In the short time since Justin Amash announced his exploratory committee for his Presidential run, he’s had no problem getting coverage from major news outlets. They’ve asked him about current issues like COVID-19 and government’s response to it, about Trump and Biden, and about the likely effect of him running as the Libertarian Party standard bearer.
However, much of that seems to me to be jumping ahead. So I reached out to ask him primarily questions that Libertarian delegates are asking, given that they haven’t yet chosen the nominee. I asked him about when it would be official that a Libertarian Party member is sitting in the house. Why the LP should trust that he’s not just another Bill Weld. About his seemingly never-ending announcement tease and what took him so long. What differences he may have with the platform, and more.
TLR: This is Gary Doan talking to Justin Amash for The Libertarian Republic. Justin has long been the most libertarian sitting congressman in America. Former Ron Paul-style Tea Party Republican turned independent, recently turned ‘big L’ Libertarian, and obviously… running for president. Thanks for talking with me.
JA: Yeah, thanks so much, Gary.
TLR: Before asking you about your campaign for President, I’d like to start by talking about the effect of you joining the LP as a sitting Congressman. What effect do you believe the LP having its first congressional seat will have on the party and on the country? And will your votes officially be recorded as Libertarian?
JA: The votes will be recorded as Libertarian. I’m changing my party affiliation to Libertarian starting May one, so we’ll be filing some paperwork with the clerk of the House. And I hope it does make an impact. I hope it does bring some attention to the Libertarian Party and help spread the ideas that libertarians have been talking about.
I’ve been serving as an independent for the last many months now and I think it’s important, in the near term, at least… I’m talking about the next decade or so… that we have a strong Libertarian Party that can compete with these other two parties. I think a lot of people in the long run, would like to see us move away from parties, the idea that people can just vote for whatever candidate they want, and party affiliation doesn’t matter. But we’re not there in the next 10 years or so. I think that’s that’s a long term project. So in the immediate future, we’ve got to have strong a strong competitor to the two major parties.
TLR: Do you think your changing registration, will encourage any other sitting congressmen to follow?
JA: I don’t know about that in the short run, but I do think that it is more achievable than convincing them to become independents. And that’s because people like to feel like they’ve got some sort of support group or some apparatus behind them. And when you run as an independent? It works for someone like me in my district, where I have really spent a lot of time spreading this message of independence. And so the people in my district are very trusting of me and and would support me as an independent.
But for a lot of my colleagues, to run as an independent is very difficult. They don’t have the same kind of support system. And for them, they might feel more comfortable becoming a Libertarian than, say, running as an independent. But even so, I could only think of maybe a few members of Congress who would consider that anytime soon. And, and I think you can probably guess the ones.
TLR: Yeah. Before you could run as a LP candidate against Trump and Biden, obviously, you need to secure the nomination first. There’s a few concerns I’ve heard from LP members about your candidacy that I’d like to give you a chance to address head on. First off, what’s your pitch to delegates dismayed by your late entrance to the race who feel it’s in some way unfair to those who have been running a while, already put in a lot of work, attending state conventions and debates and such? And do you plan to attend any debates in the near term against other Libertarians?
JA: Well, I’d hope to be in part of these debates coming up. So I hope that I’ll get that chance and that opportunity because I want to earn the support of the delegates. And I think it’s important that they hear from me. And as for the late entry into the race, I had to decide based on the situation on the ground. And a few months ago, I came to the realization that I should really look at this race and really think about how I proceed going forward, whether being an independent going forward, made the most sense or whether it made sense to become a Libertarian, and try to build the party.
And I started that journey a couple months ago, actually in mid February and It probably would have happened faster if not for the fact that the Coronavirus situation came up. And that forced me to spend some more time recalculating, because I had to then address how would I campaign in a Coronavirus environment like this. And, and I had to also spend more time making sure that my district was being taken care of. So we’ve been thinking about this for a while, my friends and family and I, as we’ve been discussing it, and I regret that I wasn’t able to get in a little sooner, but I want to earn the respect of the delegates and earn their support. And I’ll be working to do that over the next several weeks.
TLR: Another thing that I’ve heard from a lot of people resistant to you… Last cycle, many in the Libertarian Party felt betrayed by Bill Weld. To be completely candid, he didn’t even seem to run as a Libertarian. He vouched for Hillary’s character. He ran back to the GOP after promising many of the people in my party that he would stick around As such, a lot of Libertarians are skeptical of those coming from other parties, especially as late entrants. How would you try to address their fears of some kind of Weld repeat?
JA: Well, I’m here to stay. My goal is to build up the Libertarian Party. I don’t view it as just a thing I’m doing for one cycle. It’s something that I want to be a part of. As I said, I spent the last several months as an independent and had a chance to see how that would work. And could I bring more people into the independent camp? And I’ve decided that in the near term… over the next decade or so… the only route is to build up a competitive third party. I think that is the best route to proceed.
Because while someone can be successful as an independent in a one-off situation like me, I don’t think you can build enough of a brand that way to bring people over, and you need some kind of party apparatus. But you should never have a party that is your full identity, which is what happens a lot with Republicans and Democrats, I think that they are so immersed in the identity politics of being a Republican or being a Democrat, that they abandon their principles. So, Libertarians, we have to be true to our principles. If the party is pushing against our principles, we have to push back against the party. And I think we have to be willing to stand up for what’s right, and build a party that is principled, but also reaches out to millions of Americans.
TLR: Speaking of principles not always being in line with, necessarily, the party apparatus, if there are times that you feel your principles or the non aggression principle are at odds with the Libertarian Party platform, that’s… official… how would you handle that? And are there issues you can think of off the top of your head where there is some disagreement?
JA: Well, I think we’ll try to make sure that my views and the platform can exist together. I haven’t spent time studying the entire platform. I have a general idea of the what’s in the platform. But I couldn’t tell you specifically whether there are issues where I would disagree with the platform or not. I do think that you’re not going to have any candidate ever who is 100% aligned with every other Libertarian, and they’re… Within the party, as you know, there are going to be Libertarians who disagree with each other. So there’s no perfect system. You want to have a platform that is accessible to all of them so that they can all feel comfortable saying I support the platform, and I’d like to be able to do that as well. So I’ll spend some time with that.
I think probably the one issue that maybe is more challenging within Libertarian Party is that I’m pro life. And I don’t hide that fact. I’ve been a pro-life rep throughout my career, I’ve been pro-life my whole life. I think that we can come to an understanding though, as Libertarians, regardless of whether some Libertarians are pro-life and some are pro-choice. And I think there’s a pretty good split in the party there. I think we can all agree that there shouldn’t be federal funding of abortion providers or federal funding of abortions. That’s a very controversial issue. And I think in the very least we can agree on things like that. And that’s, that’s the common ground we come to on that issue.
TLR: I’m actually a pro-life Libertarian myself. But I know many aren’t. If you got the nomination, would the extent that you pushed on something with abortion be merely ending federal funding? Or would it be something that you addressed past that if you were the nominee?
JA: Well, as far as my focus, it would be to end federal funding when I sign legislation as President, that’s probably as far as it goes anyways. Frankly, there’s a lot of disagreement in Congress just between Republicans and Democrats. So there’s very little you can get in the short run at least on abortion issues besides ending federal funding, because that’s one area where maybe you can get enough agreement where it could go to the President’s desk, and that’s something I would support–ending abortion funding. And I think that’s an area of agreement among Libertarians.
TLR: The last thing I want to ask you about in terms of things that other delegates I heard, bring up against your candidacy. There’s a rumor going around in internet LP circles that you had people go to the Michigan convention to vote NOTA against somebody trying to or anyone trying to run against you for your congressional seat. Is there any truth to that? Or is that just spitballing?
JA: I’m just not familiar with it. So there’s no truth to that. I don’t know what the allegation is.
TLR: Yeah, I don’t either. Just something I saw people talking about like right before talking to you, but I know a couple of them want that brought up.
You focused a lot on the US Constitution. As a document, many Libertarians appreciate its attempts to limit government. But many Spooner-style Libertarians lamented failure to achieve that to the level intended. What are the most and least libertarian portions of the US Constitution?
JA: That’s a good question. I think there are parts of the Constitution that probably aren’t necessary, but maybe made more sense back then, like related to the Postal Service — it would be one example. I don’t know that it needs to be a federal function. It could be, it could be you know, privately done as we’ve seen with UPS and FedEx and other services.
If I spent some time thinking about it, I could probably come up with some pretty anti-libertarian positions in the Constitution. I don’t know that it’s strictly anti-libertarian, but probably the way the taxation system is set up in the Constitution isn’t great. For my preference would be to have taxation happen more at the local level and have taxation shared up to the federal government rather than the way it works now where most of the taxation happens at the federal level.
As for things I like that are libertarian, I mean, there’s a lot. There’s a lot in there that’s very good. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good. I think the first amendment is outstanding. I think the second amendment is a critically important protection. The third amendment we’ve barely used these days, but that’s also important, and the Fourth Amendment and you know, you can go through the whole Bill of Rights and find a lot of stuff that is very libertarian.
I actually think the 14th amendment is quite libertarian. And this is where sometimes you get pushback from people about the 14th amendment because it gives the federal government more power against the states… to say the states are doing the wrong things in violating people’s rights. But we as libertarians believe that the most important thing is the individual and protecting individual rights. It’s not about states’ rights. I know sometimes people use that phrase. It’s about individual rights. States have some power, the federal government has some power, and we want to protect individual rights. So when the states violate people’s rights, we need to protect the people.
TLR: Well, that leads perfectly into my next question. In a Constitutional sense, can Governors declare lockdowns that affects freedom of assembly and religion during a national emergency? And what are the extent of their powers during something like COVID-19?
JA: No, they can’t violate the Constitution, even in an emergency. So if you press them on that stuff and took it to court, I believe you should win. You should prevail in the Supreme Court on something like churches being locked down or no protesting. But Governors do have a lot of power under our system of government. If there is a public health emergency that they declare, a lot of times state constitutions give a lot of power to the government. And the federal government can’t always intervene to stop the the lockdown, even if it thinks that’s excessive. The situations where the federal government couldn’t intervene or the things I’ve talked about, for example, if you said that people weren’t allowed to protest anymore, if you try to ban free speech, or preventing people from worshiping… there are things like that where of course the federal government could step in.
But otherwise, the states do have a lot of leeway under their own constitutions. And we have to respect our system of government. But that doesn’t mean that what the states would be doing is libertarian, or in any way protecting individual rights. Sometimes, yes, you want the states to give them appropriate guidance about health situations and try to protect people. But when they start to infringe on what you can buy at the store, for example, that’s a real problem.
TLR: Sounds like a pretty good bridge between the 10th and 14th, right there.
Gun to head and forced to pick one… President Trump or President Biden?
JA: Ah boy, I wouldn’t take either one. You know, it… it’s a tough question, because on a personality and tone level, I think that President Trump is a total disaster. I think he’s very harmful to our system of government. But he’s actually not that revolutionary in most respects. He’s a pretty run of the mill Republican in most respects, actually, on policy. You can just see what he’s signing into law.
So I tend to agree still a little more with the Republicans than with the Democrats. When it comes to congressional votes. I probably still agree with Republicans 50, 60% of the time when I’m in Congress. So, on policy, he might have a slight edge, but, he’s probably a lot worse personality wise than Joe Biden. So, yeah, that’s probably an understatement. But Joe Biden is an older guy, and I don’t think that he’s, right now, that capable of handling the Presidency. I think that if he had succeeded when he was younger, in his previous runs, okay, he might have been able to pull it off. But right now, it’s a real challenge at his age to be running for the Presidency. He’d turn 80 years old while he’s president, and I think a lot of people who are 80 years old, including my dad, would say that’s probably too old to be president.
TLR: You say you still kind of lean more with the GOP than the Democrats. Do you see any hope for that party to ever return to the kind of place that you felt you belonged in? Or have nationalism and populism and larger government of a different type permanently changed that landscape or at least for the foreseeable future?
JA: I don’t see it in the foreseeable future unless you have a real competitor that comes up and starts to hurt them a little bit like the Libertarian Party. So if you had the Libertarian Party start to pull a whole bunch of votes, that they believed in their minds were Republican votes, or that they were entitled to those votes somehow, as these parties seem to think, then the party might start to reform a little bit and change its ways. Or it could potentially double down on the other direction and become a more nationalist protectionist party. You just don’t know.
But only through a threat a competitive threat are they going to change. Otherwise, they’ll just keep doing what they’re doing. If they’re winning elections, why would they change right now? So, right now they’re succeeding, they won the White House. They’re still competitive in the Senate, in the House. So I don’t see them changing without a real competitor.
TLR: If you became the nominee for the Libertarian Party, do you think some of your historical funding sources would come with you? I know that, like, the Koch brothers have funded some of your campaigns before, I think, Betsy DeVos. Do you think some of that funding that traditionally has only gone to Republicans would follow? Or do you think, as a Libertarian, that funding kind of dries up if they think the party can’t win in the electoral sense?
JA: Well, I think you have to distinguish between people who have supported me in the past because they are local people, for example, some of the people you mentioned were local people, people who have supported me because they live in this district. But there are other people who, like the Kochs, who have supported at times my campaigns through various organizations and other things.
And I don’t know. I haven’t reached out to them about this. I don’t worry about that too much. Because at the end of the day, the most important thing is to have the support of small donors across the country. There are millions of small donors, and they can easily match the resources of those big donors. And you see this with Bernie Sander’s campaign, for example, where he was massively outraising other candidates and it was primarily from small donors.
TLR: You bring up a good point with that. You’ve said earlier that your leanings lean more to the right. But if you had to try to make a pitch to some of those Bernie bros, what would it be?
JA: Well, I think it would be on some of the issues we share. I mean, we’re against these never ending wars. We want to have a limitation to what the President is doing overseas. We want to bring our troops home. We want to make sure that Congress is declaring and authorizing wars. It would be on criminal justice and civil liberties issues — things that many progressives care about. Making sure that our criminal justice system is fair.
That we are getting the federal government out of a lot of it, frankly, I mean, criminal justice is really supposed to be primarily a state matter. There aren’t that many things that are supposed to be federal criminal issues. There are issues like privacy and surveillance where a lot of them will care about that issue, and have fought with us on our side in the past to help reform the system. We haven’t gotten very far because there’s almost always a surveillance establishment that pushes back against us. And the President, whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump or anyone before them, they’ve always been pro surveillance, even if they pretend not to be.
So you have, you have those issues, you have corporate welfare as an issue… where many of the progressives out there are concerned about the way our system is rigged in many respects to help the wealthiest and most connected at the expense of individuals. And you have other things like civil asset forfeiture, which we need to address — and the drug war… where there are things that are being done at the federal level, now, that shouldn’t happen at all. And maybe shouldn’t happen at the state level either.
TLR: Have you given any thought to who would be a good VP choice for you if you’ve secured the nomination?
JA: I haven’t really thought through that. Because I’m new to the party, I want to be respectful of the delegates and I didn’t want to come in with some VP choice and, sort of impose it on people. I want to earn the trust of the delegates and the respect of the delegates. And I want them to have a say in who the VP is. For me, the most important thing is that the person is someone that I can work with. Someone who’s compatible with my approach to messaging and my views, and someone who will be able to reach out to millions of other Americans who aren’t identified as Libertarians to help bring them into the camp and help them understand what our principles are and how we are able to be an asset to all Americans.
Image: Gage Skidmore