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Justin Amash Should Not Run for President (In 2020)

Amash is great. But a third-party run could help reelect Donald Trump.
April 15, 2020
Justin Amash Should Not Run for President (In 2020)
(Gage Skidmore / Flickr / Shutterstock)

We love Justin Amash. We’re what the kids would call Amash stans.

We love him because he’s actually read both the Constitution and the Mueller Report. (And was capable of patiently explaining both, to his constituents, face-to-face.)

We love him because he’s the only member of the Freedom Caucus who didn’t abandon everything he believed to pledge fealty to Donald Trump.

We love him because as the Republican party descended into debt-fueled lunacy, abandoned free trade, sneered at the rule of law, and shrugged at corruption, he put on a tight polo shirt and said, “I’m out.”

We love him because there are many elected Republicans who we thought were going to take the stance he did—in fact a few actually told us as much, over the last three years. But he was the only one with the courage to actually do it.

We love him for his willingness to talk openly about Donald Trump’s racism.

We love him because we could set-up a tweetbot that QT’s everything he sends out with “STRAIGHT INTO MY VEINS.”

And even though neither of us ever thought of ourselves as part of his wing of the GOP before Trump came along, the clarifying nature of this era has shown that when it comes to what matters most, we were actually living in the same neighborhood the whole time.

It is both despite all that, and because of it, that we don’t think he should run for president as a third-party candidate in 2020.

To be clear: This isn’t an easy call. On one hand, we want to be for him—to have the joy and satisfaction of getting behind the constitutional superhero of our dreams.

But on the other hand, there is a downside risk to his running and the price of a second Trump term is too great for anyone to be playing dice with it.

Trump is not just a Bad Orange Man or guy with suboptimal policy preferences. He is a threat to pluralism, the Constitution, American’s health and safety, and the rule of law. He’s a threat to the very heart of our liberal democracy.

We know all of this deep in our bones. And we know Justin Amash knows it, too. It’s the reason his moral clarity has been so refreshing the past three years.

So the real question about his possible candidacy is a political one:

Could we be certain that a third-party campaign from a Constitutional conservative would not help Trump get reelected?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

In a world where a buffoonish reality TV show host became president on the back of a Twitter feed run by his golf caddy, it’s easy to fall back to the Roman proverb that “in these matters the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”

But while the results from 2016 were shocking and unexpected, the lessons of the election are pretty clear.

One of those lessons is that Donald Trump benefited greatly because voters who didn’t like him voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton. The third party and write-in vote share skyrocketed nationwide and was the difference-maker in key states.

Take a look at the increase in vote total among center-right, third party candidates (Gary Johnson / Evan McMullin / Constitution Party) plus write-ins in the three key upper Midwest states in 2016 over 2012:

  • Pennsylvania: 135,170 more votes; Trump won by 44,292 votes
  • Wisconsin: 123,447 more votes; Trump won by 22,748
  • Michigan: 165,214 more votes; Trump won by 10,704

That’s the whole ballgame right there. That’s why President Total Authority was the one standing in the Oval Office waving his hands and sniffing about how the coronavirus would disappear “like a miracle” instead of a grown-up who would have made the necessary, basic preparations for the epidemic.

For all the discussion about the voters who switched from Obama to Trump—and turnout decline in urban areas—Hillary Clinton could have won the White House simply by getting a minority share of the voters who hadn’t historically voted third party, but in 2016 decided to throw their hands up.

This is not to impugn the motives of the voters who did that or the candidates who ran third party in 2016. They all did so in good faith. Both candidates were shitty. And most people didn’t think Trump really had a chance.

Four years later, we know better. And given that data, why would America risk a replay?

The evidence we do have suggests that an Amash run would be a Trump-helping redux of 2016. A poll conducted in late May 2019 of 600 likely Michigan voters tested Amash in a hypothetical three-way White House race against Trump and Joe Biden.

According to the poll, Biden beat Trump by 12 percentage points head-to-head, but when Amash was added to the field, his lead dropped to 6 percentage points.

Richard Czuba, who conducted the poll for the Glengariff Group, said this to the Detroit News back when the poll was released:

He will not take away Republican votes from Trump. What he will do is give independent voters who don’t want to support President Trump an outlet to not vote for the Democrat. And if you look at who or what would be moving toward Amash, it is particularly independent men.

This is a consistent finding across polls that include third party candidates. In the end, they tend to give those people who weren’t going to vote for Trump anyway an excuse to vote for someone else, while not pulling many voters from the Trump column.

We are in uncertain times. It is impossible to know what November holds or exactly how a campaign with a strong libertarian nominee like Amash would play out.

But while it may be true that nothing is quite certain in elections, or economics, or life, there is one thing that is certain about the current federal government:

The president is unfit and dangerous. He has “abused and violated the public trust.”

Anyone who shares that assessment of President Trump should focus on maximizing the possibility of his removal.

Such a calculus should preclude a third party run in 2020.

Amash 2024?

Sign. Us. Up.

Sarah Longwell and Tim Miller

Sarah Longwell is publisher of The Bulwark. Tim Miller is a contributor to The Bulwark.