By Jim EllisMay 1, 2020 — It has been speculated upon virtually since the time that Michigan Rep. Justin Amash (L-Cascade Township/Grand Rapids) left the Republican Party that he would enter the presidential race, and now he has taken the first step toward that end.
Amash made several announcements Wednesday. First, he is indeed filing an exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission to gauge his chances of becoming Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. Second, he informed the Clerk of the House that he is no longer an Independent, but a member of the Libertarian Party. Third, he confirmed that he will not seek re-election to his 3rd District House seat.
Let’s look at the subjects in order.
It is not surprising that Amash is taking this step. The idea of him becoming the Libertarian presidential nominee was first raised when he became an Independent US House member early last July, and the congressman never expressly ruled out that he would eventually run for president.
Some argue that Amash being on the ticket as the Libertarian nominee could take rightward leaning independent votes away from President Trump and allow former vice president Joe Biden to slip past him in crucial states like Michigan. While the scenario might have some credence in an intensely close election, it matters little that Amash’s name is the one these particular voters would be choosing.
The Libertarian Party was always going to put forth a nominee, and it is hard to argue that Amash is somehow superior to their 2016 and 2012 nominee, former two-term New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. At the end of the day, Johnson recorded 3.3 percent of the national balloting, received just under 4.5 million popular votes, and of course no electoral votes. He got close to 10 percent (9.34 percent) in only one place, his home state of New Mexico, and he spent a total of $11.5 million for the campaign. In Michigan, Johnson received 3.6 percent; in Pennsylvania, 2.4 percent, and it’s difficult to foresee Rep. Amash doing significantly better.
The move to become an official Libertarian Party member as it relates to the party division in the House makes sense. It changes little within the legislative chamber, but it does enhance his credibility with the Libertarian Party hierarchy. After all, he delivers to them what they have never yet had: a member of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Amash did confirm to reporters that he would not seek re-election, but he has an escape hatch on that stance. Though the entire Michigan candidate filing process will be complete before the Libertarians nominate their presidential candidate in late May, the aforementioned only governs the major party candidates. For minor party contenders such as Amash would be, the filing deadline is not until July 16, so he would have plenty of time to reverse course and return to the congressional race should he fail to become the national presidential candidate.
It’s debatable as to what Amash sees as his personal benefit for launching a hopeless general election race for president. If he feels he cannot win re-election in his congressional district as a Libertarian, or Independent, candidate, then running for president in this fashion and gaining some national exposure might be a better way to exit the House than by losing the November election.
Amash losing the congressional campaign, however, is not a foregone conclusion because it is conceivable that a three-way split could well break in his favor. It is too early to tell, however, and difficult to predict political outcomes while engulfed in COVID-19 restrictions.
The big winner in this scenario, however, is the Republican Party, which has a much clearer path to returning this House seat to their column than they did in a three-way match that could almost as easily have yielded a Democratic victory.
Currently, Peter Meijer, whose family owns a well-known grocery store chain of 242 stores throughout the Midwest, with about half of them in Michigan, is in the GOP race along with state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids), and four others. Meijer, an Iraq War veteran, has already raised more than $1 million for the race, including self-financing to the degree of $375,000. Rep. Afendoulis has raised just over $460,000 for the campaign to date.
For the Democrats, attorney Hillary Scholten is unopposed in the party primary and has been able to put together more than $512,000 with more than $259,000 remaining in her campaign account. Without Amash in the race, Scholten’s chances diminish in a district that broke 52-42 percent for President Trump.
Once the election concludes, it is quite possible that the greatest effect of the Amash presidential effort might actually be toward the congressional race he leaves behind as opposed to the national campaign.