vision 2020

Will Justin Amash’s Presidential Bid Help or Hurt Trump?

Justin Amash, representative and now Libertarian presidential aspirant. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

So it appears at least one minor political party will have a national political figure available for a presidential run this year. Michigan representative Justin Amash, an ex-Republican who voted for the impeachment of Donald Trump earlier this year, has announced the formation of an exploratory committee aimed at the 2020 Libertarian Party nomination. This would appear to put Amash in line to become the fourth consecutive Libertarian nominee who is a disgruntled ex-Republican pol (former Georgia representative Bob Barr was the nominee in 2008, and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson carried the Libertarian banner in 2012 and 2016). There are other candidates running for the nomination, which is scheduled to be decided at a convention in Austin over the Memorial Day weekend, but none is a commanding front-runner, or offers anything like Amash’s name ID and notoriety.

An additional factor that could lead Libertarians to settle quickly on Amash is their struggle to gain ballot access in the middle of a pandemic. At present, Libertarians are on the ballot in only 36 states (as opposed to all 50 in 2016), a list that does not include such potential battleground states as Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. A celebrity nominee might help.

The ultimate issue, of course, is whether an Amash candidacy will help or hurt the two major-party candidates. In theory, you’d figure an ex-Republican running on the ticket of a party that favors radically smaller government would take #NeverTrump votes away from the GOP candidate. In 2016, however, polling didn’t show the minor-party candidates (Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and independent conservative Evan McMullin) having much of a net impact on the two-party race, and it’s likely any decisive effect was a state-by-state matter. In that respect, however, it’s significant that Amash hails from the very closest 2016 state, Michigan. Johnson did a bit better in Michigan than he did nationally, but it’s likely Amash’s local fame would push him higher. There is probably, however, nothing for which Amash is better known than his lonely vote for impeachment. It’s unclear why potential Trump voters would drift over into his column in November. So his impact on the future of the republic may depend on whether Joe Biden has done anything (past or present) to alienate anti-Trump voters.

At least one of Amash’s peers thinks he’s making a mistake. Another ex-Republican, former representative Joe Walsh, who actually ran against Trump in the Republican primaries this year, penned a Washington Post op-ed on the subject:

The best and surest way to beat Trump is to have only one alternative to him. To give all the disaffected Republicans, conservatives and independents only one alternative to Trump. Giving them a conservative alternative might be ideologically satisfying, but it increases the likelihood that Trump can pull off another narrow win.

The president seems to agree, in his incoherent way:

There is one pretty clear benefit to Amash’s old party of his decision to go national: It likely returns his congressional district to the GOP ranks, as Roll Call notes:

Amash won a fifth term in 2018 by 11 points, but because of his split with Trump and his exit from the GOP, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales had seen the seat as vulnerable, rating the 3rd District race Tilt Republican. Several Republicans are running in the Aug. 4 primary, including Army veteran Peter Meijer, whose family owns a grocery store chain, and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis.

“Amash’s presidential run is a gift to House Republicans,” Gonzales said. “Without Amash running for reelection and complicating the race as an independent, Republicans shouldn’t have a problem taking his district back in November.”

But Amash’s effect on the presidential contest — if he has one — is obviously what matters most.

Will Justin Amash’s Presidential Bid Help or Hurt Trump?