Justin Amash Tilts the Presidential Windmill
You can become president by building a winning coalition or catch lightning in a bottle and short-circuit the system. Justin Amash isn’t doing either.
He is actually going to do this…
For those of you going “Who dat?” a quick review:
Since 2011, Justin Amash has been the representative in the United States House of Representatives for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. One of the most libertarian members of the House, Amash was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, which he subsequently quit along with the Republican Party itself in July of last year. At the time, he used the 4th of July as the backdrop to announce his move in a Washington Post Op-Ed:
Modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral, but there is an escape.
Most Americans are not rigidly partisan and do not feel well represented by either of the two major parties. In fact, the parties have become more partisan in part because they are catering to fewer people, as Americans are rejecting party affiliation in record numbers.
These same independent-minded Americans, however, tend to be less politically engaged than Red Team and Blue Team activists. Many avoid politics to focus on their own lives, while others don’t want to get into the muck with the radical partisans.
But we owe it to future generations to stand up for our constitutional republic so that Americans may continue to live free for centuries to come.
Preserving liberty means telling the Republican Party and the Democratic Party that we’ll no longer let them play their partisan game at our expense.
Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party. No matter your circumstance, I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. I’m asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system — and to work toward it. If we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it.
While he didn’t mention President Trump in his Op-Ed, the dominance of the party by the current occupant of the White House was no doubt foremost in his mind. He was for the impeachment of the president, which he explained in a series of tweets, and has been an outspoken critic of the current administration.
To his credit, Amash has been consistent in his principles since taking office. Remarkably, he has only missed one of 6,150 roll call votes in his tenure. As near as anyone can tell, he has served his district without personal scandal, if not lighting a political one by leaving his former party. As near as we can tell, he is a person of integrity who believes what he believes. The cause of liberty is an important one, and even if you disagree with the libertarian version of that those voices are important to the national conversation. Before the lazy attacks start, I’m no fan of the two-party system either, but out here in the real world of America in the Year of Our Lord 2020 there is no appetite as of yet to change that in a meaningful way.
None of those things should dissuade us from calling this campaign by Amash for president what it is: A waste of everyone’s time.
“He has principles!” That’s nice.
“He has integrity!” Wunderbar.
“He stood up to Trump when it mattered most!” Gold star, like little league you get a free blizzard for your participation.
None of that is reason to launch a third-party bid for President of the United States of America.
Spare us the “ifs” and “could happens.” They are not going to happen.
What’s the best case scenario here, really? Breaking the high water mark of Gary Johnson’s 3% in 2016? Becoming the latest version of Evan McMullin? Amash may pull some voters that were otherwise going to sit out the election, but if your claim is he is going to help or hurt Joe Biden or Donald Trump you are going to have to show your work.
The reasons for this run might well be his principles but there are some practical reasons why he is doing it. Being an independent in the most partisan of Congresses means you are about as useful as a screen door on a submarine and half as popular. Not exactly known for shepherding legislation through the halls of congress to start with, Amash has zero chance of accomplishing anything other than floor speeches in whatever time he has left in the people’s house.
That time might be very short indeed, since he would be running in a three-way race to retain his seat come November. Factor in the animus against him by the party he left and the millions of dollars they would no doubt be funneling his way, a long-shot presidential campaign might be the least bad of not great choices. Which is how Reason, normally sympathetic to Amash, laid it out:
In many respects, the choice looks grim. In one best-case scenario, Amash survives a three-way race for re-election to the U.S. House despite Michigan’s straight-ticket ballot device (which allows someone to vote for an entire political-party slate by checking a single box) and despite the two major parties dumping millions into a winnable seat. A second optimistic outcome would be for him to labor mightily, in much more adverse circumstances, to top Gary Johnson’s record-shattering 2016 result of just 3.27 percent of the presidential vote
Five years ago, libertarians were clucking about their resurging fortunes in American politics. Now, one of the last federally elected officials to unapologetically fly that flag finds himself alone and potentially endangered.
In his tweeted announcement, Amash indicated he would be seeking the Libertarian Party nomination. That would explain the timing, as they are currently scheduled to hold their convention on May 21st. He would instantly be the biggest name among a field of, with all due respect, folks I’d have to Google just to make a listing of them here. While we are prefixing criticisms with “all due respect,” our libertarian leaning friends have shown no ability, or for that matter inclination, to put together a viable national party.
Let us pause to remember this moment of rhetorical brilliance from the 2016 Libertarian Convention where the candidates at the podiums turned their combined philosophical firepower onto the smoking hot issue of the day: “Should someone have to have a government-issued license to drive a car.”
The hot mess the debate was aside, the 2016 convention was most famous for James Week doing an interpretive dance on the theme of “naked partisanship” and the chattering classes perpetual wet dream of a contested convention. Let’s just, for propriety’s sake, pretend the first didn’t happen, while the latter saw Gary Johnson beat out William Weld (Yes, that Bill Weld) on the second ballot for the right to be a trivia question some day.
Which is likely to be the fate of Amash 2020: something 10 years from now you will be mildly upset for not remembering during a rousing round of bar trivia while waiting on your wings at B-Dubs. I love and respect our libertarian friends individually for many reasons, but as currently constituted the Libertarian Party is not a viable option for most Americans. That can change, and if Justin Amash is the one that does it and forges something functional and respectable from the diverse fractions of the liberty movement, I’ll be first in line to admit I was wrong, congratulate him, and welcome such a development with great enthusiasm.
But this is a Missouri situation: Talk isn’t enough, words aren’t sufficient, hopes and dreams of what should be will not water the tree of liberty with the electoral defeat of wannabe tyrants. You are going to have to Show Me.
You can become President of the United States by either building a winning coalition (like almost all presidents) or catch lightning in a bottle and short-circuit the system (see Trump, Donald John). Amash isn’t doing either. Democrats only liked him for having the token R-turned-I to make their impeachment technically bipartisan. Trump voters aren’t going to give him anything but vitriol. So if your plan is for a little-known lame duck congressman with no discernible achievements in the one job he has held outside of a brief stint in the family business to revolutionize American politics, you might need to reconsider what you are pitching the American people.
Amash himself probably knows that. Back in March, he commented that he would only run if he saw “a path” to winning:
He has no path, so why is he running? Lack of options, ambition, or whatever other reason he is doing this, it isn’t to win. He would have to be demented to think that. Pulling from both sides? He’s no centrist, so that isn’t it, and we’ve already established he has burned bridges to both the main parties that are not repairable at the moment. Nor does he fit into the Libertarian Party as it exists today — the real life one, not the utopian perfect one of Online Libertarian Inc. — which would have to square their pro-choice position with Amash’s “100 percent pro-life” stance, among other disagreements. Their core message of freedom would resonate better with some self-policing and refining of practicality amongst themselves, but such reflection is against the grain of folks drawn to the Libertarian Party in the first place. The petty infighting over fringe issues our libertarian friends are prone to devolve into is not going to attract the average American voter trying to slog their way through the worst economic crisis of their lifetimes.
So unless there is 35% or more of the national electorate that is jonesing for Amash’s particular brand of conservatarian purity, or whatever the hell folks are calling his viewpoint these days, that has magically eluded all pollsters and polls for the last several cycles, this is a windmill tilt of Quixotian proportions.
Which is appropriate, since the themes of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha are dealing with the idealism of the past and the brutal reality of the present. For whatever reasons, Justin Amash has decided to live, at least in public with this campaign, in a fantasy where he is the noble knight on a quest. We know this is going to end with him beaten by reality of the present day. Smart people do not suddenly get dumb, so he knows that as well, but is doing it anyway. Your feeling on how noble that is may vary.
But the result won’t. Whoever the next president may be, it won’t be Justin Amash.
So don’t waste our time on it. Good luck tilting the windmill.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on April 29, 2020.