Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Justin Amash Makes the Case

May 29, 2019
Justin Amash Makes the Case
Jacked and ready. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

The Trump playbook isn’t working with Justin Amash.

He hasn’t been bullied or insulted into submission; the tweets haven’t worked, the trolls and flying monkeys of social media haven’t intimidated him; and he seems to have shrugged off threats of a primary challenge and the condemnation by the inaptly-named Freedom Caucus.

And yesterday, after quadrupling down on his condemnation of President Trump he got standing ovations from his hometown crowd.

Of course, it’s possible to overestimate all of this: he remains very much an outlier in his own party and at home it’s not clear how much of the support he’s getting is from the hard-core GOP base. So far, Amash’s call for impeachment represents less the stirring of a GOP conscience than it has served to highlight the atrophy of that organ under Trump.

And yet.

Among Republicans, breaking with Trump is supposed to be a form of ritualized political seppuku. Ask Jeff Flake or Mark Sanford. There’s a reason why even Mitt Romney seems to have gone into the witness protection program these days.

Even when Trump goes to a foreign country and sides with a blood-soaked dictator to score political points against a domestic critic or when he tosses out insane conspiracy theories and accuses his critics of “treason,” we’ve become accustomed to the GOP crickets.

There’s a logic behind all of this. Polls would suggest that they have no choice: 90 percent of Republicans back the president and conservative media has become both a safe space for MAGAism and a powerful enforcement mechanism for conformity.

Then there is the Trump realpolitik: Nearly the entire incentive structure of Republican politics now pushes elected officials towards acquiescence. If you want to be relevant or have influence . . . or matter at all in conservative politics these days, you have to go along.

Once the bargain has been struck, there is no going back. After a while what was grudging becomes habit and morphs into a culture. So, Republicans have gone from biting their tongues to full-throated MAGA cheerleading. But Amash:

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Rep. Justin Amash is a lonely man in Congress, the sole Republican to back Donald Trump’s removal from office. But back home on Tuesday night, the Michigan lawmaker got the red-carpet treatment in his first face-to-face encounter with voters since his call for impeachment.

During a packed town hall in Grand Rapids, attendees in the mostly-friendly audience gave Amash several standing ovations and heaps of praise for his solo rebellion against Trump.

“I don’t agree with many of your stances, but I applaud your courage and your morality that seems to be lacking in [Washington]. So thank you,” said one woman in the crowd, drawing cheers from the audience.

Does this matter? He’s just a lone voice. But maybe it does, because it creates a counter-narrative: there is political life after independence. Conscience is not suicide. Check out this tweet from our former colleague Haley Byrd:

Perhaps there is a constituency for principle after all. Who knew?

Meanwhile, Amash is drawing attention for making a stronger case for impeachment than the Democrats. If you haven’t read yesterday’s tweet storm, it’s well worth your time.

And just gets better. Read the whole thing.

Exit take: It’s happening. Matt Lewis says it’s time for conservatives to draft Amash for president.

It’s not a crazy idea.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.