A year ago Rep. Justin Amash took a position that after reading the Mueller Report he believed it indicated that Pres. Trump had committed offenses for which he could be impeached, as well as coming to other conclusions including that partisanship has eroded the checks and balances built into our political system. I stated at the time that this indicated Amash was going to be making a move in his political career. He has long described himself as libertarian and has been among the most pro-liberty Members of Congress during his time in office. I along with many others had hopes that Amash would make his party label match his self identification and either seek re-election to his House seat as a Libertarian or even run for president. However, he instead chose July 4th to declare himself an Independent. That’s a nice bit of political symbolism, but now that Amash has decided to jump into the race for the LP presidential nomination what are we to make of his journey to this point?
There are those who argue that because he is a Member of Congress the LP would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to have him as our standard-bearer for 2020. At first glance that might seem so, but there have been five Representatives in the past fifty years who been the presidential nominee of an alternative party and four of them finished with less than 1% of the vote. Only John G. Schmitz, 1972 candidate for the American Independent Party, did better; he garnered 1.4%. Schmitz was the only one to still be in office when he ran, he was a lame duck after an influential constituent of his named Richard Nixon helped get him primaried, but clearly even a prominent former U.S. Rep. doesn’t automatically generate votes. Bob Barr was a highly visible national figure but was worth less than half a percentage point for the LP in 2008. Ron Paul made all kinds of noise in the Republican primaries in 2008 and 2012, but managed just .5% for the LP in 1988. And it’s not Libertarian-specific, the Green Party saw it’s second worst result when it picked Cynthia McKinney and every other Constitution Party presidential nominee received more votes than Virgil Goode. Being a Member of Congress just doesn’t move the needle all that much.
Many will say that an Amash campaign will be different. Perhaps so, but of his five predecessors, three also jumped into the presidential race very late in the process. Only Ron Paul was running for the nation’s top office for more than a year but that was partly out of necessity because the nominating convention was held in September of 1987. It’s not impossible for Justin Amash to match or exceed Gary Johnson’s historic 2016 result but one can’t help but think it would be easier to do that if he had been spending the last ten months raising money and building a national campaign organization. Why didn’t he declare himself for liberty on July 4th, 2019?
I have no inside information on the decision making of Justin Amash. One can come up with several reasons why he might have decided to run for president last year but not entered the race until now. It’s understandable to not want to have to be on the same stage with people wearing funny hats. A primary race takes a lot of effort, even for a front runner. A candidate with credentials that others don’t possess may feel themselves to be such a compelling choice that it’s not necessary to compete. Whatever the reason, if Amash intended to seek the LP nomination all along he should have been open and honest about it. If he really wasn’t sure if he wanted to run for president then that may be even more concerning after he repeatedly dropped hints last summer and fall that he would run. Even now after committing he admitted that he hasn’t been campaigning for re-election to his House seat since February. Dithering of that sort does not inspire confidence.
We could have had a Libertarian Party unified behind Justin Amash, building campaign organizations in every state and recruiting down-ballot candidates that would both support and be supported by the national ticket. The missed opportunity is massive for both Amash and the LP. Last year I was ready to go to work for the candidate I thought we might have and if the shadow of that candidate is nominated I will work to get him as many votes as can be had. But I cannot support him for the nomination. Justin Amash doesn’t guarantee that we will do better than previous LP campaigns, he doesn’t instill confidence that he will leave the party in better shape after Nov. 3rd than he found it, and it has become quite clear that he either won’t share his plans with us or that he has no plan at all.