Libertarians view Amash as potential 2020 game changer for party

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) has reignited speculation that he’ll run for president, sparking excitement among Libertarians who view him as their best shot at breaking through on the national stage in 2020.

Amash has been flirting with a third-party White House bid for months now, but he’ll have to make a decision soon, with the Libertarian Party nominating convention coming up in late May.

With no high-profile name at the front of the pack, Libertarians are salivating over the prospect of having a sitting member of Congress at the top of their ticket.

They’ve been organizing pressure campaigns in Facebook groups and on Twitter to convince Amash to take the plunge. Top party officials say their phones are exploding with messages from excited party members asking them if they know anything about Amash’s plans. 

“He’s toyed with this before and every time he does there’s a lot of excitement from within the Liberty movement,” said Joe Hunter, communications director for former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s Libertarian presidential run in 2016 and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld’s (R) protest campaign against President Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. 

“He’d be acceptable to a lot of Libertarians, but also to a lot of those ‘Never Trump’ Republicans,” Hunter said. “Of all the candidates out there, he’s at the top of the list of those that can bring us to a tipping point, where a third party or independent candidate convinces the media and donors that he or she can be relevant and have an impact on the race.” 

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who briefly ran in the 2020 GOP primary against Trump, said he believes Amash would be a viable candidate who could pull voters from the left and the right.

“You look at the fastest growth out there in the political field, it’s on the independent side, it’s not with a traditional Republican or Democrat,” Sanford said.

Amash has been a consistent Trump critic, and last year he became the first Republican member of Congress to support impeachment proceedings against the president. 

Shortly after, he left the party, registered as an Independent and accused the GOP of abandoning its conservative principles to accommodate Trump.

Amash is seeking reelection as an Independent, but his House seat has attracted a handful of Republican candidates eager to see him ousted. They’re led by Peter Meijer, a military veteran and the grandson of Fred Meijer, whose grocery store chain is a Michigan institution. 

Over the past week, Amash has tweeted his frustration with the two major party candidates, Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Trump versus Biden is not the contest America deserves or the one it needs right now,” Amash said.

Trump’s statement that he has “total authority” over the governors in dictating the nation’s coronavirus response appeared to be a breaking point for Amash.

“Americans who believe in limited government deserve another option … I’m looking closely at it this week,” he said.

Amash did not return a request for comment, and Libertarian Party officials interviewed by The Hill said they had not heard from him.

Amash has described himself as a libertarian in the past, and it would be near-impossible for him to meet deadlines to get on the ballot in most states as an independent. 

The first goal for many Libertarians is to have their candidate make the debate stage, which means meeting the Presidential Debate Commission’s 15 percent polling threshold.

From there, they want to build on the Johnson-Weld showing from 2016, when the ticket earned 4.5 million votes, tripling the party’s previous record.

Johnson got 9.3 percent of the vote in his home state of New Mexico, raising questions about how well Amash could do in Michigan, which will be among the most hotly contested battlegrounds in 2020.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but the president’s allies say they’re not sweating the idea of a third-party candidate. 

Trump’s approval rating within the Republican Party is over 90 percent, and campaign officials say the media is always giving outsized attention to “Never Trump” Republicans who do not have much influence outside of Washington.

They note that every cycle starts out with high hopes for third-party and independent challengers, who typically recede into the background of the race without leaving much of an impact. 

One GOP operative with close ties to the White House said it’s possible Amash would pull more votes away from Biden than Trump. The argument is that Republicans who do not want to vote for Trump are considering voting for Biden but might cast a ballot for Amash if they view him as a viable conservative alternative.

“Trump has the Republican Party locked down, so any Republican at this point who is not voting for Trump is a potential Biden voter,” the operative said. “But if you’re a Republican who is just tired of the noise and you don’t necessarily agree with Biden on the issues and all of a sudden Justin Amash comes along, here’s a pretty attractive third-party option for you now.”

There are no guarantees that Amash could just show up at the Libertarian Party convention in Austin, Texas, and win the nomination. 

Attorney Jacob Hornberger is currently viewed as the favorite. The party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, Jim Gray, joined the race on Monday, after former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee dropped out. 

But there’s a definite lack of star wattage at the top, potentially giving Amash the opening he needs. 

The question is whether Libertarian voters will view him as an interloper who only registered late with the party in order to seek its nomination.

“Anything can happen at the convention, and there’s enough time for him from a logistical and technical perspective,” said Nicholas Sarwark, the chairman of the Libertarian Party. “I think he’s the most popular member of Congress inside the Libertarian Party. He’d be the first Libertarian congressman ever and would remain that throughout the election, and that’s something. The real balancing act is going to be how late can you decide this is where you belong and not have them resent it.”

Sanford said he’d be “most intrigued” by an Amash candidacy, describing the Michigan Independent as someone who could provide a home for those who feel abandoned by both parties at the moment. 

“I think that there are a lot of voters with simply nowhere to go these days,” he said. 

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 elections Bill Weld Donald Trump Gary Johnson independents Joe Biden Justin Amash Libertarian Party Mark Sanford Massachusetts Michigan New Mexico third-party candidate William Weld
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