In the three years that he was weighing a presidential run, and the three weeks that he was an actual candidate for the Libertarian Party’s nomination, Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) always emphasized that he wasn’t interested in improving incrementally upon 2016 nominee Gary Johnson’s 3.27 percent of the national vote. Amash wanted to compete meaningfully or not compete at all.
This afternoon, the first-ever Libertarian congressman elected not to compete.
After much reflection, I’ve concluded that circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year, and therefore I will not be a candidate.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 16, 2020
In a Twitter thread, Amash wrote that the current political environment “presents extraordinary challenges,” including that “polarization is near an all-time high” and that “social media and traditional media are dominated by voices strongly averse to the political risks posed by a viable third candidate.” Also, “lingering uncertainty regarding ratification of online voting, the feasibility of 50-state ballot access and related legal challenges, and unity after the nomination have also weighed heavily on me. We must address these issues as a party to ensure we maximize our potential.”
As I wrote one month ago,
The conditions for nontraditional candidates in times of high negative polarization are particularly brutal, as we saw in the 2018 midterms. This is particularly true in cycles immediately following a razor-thin presidential race. Even people who love Amash are going to be begging him not to run if there is any chance of him impeding the all-or-nothing quest to drive Trump out of the White House.
That latter prediction has certainly been borne out by events, to a degree that Amash found surprising.
The congressman’s exit now leaves the Libertarian race bereft of names with strong national recognition or easy access to high-profile media. Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger has won by far the most of the party’s nonbinding primaries and caucuses. Educator Jo Jorgensen, the party’s 1996 vice presidential nominee, won the Nebraska primary this week, and she eventually edged Hornberger out for second place in an instant-runoff voting exercise (which Amash won) among around one-quarter of Libertarian Party delegates.
Hornberger and Jorgensen will square off tonight in an online debate tonight that I am moderating at 8 p.m., along with 2012 Libertarian vice presidential nominee Judge Jim Gray, anarchist veteran Adam Kokesh, and hopefully a replacement for Amash. The party is scheduled to begin voting for a presidential and then vice presidential nominee Friday morning, in an unprecedented online-only deliberation, with the usual instant-runoff process until someone receives 50 percent plus one vote.
You can watch the debate tonight right here: