the national interest

How Throwing Justin Amash Out of the GOP Might Make Trump Lose 2020

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-not for long) Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Saturday, Representative Justin Amash became the first Republican in Congress to call for impeaching President Trump on the basis of the massive misconduct detailed by the Mueller report. It was a rare act of bravery, one likely to end his career in Congress. Amash’s fellow Republicans immediately set about proving how brave it was by excommunicating him from the party.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared on Fox News to unleash a wild flurry of lies. “You’ve got to understand Justin Amash. He’s been in Congress quite some time. I think he’s asked one question in all the committees that he’s been in,” he said. “He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me. It’s a question whether he’s even in our Republican conference as a whole. What he wants is attention in this process. He’s not a criminal attorney. He’s never met Mueller. He’s never met Barr.” The California congressman added, “It’s very disturbing … He never supported the president, and I think he’s just looking for attention.”

McCarthy is making up in quantity what his argument lacks in quality. Consider his charges in order.

I think he’s asked one question in all the committees that he’s been in.” A very quick YouTube search turns up a number of instances of Amash asking questions in committees: here, here, here, and here. Amash is so famously dedicated to his job, having compiled a streak of making more than 4,000 votes in a row, that he broke down in tears after he missed one vote.

He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me.” Amash is a right-wing libertarian with some gadfly tendencies, but his anti-government views place him clearly on the Republican side. Amash had an 88 percent score from the American Conservative Union, a 100 percent score from FreedomWorks, and has voted with Trump 92 percent of the time in this Congress (though only 54 previous in the previous Congress.)

He’s not a criminal attorney.” Oh, McCarthy is interested in what criminal attorneys think of the Mueller report? Well, here’s a letter from more than 400 former federal prosecutors asserting “the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”

He’s never met Mueller. He’s never met Barr.” It’s not clear why it’s important for a lawmaker to meet Mueller when he has taken the time to read his 448-page report. In any case, President Trump has argued against Mueller testifying before Congress. The House invited Barr to testify, but Barr boycotted the proceedings.

McCarthy’s impulse is to cast Amash as an outsider, and thus to discredit his stance. This is the central theme of the messaging that took hold over the weekend. “The only people still fixated on the Russia collusion hoax,” asserts Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, “are political foes of President Trump hoping to defeat him in 2020 by any desperate means possible.”

In one sense this is true. If you define anybody who objects to Trump’s conduct as a political foe, then only his foes object to his conduct. Trump has used this logical circle to discredit everybody who has challenged him. This Trumpian alchemy has transformed lifelong Republicans like Robert Mueller, James Comey, John McCain, John Kasich, and many others into hardened Democratic partisans. To be a loyal Republican now is to support all of Trump’s misconduct, therefore, anybody who objects to Trump’s conduct is a partisan Democrat.

The grain of truth in the accusations against Amash is that Amash is contemplating a presidential candidacy with the Libertarian Party. “I would never rule anything out,” he said in March. A real right-wing third-party challenge, by a Republican (who hails from a swing state) would be a nightmare for Trump’s reelection. And the more Republicans attack Amash, the more they close the door on any chance he can return to Congress, where he mostly votes with them, and push him instead to run against Trump. The short-term goal of discrediting Trump’s critics may bring with it a much larger long-term cost.

How Throwing Amash Out of the GOP Might Make Trump Lose 2020