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.