absolutely spot-on in that analysis. The reason you see people like Conway, Rick Wilson, Charlie Sykes, and others being upset about Amash’s entry is because it hurts their “principled” approach and exposes them for what they really are. They are looking for a reason to vote liberal, not because they oppose Trump, but because they oppose the entire Republican Party for allowing Trump to happen and they want the party punished.
So they want the choice to be a binary one, and Amash, who represents many of the things these guys over the years also supported, throws a wrench in that plan.
Those aren’t the only ones unhappy. Amash has managed to upset Trump loyalists simply because he is a threat to Trump voters, and some Democrats are worried that Amash could siphon votes away from Biden.
Via Liz Mair at the New York Times:
To the extent that anyone needs to be worrying about Mr. Amash costing someone an election, it’s probably more the Trump team than Democrats.
Mr. Amash’s presidential-toe-dipping should most disturb people desperate for more members like him in Congress. For us, the loss of a single libertarian-minded congressman is a real blow.
In Michigan, Mr. Amash will be on the ballot for re-election to his House seat, but he is not actively campaigning (and observers believe that a Republican candidate is favored to win the district in the fall).
There is one demographic that could complicate the picture in the state, which was famously determined in 2016 by nearly 11,000 votes: a large Arab-American population. Could Mr. Amash, the son of a Palestinian refugee father and a Syrian immigrant mother, pull enough Arab-American voters from Mr. Biden to tilt the state to Mr. Trump? It’s doubtful. At the moment in Michigan, Mr. Biden holds a solid polling advantage over Mr. Trump. Arab-Americans were in 2016 and are likely this year to remain quite anti-Trump. In fact, some conservative Arab-American Republicans in the state could flip from Mr. Trump to Mr. Amash.
While it’s true that Amash could siphon votes from Trump, the effect is more than likely negligible. He will get libertarian voters simply because of their party affiliation, and some Republicans who pay attention will vote for him if they don’t particularly like Trump, but Amash is really only well-known by those who pay close attention to politics, which is not nearly high enough to make a major impact on Trump’s turnout.
What’s more, he does not have a whole lot of time to campaign. We’re on summer’s doorstep now, and he needs a lot of time to get his name out there to try to get a decent percentage of the vote out. It is possible he could reach the same numbers that Gary Johnson got in 2016, but as of right now, he would have to do a lot of work to catch up.
Likewise, it’s almost impossible to imagine Democrats fleeing Biden to vote for a libertarian. It is much more likely that a viable Green Party candidate will be Biden’s biggest threat from the left, and that is where he will have to fight hard to move to the left and stop that from happening. Amash, along with little name ID on the national scale, has no traits whatsoever that would make him appealing to far-left progressives who are as disaffected by Biden’s candidacy as the aforementioned Republicans are by Trump’s presidency.
Regardless of his electoral chances, the fact remains that Amash is not acting out of character, and this really shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, I would argue that the only person who has not changed through all of this is Amash.