Justin Amash Isn’t Helping
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan announced Tuesday that he's running for president. He didn't do this earlier when he could've challenged Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. No, he's running now as a third-party “alternative" to Trump and Joe Biden. Amash is seeking the Libertarian Party nomination, which is not a shock. He's talked libertarian nonsense for years now. A 2018 Washington Post profile described him as the “new Dr. No," a reference to racist crackpot Ron Paul. “Trump-ism" appealed to some former Paul supporters but it alienated true believers like Amash, who wanted a small, pre-New Deal-era government and “free" trade.
Last year, Amash left the GOP during Trump's impeachment, and some freshman Democrats suggested he serve as an impeachment manager. Many of us believed it was a bad idea to even consider giving positive publicity to someone who was a Republican eight minutes earlier. We were better off when few people outside of his district knew Amash's name.
Amash was always your standard, awful Tea Party conservative. He didn't like Trump but there's an entire party full of Democrats who hate the president, and they don't consider the Affordable Care Act “unconstitutional" or vote against anti-lynching bills. Amash once suggested banning all abortions three days after conception. He recently demonstrated his crappy bonafides when he criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home orders.
Rep. Justin Amash: Ban all abortions after three days www.youtube.com
In 2016, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson led the Libertarian presidential ticket and somehow convinced 4.5 million people to vote for him. That was a record high, probably because the voters were high in 2016. It's hard to say if the party's share of the vote would increase in 2020. The middle — please God let it be the middle — of a pandemic isn't the best time for a “small government" message. People want that sweet stimmy. Still, there are brats who don't want people telling them to stay home or wear masks in public. (Mike Pence is currently courting that electorate.) Amash's promise to “put individuals first" might appeal to people who reject shared sacrifice. They're heading to the beach and you can't stop them.
The question right now is whether Amash's potential run harms Trump or Biden. Johnson polled well with independents and voters under 50. Biden is stronger with independents than he is with younger voters right now. He's embraced some of those hep Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren policies that the kids dig but it's a balancing act. He can't appear too liberal and scare away suburban voters. The problem with an Amash candidacy is that the “disaffected Republicans" have a non-Trump option who'd also guarantee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the ghost of Phyllis Schlafly. Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar were certainly more moderate than Sanders and Warren but compared to Amash they were members of the Squad. Like Buttigieg, Amash has nana appeal.
Few people believe Trump would've beaten Hillary Clinton in a two-person race, so an Amash run is probably better news right now for the president than for Biden. However, a theory has cemented itself online that no one is stupid enough to vote for a third-party candidate after four years of Trump, during which we spent eight years confined to our homes. That makes a protest vote seem safer, and Americans aren't always great at risk assessment.
There are also probably Never Trump Republicans who wouldn't mind if Trump won instead of Biden but don't want to contribute to his victory. They can take the moral high ground with Amash and blame Biden for his loss because he refused to ban abortion and give everyone an assault rifle. He said he was a moderate!
Amash is vacating his seat to run for president. Send some scratch if you can to Democratic candidate Hillary Scholten, who thinks we should have health care.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).