Justin Amash Running for Libertarian Nomination

The erstwhile Tea Party Republican is making a run for President.

Dave Weigel at WaPo (“Rep. Justin Amash to seek Libertarian Party nomination for president“):

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan will seek the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president, ending months of speculation that the former Republican would run as an alternative to President Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people,” Amash (I-Mich.) tweeted Tuesday evening. Two weeks earlier, he had tweeted that he was looking “closely” at a run, after denouncing a comment Trump made about presidential authority.

Amash, who turned 40 this month, was elected in the 2010 tea party wave and grew increasingly distant from Republicans as the decade went on, fending off a primary challenge from a business-backed conservative in 2014. He was deeply critical of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and even more critical of what the GOP did with control of the legislative and executive branches.

“Things have really taken a turn for the worse, in terms of the growth of libertarianism in Congress,” Amash told The Washington Post in a 2018 interview. “You have some bright spots here and there. But for the most part, the party’s become more nationalistic, more anti-trade.”

In 2019, Amash became the only Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment. Not long after, he left the party and continued to vote against spending bills, while opposing many White House priorities. He faced a tough reelection in his Grand Rapids, Mich.-based district, with Republicans and Democrats both filing against him.

At the same time, Amash faced pressure from members of the Libertarian Party to run for its nomination. The party hit a record high of nearly 4.5 million votes in 2016, with former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson leading the ticket. But there was no obvious favorite for this year’s nomination, with former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee ending his bid this month and former judge Jim Gray, the party’s 2012 nominee for vice president, probably their best-known candidate.

Axios’ Ursula Perano (“Justin Amash forms exploratory committee for third-party presidential run“) adds:

Amash gained notoriety last year when he came out as the lone House Republican to support the impeachment of President Trump following the publication of the Mueller report. He later switched his party affiliation to independent.

Our thought bubble, per Axios’ Margaret Talev: It is clear Amash wants to position himself as an alternative to President Trump, having criticized his handling of the novel coronavirus response.

Amash had been considering a run for months, and in recent weeks this move looked more likely. If he wins the Libertarian Party’s nomination, winning the presidency would be an extreme long shot — but third-party candidates have the potential to act as spoilers in close contests.

Honestly, it comes across as self-absorbed grandstanding. He could have run for the Republican nomination but chose not to. He could have decided that Trump’s re-election would be so devastating for the country that he would endorse Joe Biden—the only candidate with an actual shot of defeating Trump—and thrown his weight behind him in his native Michigan, a crucial swing state.

Instead, he’s going to take the nomination of a feckless third party who can’t find anyone better and make a Quixotic run.

The LP, which has been running presidential candidates since 1972, is far and away our most significant “third” party.* But that’s not saying much. Here’s how their slates have performed over the years:

With the exception of 2016, which featured the two least popular major-party candidates in American history, the LP has been a complete irrelevancy. And, starting with 2008, it has gone from nominating ideological kooks nobody had ever heard of to running disaffected Republicans with some name recognition.

Weigel addresses the question that naturally occurs:

It’s unclear whether a bid by Amash would have a greater effect on Biden or on Trump. In 2019, a Detroit News poll found Biden leading Trump in Michigan, a state that has grown more uncertain for the president, by 12 points. With Amash as an option, Biden’s lead shrunk to six points, with some independents and Republicans moving away from the Democrat. But national polling of Amash has been sparse, and it’s unclear how many states the Libertarian Party will attain ballot access in as the coronavirus pandemic makes traditional signature-gathering impossible.

It’s really unknowable. Amash is unlikely to garner enough support to force his way onto a debate stage, so he’d just be a protest vote. One would surmise that he’s more likely to draw people like himself—erstwhile Republicans who dislike Trump but lack the courage to vote for the only viable alternative—and thus hurt Biden at the margins. But, as Weigel notes, there’s too little to go on.

The Greens are going to chose their nominee at an online conference in July. Thus far, they have a bunch of nobodies vying for the ticket, so there’s unlikely to be a major siphoning on the left.

________________________

*Other parties, notably the American Independent Party and the Reform Party, have been more successful in presidential politics but the weren’t political parties so much as platforms for celebrity candidates George Wallace and Ross Perot, respectively. The Green Party has arguably had more of a spoiler impact, given the outcomes of the 2000 and 2016 election, but 2000 was the only contest in which it outperformed the LP at the polls—and arguably it was serving as a vehicle for Ralph Nader more than a functioning party.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    As mentioned, there was a poll last year showing Biden’s lead in Michigan narrower if Amash was included. Just one poll, but it fits with 2016 exit polls in which more Gary Johnson voters listed Clinton as their second choice than Trump (though the vast majority said they wouldn’t have voted in a two-way race).

    There’s a widespread misconception that Republican-leaning third-party candidates will invariably take more votes from the Republican candidate than the Democrat. It’s one of the assumptions underlying the Perot spoiler myth–one of the most pervasive myths of modern political history (and which you, James, for reasons that escape me, continue to stubbornly cling to in the face of overwhelming evidence suggesting it isn’t true). There are other, more recent examples in non-presidential races: in the 2018 gubernatorial elections in Kansas and Alaska, the Democratic candidate did better in polls where the Republican-leaning independent candidate wasn’t included. (In Kansas, the Democrat ended up winning the election anyway–but it was probably despite the independent.) I think part of what’s happening in all these examples is that Republican-leaning candidates who market themselves as a “sane, rational” alternative to the GOP tend to have the effect of splitting the non-insane vote, rather than (as one might think) splitting the Republican vote.

    Truth be told, I’m actually less concerned about Amash than I am by Mark Cuban, who’s been making noises about running as an independent. There’s always going to be a Libertarian candidate, though Amash is problematic because of his being an elected official from a crucial swing state. But a billionaire independent who stakes out territory as a centrist could be far more dangerous to Biden.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people,”

    The same people who elected trump? Yeah, that’ll work out well.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: I see no value in relitigating the 1992 election 28 years after the fact. But my view isn’t that Perot took more votes from Bush than Clinton on Election Day but rather that Perot damaged Bush early in the race, making it easier for Clinton to win.

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  4. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    But my view isn’t that Perot took more votes from Bush than Clinton on Election Day but rather that Perot damaged Bush early in the race, making it easier for Clinton to win.

    So your supposition is that if Perot had never reentered the race after dropping out, Clinton would have still won?

    In any case, the basic problem with this theory is that the fundamentals didn’t favor Bush, who faced a recession, which, though it technically ended in early 1991, its effects were still felt by the next year and unemployment was still high and rising through the summer. After the post-Desert Storm high in Bush’s approval ratings, they began tanking due to the economy, and were already underwater by Jan. 1992, more than a month before Perot began even making noises about entering the race. So Perot was evidently more a symptom than a cause. You also underestimate how much of his candidacy reflected dissatisfaction with Clinton, who was a relatively unpopular nominee seen as untrustworthy and hampered by scandal.

    That’s not to mention that Bush was running for his party’s fourth term in the White House. According to Alan Abramowitz’s “time for a change” model, that factor combined with the economy made Bush an underdog by default, before the campaign had even begun. If your assumption is that Bush was a favorite for reelection until Perot came along, then he holds a unique position as literally the only president in history ever favored for reelection while dealing with the effects of a recession that struck on his watch.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    A significant issue for 3rd parties this year is ballot access, given that the pandemic will make collecting signatures difficult.

    The only way a 3rd party candidate hurts Tiny more than Joe, is if that candidate runs as an avowed neo-nazi and pro-segregationist. Then he/she might pry away votes from Tiny.

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  6. Slugger says:

    I view Libertarianism as an ideology for and by college sophomores. However, our two parties have simply not served the country well. We have legislative gridlock, polarization, and presidential candidates that I would not invite to my house. This election our current system will give us a choice between two guys who are simply too old to have the energy and nimbleness to run a country this big. The two party system is not working. Let a thousand flowers bloom; let’s see lots of people on the ballot to see if we can find someone to vote for rather than holding our noses while voting for the least bad.

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  7. Crusty Dem says:

    @Sleeping Dog: The Libertarian candidate is already on ballot in 36 states including Michigan and that number is increasing, so if Amash secures that nomination (likely), as of today he’d be on most ballots…

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  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Amash knows he cannot win…so the question has to be asked; why do this?
    In ’16 in Michigan the Libertarian took 170K votes. Trump won Michigan by 10K.
    In Wisconsin the Libertarian took 106K votes. Trump won by 23K.
    With voter suppression there is no room for error in this race.
    Amash is helping to re-elect Trump.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    Aaron Blake has a piece at WAPO arguing that Amash would hurt Biden. He bases this on two things. The first is the Detroit News poll referenced by Dave Weigel in the OP above. The second is the “double haters” who were the subject of a Dr. T post a week or so ago. They are leaning heavily Biden, but a third party candidate gives them a way out.

    Always the qualifier that it’s six months out. So far all the GOPs have is Tara Reade and Hunter Biden, but they haven’t really started to attack. When they do it may move the double haters away from Biden.

    A commenter on the WAPO article offered excellent advice to third party voters – repeat after me:
    Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    ….

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  10. inhumans99 says:

    How adorable that he wants to run for President, but hey…any story that bumps the Biden story from the top perch on this site is a-okay in my book.

    Eventually good luck for all things GOP will run out and the GOP will start to understand what it feels like to be a Democrat looking outside in at the actions of a Republican controlled Senate and White House and pretty much being able to do nothing about it but hope the conservative leaning court in this country occasionally shows they still have some scruples (like their recent ruling that the U.S. Gov. could not still the insurance folks for the period of time where the exchanges were active).

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  11. Kingdaddy says:

    The headline should read, Amash Vies For Blame In Re-Electing Trump.

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  12. Scott F. says:

    Honestly, it comes across as self-absorbed grandstanding

    It can’t be that, James. Amash himself says this about “practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people.” Amash is only doing this because he is being humbly forced to do so by the times. /snark

    Seriously, I’m having a hard time thinking of a situation that lends itself more poorly to private, contract-controlled, market-driven solutions than a global pandemic.

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  13. Mister Bluster says:

    @Slugger:..Let a thousand flowers bloom; let’s see lots of people on the ballot to see if we can find someone to vote for rather than holding our noses while voting for the least bad.

    Well, 31 anyway. This list of smaller 3rd parties is composed of organizations that have fielded candidates in local, state or federal contests at one time or another.
    My personal favorite is the Light Party.

    The Light Party Platform, a synthesis of the finest elements of the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Green Parties have formulated a practical, synergistic 7-point program which addresses and serves to resolve our current socioeconomic and ecological challenges.

    Since I am a practicing Sun Worshiper I may just have to give them a closer look.

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  14. Mister Bluster says:

    @Slugger:..Let a thousand flowers bloom;..
    I agree. 46 Democratic Primary candidates in 2020 just wasn’t enough.

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  15. Kathy says:

    He’s 40 years old. he has like 35 years more of active political life, or more, and he could easily make himself prominent in the GOP and be well-positioned in 2024, if Biden wins and the democrats take the Senate. All he has to say is “I warned you.” And he’s on record with such warnings.

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  16. Mu Yixiao says:

    If anyone cares: Justin Amash–in his own words–on his decision.

    In an interview, the freshly-minted presidential candidate talks abortion, the “spoiler” charge, and Joe Biden’s flip-flopping, while insisting that 2020 is a “winnable race.”

    If you’re going to criticize (or mock) the man, at least do so with some knowledge of what he’s saying and what he’s advocating.

    As for the “humility” quote:

    I think when people hear the word humility, they think of a person who is kind, or gracious, or whatever. That’s not the kind of humility I’m talking about. I’m talking about humility with respect to the process. Humility with respect to how much one individual knows about things.

    The interview (despite some overly-casual wording of the questions) is worth a full read.

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  17. Kylopod says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Addressing the spoiler charge, he says:

    “And I believe there are enough votes out there to win this race. I wouldn’t be running if there weren’t enough votes to win this race.”

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  18. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    If he thinks he can win the presidency as a third party candidate, he’s not qualified to be president.

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “And I believe there are enough votes out there to win this race. I wouldn’t be running if there weren’t enough votes to win this race.”

    So we can add innumerate to his other qualities? Good to know.

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  20. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kylopod:

    And?

    He’s not some nobody with stars in his eyes saying “Yeah! I can do this!”

    He’s a 5-term member of the House, he has significant media “rank” thanks to his departure from the GOP and his stands on the impeachment, the stimulus package, and other issues. And he’s quite right that both parties are preaching to the far ends and there are a lot of people in the middle who are looking for an alternative.

    According to the chart in the OP, there was a 244% increase in Libertarian votes between 2008 and 2012. There was a further 573% increase between 2012 and 2016 (an 857% increase from 2008 to 2012). And that was with unknown candidates with little or no real experience.

    If the 3 data points (’08,’12,’16) indicate a trend, then–ignoring other factors–the Libertarian party could expect around 11M votes (or 8.5%). That’s not huge, but it’s significant.

    But this isn’t Gary Johnson. This isn’t a nobody with no experience. This is an experienced politician who is 6-for-6 in his campaigns (1 state, 5 federal). I don’t see him doing this unless he thinks at least a possibility.

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  21. Jen says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    But this isn’t Gary Johnson. This isn’t a nobody with no experience.

    Point of clarification here–are you saying that Johnson was a “nobody with no experience”?

    Because a former governor counts as experience in my book–a chief executive of any state is more applicable experience than a Representative.

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  22. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    So if a candidate can’t guarantee at least 45% of the vote they shouldn’t even try? We should all just accept the options of “far left” and “far right” and never hope for anything else?

    And… Just how likely was Trump in April of 2016?

    Going up against Democrats’ socialist leanings and Trumps temper tantrums, I’ll give Amash a fair chance at getting at least 20% of the vote (Assuming he’s allowed in the debates and allowed on the ballot).

    He’s unlikely to win this time, but it sets him up for a win in the next election.

    And… Of course he’s going to say “I can win this”. No candidate is going to say “There’s no way I’m going to win this”. That’s basic campaign PR.

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  23. Jen says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    He’s unlikely to win this time, but it sets him up for a win in the next election.

    Honest question: how?

    Given how we elect presidents in this country via the Electoral College and how each state allocates delegates, the type of realignment that would permit a Libertarian to win would have to be MASSIVE. You’re talking about individual, state-by-state realignments that would enable a third party to win the electoral college happening within another five years?

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  24. al Ameda says:

    Well, if Amash does enough damage to swing the Electoral College to Trump, if he (Amash) is re-elected to the House he’ll likely get a 2nd chance to vote for the impeachment of Trump.

    Maybe America really is a confederacy of dunces?

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  25. Kylopod says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Just how likely was Trump in April of 2016?

    Once Trump secured the GOP nomination, he had at least a fighting chance of winning the election. Anyone who understood US politics got that. It may not have been the likeliest outcome, but it was certainly plausible.

    There’s absolutely zero evidence that Americans as a whole are on the brink of abandoning the two parties. In fact, partisan polarization has been at an all-time high for the past several years. It’s one of the main reasons Trump gets so much support from within the GOP.

    Going up against Democrats’ socialist leanings

    Nobody outside the right-wing bubble seriously believes Biden is a socialist.

    I’ll give Amash a fair chance at getting at least 20% of the vote

    He’d need exceptional name recognition to get anywhere close to that, something he simply doesn’t have.

    And… Of course he’s going to say “I can win this”. No candidate is going to say “There’s no way I’m going to win this”. That’s basic campaign PR.

    Um…Gary Johnson didn’t say he could win this. Nor did Jill Stein, Evan McMullin, Ralph Nader…. Come to think of it, I have trouble remembering the last time any third-party candidate made such a claim with a straight face. (Probably Perot was the last, though in his case it wasn’t totally insane, given that he was actually leading the polls at certain points.)

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  26. Scott F. says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    And he’s quite right that both parties are preaching to the far ends…

    How is this “quite right?” In the primary process this cycle, the Democratic rank and file just passed over the more leftist candidates in favor of the Establishment candidate – much to the consternation of a lot of liberal activists. And the “far left end” of the Democratic Establishment is somewhere to the right of most every other country in the OECD.

    There may be “ a lot of people… who are looking for an alternative” but even if it were true those people are “in the middle” of the political spectrum, libertarianism isn’t a centrist ideology. It’s just Republicanism with more self-righteousness.

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  27. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mu Yixiao:.. Just how likely was Trump in April of 2016?…He’s unlikely to win this time, but it sets him up for a win in the next election.

    As much of a longshot as Trump was, he had the Republican Party National and State organizations campaigning for him after he won the nomination.
    The Libertarian Party has squat compared to that.

    unlikely to win this time
    How many electoral votes will he get? I suspect he won’t even carry his home state.
    Even if he does win, how many Libertarians will be elected to Congress in 2020 or 2024 to support his agenda?

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  28. An Interested Party says:

    He’s unlikely to win this time, but it sets him up for a win in the next election.

    With all due respect, this is why most people point and laugh at libertarians, because, as this comment makes abundantly clear, libertarians are delusional and do not live in a world based on reality…

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  29. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    You can draw on an inside straight in video poker and hit it the first time you do. that doesn’t make it a good play.

    So how much are you willing to bet that Amash will take 20% of the vote?

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  30. gVOR08 says:

    WAPO has a column reporting that Jesse Ventura is going for the Green nomination. The author thinks that if Ventura gets the nomination he’ll likely be more consequential than Amash.

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  31. Jen says:

    @gVOR08: Oh, FFS.

    Here we go again.

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  32. MarkedMan says:

    Since no one has up to now, I’ll just point out that Amash is a total Tea Party freakazoid. He’s at the extreme end of Climate Change denial and has worked tirelessly against the EPA. He’s accomplished nothing since coming to congress and instead brags about how much of a roadblock he has been.

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  33. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: What makes it obvious that none of this is anything more than ego-waving by a bunch of whiners is the fact that none of these third parties are willing to do the hard work. Why doesn’t the Green Party get some of its members voted into office lower down–to become city and town mayors, state legislators? To show that its policies actually have support and that they can actually run something in reality? But we never see that. Get voted in lower down, show you understand the demands of the system, then work your way up. These third party presidential runs are nothing more than wishes-and-dreams by idiots who demonstrate their narcissism rather than their actual ability to run anything in a government.

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  34. DrDaveT says:

    Because nothing says “we need a Libertarian administration” more than a massive public health and safety net failure at the federal level…

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  35. Jen says:

    @DrDaveT: This x 1,000,000

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  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy:

    You can draw on an inside straight in video poker and hit it…

    Well maybe you can, but I’ve never been able to. 😉 😛

    ETA:

    These third party presidential runs are nothing more than wishes-and-dreams by idiots who demonstrate their narcissism rather than their actual ability to run anything in a government.

    No, they’re doing more. They feed the myth that anyone can become president, and the whole “common man” schtick.

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  37. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I hit my first natural royal ever (nickel machine, $200 payoff) on a mistake. I held two to a royal, ace high (king and ace). I should have held nothing, which would have been the right play. I won that time.

    Curious, an inside straight, which is a lousy play, ranks higher 🙂

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  38. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..Why doesn’t the Green Party get some of its members voted into office lower down–to become city and town mayors, state legislators?
    This page lists 161 Green Party officeholders in 19 states. One, in Maine, is a member of the State House of Representatives. The rest are local or regional political posts.

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  39. grumpy realist says:

    @Mister Bluster: Good! Now make sure the rest of them do the same. Has Jill Stein ever been elected to any state senatorial position? Or as a Congresscritter? Or as a mayor of a sizable urban city?

    (I find it ridiculous that people make comments about Buttgeig and how he obviously “didn’t have enough experience” and don’t realize the exact same argument can be made about most third-party candidates)

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  40. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..Now make sure the rest of them do the same.
    I have no interest in what the Green Beans do politically. Unless they threaten to divert votes from Democratic candidates so that Republicans like Trump get elected.
    Then I give them hell all day long.

    The PLATFORM OF THE ILLINOIS GREEN PARTY 2010 states:
    Ecological Wisdom. The Greens recognize that the Earth sustains all life processes.

    This is factually incorrect. The Sun of our Solar System sustains all life on Earth. There is nothing that the Green Party can do to change that.
    Not to mention that one of the local Green Gadflys insists that American Citizens should be forced to vote in all elections or be punished. I got no use for that either.

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  41. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “he interview (despite some overly-casual wording of the questions) is worth a full read.”

    I read it, and I disagree. Just another narcissistic politician deluding himself that he is what all the people of the United States want in a leader.

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  42. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “And he’s quite right that both parties are preaching to the far ends and there are a lot of people in the middle who are looking for an alternative.”

    Even if that’s true, “libertarianism” is hardly “in the middle” between the far right and the far left. It’s the far right without baby Jesus — although he’s plenty anti-abortion, so he’s over on that side there, too.

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  43. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: ” We should all just accept the options of “far left” and “far right” and never hope for anything else?”

    So now Joe Biden is “far left”?

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