Those who were terrified that a Libertarian presidential bid by Michigan’s ex-Republican congressman Justin Amash might throw the presidential election to Donald Trump can relax. Less than three weeks after announcing a presidential exploratory committee, Amash reversed course over the weekend and withdrew from the race, basically saying it was the wrong year for any sort of minor-party challenge to the Democratic-Republican duopoly:
In additional Twitter ruminations, Amash cited media-driven, two-party polarization, coronavirus-related difficulties in gaining ballot access and raising money, and concerns for Libertarian Party unity as reasons he folded his tent.
His allusion to party unity likely referred to resentment among committed Libertarians to the party’s recent habit of giving its presidential ballot line to disgruntled ex-Republicans like Amash, 2012-2016 nominee Gary Johnston, and 2008 nominee Bob Barr. With Libertarians choosing their presidential candidate in online ranked-choice balloting beginning on May 18, he may have thought there would be too little opportunity for conciliation of these grievances. More generally, the coronavirus pandemic and surrounding traumatic events have made the most important source of Amash’s fame, his unique right-wing vote for Trump’s impeachment, seem like something that happened eons ago.
With Amash out, the front-runners for the Libertarian presidential nod are those who performed well in the party’s nonbinding primaries before Amash appeared to take over the race, as Matt Welch reports:
The congressman’s exit now leaves the Libertarian race bereft of names with strong national recognition or easy access to high-profile media. Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger has won by far the most of the party’s nonbinding primaries and caucuses. Educator Jo Jorgensen, the party’s 1996 vice presidential nominee, won the Nebraska primary this week, and she eventually edged Hornberger out for second place in an instant-runoff voting exercise (which Amash won) among around one-quarter of Libertarian Party delegates.
While there is a core of Libertarian voters who will support any credible nominee, it’s unlikely Hornberger or Jorgensen (or, for that matter, performance artist and professional eccentric Vermin Supreme, who is running a semi-serious campaign for the Libertarian nod this year) is going to be able to run as effective a campaign as Amash might have been able to put together. His withdrawal is particularly significant in Michigan, where local support and high name identification might have made him a factor in one of the states expected to play a major role in the Trump-Biden competition.
As for Amash himself, he’s missed the May 8 filing deadline for running in the Republican primary for the House seat he currently holds. Given his apparent commitment to the Libertarians despite his non-presidential-candidacy, he may run on that party’s ballot line in an uphill battle to keep his seat.
In any event, we’ll now never know whether Amash might have played a spoiler role in the presidential race, either by draining away right-of-center voters who might have otherwise stuck with the incumbent, or by denying Joe Biden the ability to consolidate all anti-Trump voters. And the prospect of this November’s vote being the most polarizing election event ever continues to rise.