It’s official: Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) is running for president in the Libertarian primary. Amash, a former Republican, could spell danger for President Donald Trump’s reelection in November.
“Today, I launched an exploratory committee to seek the [Libertarian Party]’s nomination for president of the United States. Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people,” Amash tweeted on Tuesday evening. “We’re ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together. I’m excited and honored to be taking these first steps toward serving Americans of every background as president.”
We’re ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together. I’m excited and honored to be taking these first steps toward serving Americans of every background as president.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 29, 2020
After calling for Trump’s impeachment for obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation following the Mueller report, Amash left the GOP on July 4, 2019. “I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party,” he wrote in The Washington Post. “I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us.”
A stalwart voice for small-government principles, Amash has strong credentials for the Libertarian Party — especially after he cut himself off from the GOP. But twelve states have already held primaries and caucuses. In the Republican or Democratic primaries, it would be almost impossible for a candidate to jump into the race at this late hour, merely six months before the November election.
Dan Fishman, executive director of the Libertarian Party, told PJ Media that the Libertarian nomination is far from settled and that Amash’s announcement caught the party off-guard.
“The Libertarian Party had no knowledge that Justin was going to announce,” Fishman said. “He had suspended his congressional campaign, he had tweeted things that suggested he was going to do it,” but he had given the party no warning.
All the same, Amash has an excellent chance of running away with the nomination.
While many delegates to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are bound to support one candidate or another, Libertarian delegates are not bound and can make up their minds at the convention.
“We have not had our convention yet,” Fishman explained. “Our delegates are all unbound, deliberately. They are meant to have freedom of choice when they go there. They are nominated at their state convention by members of the state party.”
“About 80 percent of the delegates have not made up their mind,” the executive director explained.
While twelve states had primaries, “that doesn’t bind the delegates at all. The race is still wide open, anybody could win.”
The Libertarian Party has struggled to attract strong candidates this cycle. Jacob Hornberger, who has never held elected office, leads the pack with 22 percent of the vote in the primaries. Vermin Supreme, the man who wears a boot on his head and pledges to give every American a pony, is in second place.
Fishman expressed admiration for Justin Amash and shrugged off any concerns that the former Republican was too connected to the GOP to win the Libertarian nomination.
“His declaration of independence was on Independence Day last year,” the Libertarian executive director noted. “The vast majority of people in the Libertarian Party at one time or another were in another party. I myself was a Reagan Republican until Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson convinced me there was no room for me in the Republican Party.”
“I think Justin Amash has been, dominatingly, the most libertarian congressman … until you look at Dr. Ron Paul,” Fishman added.
“I think that most libertarians want to judge a candidate based on what they’ve done and what their positions are. Justin Amash seems to have a very strong libertarian bent,” he suggested.
While Fishman insisted that anyone could win, it seems Justin Amash will lock down the Libertarian nomination quickly. As of now, the Libertarian National Convention is scheduled to take place in Austin on May 21, but Fishman admitted that it may be delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s unclear when our convention will be, but we have to have it before August,” he explained, citing the party’s bylaws.
The coronavirus crisis may help Libertarians, however. A judge recently struck down the requirement for the Libertarian candidate to gather signatures in Illinois in order to qualify for the general election ballot in November. Fishman expressed hope that other states would do the same.
“We anticipate having 50-state access again,” he said, referring to the 2016 election when former Gov. Gary Johnson (R-N.M.) qualified for the general election ballot in all 50 states.
Justin Amash will almost certainly be the Libertarian presidential candidate in November, and it appears he may be on the ballot in every single state. This bodes ill for Trump, but it may also lead #NeverTrump Republicans to abandon Biden for Amash. Conservatives who are grateful to Trump for his originalist judges, his deregulation push, his tax reform, and more will not be tempted by Amash, especially after he gave undue weight to the obstruction of justice theory in the Mueller report.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.