The possibility of an Amash presidential run makes for easy headlines and lazy writing that can conceivably focus on “what (l)(L)ibertarians want”(TM), or what Amash’s strategy is. Such speculation has come from libertarians, Libertarians, and people who hate Trump or like a Republican who actually has spine enough to speak so freely against a sitting President of his own party.
The what-if’s have only grown since his highly publicized statements declaring Trump guilty of “impeachable conduct”. Such accusations, some believe, represent a death sentence for the political careers of Republicans wishing to remain in the GOP, given Trump’s popularity there.
The easiest clickbait to jump to is speculation that he may be the 2020 Presidential candidate for the Libertarian party. The assumption that many Libertarians would welcome such a run isn’t unfounded or without merit, and the possibility he’d pursue it seems on the high end of possible.
However, I’ve found very little commentary speculating on Amash approaching the LP, or the LP national leadership courting of Amash that even tries to verify either. I don’t consider myself any kind of “respectable journalist”, but I figured, hey… somebody’s gotta do it.
After reaching out, I’ve found what should have been expected given the libertarian philosophy’s focus on individualism over collectivism. Namely, that there isn’t some kind of “libertarian consensus” on much of anything – and views on Amash’s potential run are no exception. Even among those in leadership, candidates, and noteworthy LP players, the initial reactions run the gamut from excitement to indifference to staunch opposition. There are only eight main regional representatives in the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), and on any given issue one could hear eight different opinions – at least once they get into minutiae or focus.
In the words of Elizabeth Van Horn, LNC Representative, “We’re hardly a hive-mind of uniform thought. We’re not the Borg.” And, of course, those who choose the Presidential nominee at the next Libertarian convention aren’t just leadership, but individual members, some of whom may not have even joined the Libertarian Party yet.
There are only so many clues that could exist as to Amash’s intentions. Chief among them are reports that he or members of his team have reached out to LP leadership, and what intentions he’s officially filed under in his home district.
Officially, he has filed to run for reelection to the House, though it’s an election that takes place months before the Libertarian National Convention set to choose their Presidential nominee. Jess Mears, who works as a Membership Manager and Development Manager in the Libertarian Party, was quick to point this out:
“I’m very excited about the possibility of Justin switching parties, but all we know at this point is that he has already filed to run for re-election to his seat, and his town hall on Tuesday received a lot of support from his community.”
As for the publicized rumor that Amash has reached out to the LP? Richard Longstreth is the LNC Region 1 representative, and wanted to emphasize first and foremost that “I, nor anyone on the LNC, has publicly stated that they have been approached by Amash. I believe that is a rumor and, in my instance, verifiably untrue.”
He’s not the only LNC member to make that clear before responding to the surrounding implications. Elizabeth Van Horn was quick to point out that “the talk about Justin Amash switching parties is rumor”, and that “the scenario of a sitting congressperson joining the LP is speculation”.
They’re not the only members of the LNC that have denied having ever been approached by Amash or any member of his staff about the possibility of him running or even switching parties. If such meetings did happen, they’re certainly not open about it, which would be expected if Amash is still mulling it over.
A Presidential run isn’t the only newsworthy possibility between Amash and the LP, of course. Were he to switch parties while a sitting Congressman, he would be the first LP national Congressman in the history of the nation. The importance of that alone and the response of the major parties to the development could possibly overshadow any Presidential run.
Unlike the scant open evidence that Amash has reached out to National, there have been members of the Libertarian Party (including those who currently hold leadership roles) who have reached out to him to support such a switch. In fact, John Phillips Jr., who is currently on a ticket which would oppose Amash in the primary, has himself advocated just that. “I personally have been sending him a variety of messages of encouragement to join us for a few years now.”
He’s not alone. Another LNC member recounted that, “I have personally reached out to Congressman Amash about switching parties and had a brief conversation about that, but not about running for President.”
What could such a switch accomplish? Justin O’Donnell, LNC member and author of “Selling Liberty”, predicts what the outcome might be:
“A sitting congressman switching parties would have a profound impact on our ability to generate earned media down the ticket, as well as an instantaneous boost to relevancy. For a short while, such a congressman would be the leading news story on every political issue, and that attention would do nothing but boost the image and relevancy of the LP, and providing a new platform to grow our membership and donor bases, putting us in the strongest position we’ve ever been in. It would be an even better position to have a congressman we’ve gotten elected through homegrown efforts, but discounting the benefits of a defector out of pride is nonsensical.”
Alex Merced, Vice Chair of the LNC, also points out the effect that bringing on Amash could have on the types of libertarians coming from “the right”, as well as returning. Specifically, it would alienate the “Trumpish/alt rightish” factions, while aligning “true libcons and classical liberals”, which he believes “might be a more politically productive coalition”. Essentially, instead of encouraging those nationalist, populist, or nativist sentiments who bring their own opinions on things like immigration and trade to join, they would have more reason to stay in the GOP. By contrast, those who are conservatarians and classical liberals could be inspired to make the switch away from a party that no longer seems to share their values.
Of course, it’s possible that Amash could hedge his bets, waiting to see if he can gain re-election to the House before deciding on the party switch as a Plan B. That possibility in particular could certainly rub some LP members the wrong way. Recent history has left many Libertarian Party members feeling soured on accepting “GOP retreads”.
As Justin O’Donnell explains, the LP has been “used and abused by GOP Defectors”, as many delegates “already feel betrayed by Governor Weld fleeing back to the GOP”. Such a late move has been described by some in leadership as likely to be perceived as “opportunism” and “sour grapes”. At least one LNC member has refused to support him, even if he became the nominee, unless he was an LP member for “at least a year”.
Were Amash to wait to announce until after he lost his seat? In the words of Daniel Behrman, a current declared candidate for the LP POTUS nomination (the one who wears the comically sized yellow top hat that reads “Taxation is Theft”), “it would make us look like the party where Republicans go to die”.
There are significantly stronger criticisms than that from members of leadership towards Amash, though nearly all have (if anything) positive things to say about his time in Congress – at least compared to other Congressmen. Regardless of the position expressed on how much acceptance he deserves in the party, there seems to be primarily praise for what he has done and advocated from exactly where he’s at.
Common praises from leadership include words like “charismatic”, “compelling”, “consistent”, “ethical”, “honest”, “principled”, and “transparent”. In the words of LNC member Joe Bishop-Henchman, “it says a lot about Republicans if they don’t value that.” Regardless of what libertarians think of his tactics or the party he belongs to, there seems to be a fair amount of consensus on the content of his character.
There is also widespread admiration for his independence. In the collective-minded RNC and DNC, conformity is seen as a virtue, and general adherence to the party line is often a requirement. But in true Libertarian fashion, one member of the LNC extols as a positive his likely willingness to break from the LNC itself for principles:
“Amash’s most admirable trait is his willingness to tell the party structure to pound sand. He isn’t afraid of offending anyone, or of stepping out of line. And he earnestly believes that if he represents the people, and not his party, then the people will protect him from the machinations of the party, and so far he has proved that correct. I would expect even that if he DID switch, he would treat the LNC much as he does the RNC, simply a party machination, not an arbiter of principle.”
Of course, that in no way says there aren’t negatives to Amash or his potential candidacy, and plenty in leadership and among general members have focused even more extensively on those. They range anywhere from lack of absolute libertarian purity, to distrust of new Republican converts given the history of candidates like Bill Weld and Bob Barr, to wasting the strategic possibilities of an Amash convert on what would likely be (from the view of electoral victory) a failed run.
And, of course… the elephant in the porcupine room is abortion.
There are differences of opinion within the LP on this more than most issues, even if it seems that the majority of members are pro-choice. However, there’s also a fair number of pro-choice members who don’t see a difference of opinion on this one issue as a deal-breaker or disqualifier, and the party routinely runs some openly pro-life candidates every cycle.
Of course, Amash hasn’t switched parties and has only left the option of switching ‘open’. There is a sense among some in leadership that all the attention given to someone who isn’t even a qualified party member is in some ways disrespectful to the actual declared candidates. So what do they have to say?
The following are statements from those who would be his competition:
First and foremost, I needed to know what Vermin Supreme thought. I mean, between the boot on his head and his emphasis on oral hygiene, I’m sure he’s the current front-runner and would be Amash’s primary competition. It may be true that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Unless, of course, one were to talk about ponies in Mr. Supreme’s future administration.
He had the following to say about… Justin:
“The Amish are a very valued community in the America I love. Their commitment to a community reliance is inspiring. The Amish prove that a pony based economy is possible. They live it. I would welcome any Amish person to join the ranks of the Libertarian Party.“
I called McAfee (which hopefully didn’t put me on a watchlist I’m not already on), to ask about Amash. His potential or even current competition, however, seemed entirely uninteresting to him.
“I’m not running against anybody. I’m just running, sir. So it does not matter to me who else runs.”
I wasn’t sure whether to take that as refreshing or too dismissive, but it seemed a very admirable way to run. For the purpose of this article, there wasn’t much else to say… but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t more of note.
He is, of course, living in international waters and foreign nations specifically to avoid legal problems in the US and elsewhere. A US grand jury has convened related to tax charges, and there’s also a wrongful death lawsuit about an alleged murder in Belize.
“…it is impossible for me to come back to America before the election. Now, we’re working on that, but it’s going to be a time consuming process. I mean, I’m in a place where I cannot be extradited for the, quote, ‘crime of refusing to pay income taxes’, because there are no income taxes in the Bahamas. And in order to extradite someone, the extradition crime must be a crime in the country where you reside. Well, they have no income tax here. So failure to pay it is not a crime. So I can’t be extradited, I’m safe to the election.”
Of course, given his legal status, how can he expect to run anyway?
“My issue is, since I cannot come back to the states… debates and other things are going to be very difficult for me. Beginning next week, for the first time, one of my clones wearing my mask, but I’ll be speaking through a microphone inside the mask and into a speaker inside the mask and I’ll be able to see the audience… is going to be keynoting one of the largest cryptocurrency conferences in the world. It’s on a cruise ship on the 2019 blockchain cruise. Now the crypto community is starting to accept the fact that my clones will appear. My problem is the following: Will the Libertarian Party accept the same conditions?
If not, then I won’t be in debates. However, I will still run and I will be speaking.
…all I needed is for someone to accept the person wearing my mask. It looks just like me, with my voice coming out from the mask, and, you know, the person will have a second microphone in his ear saying, you know, shake this person’s hand because I’ll be able to see everything that the client sees, and I’ll be able to speak to the speaker. And, you know, he will be directed by another member of my staff to bow, you know, raise your hands, shake hands of this man. Not you know, shake your head, whatever. So it looks pretty fucking cool.”
In any other party, this all sounds pretty disqualifying, regardless of the law. However, this is the LP:
“How more Libertarian can you be? I am on the run from the corruption within our government and the perversion of our Constitution, which clearly states there shall be no barriers to a person’s ability to earn a living. Yet, three months out of the year, in our fall, fucking government makes you work for them. We are slaves for that period of time. Well, I refuse to do it anymore. Now, if a Libertarian Party member which I am and have been for a few years is on the run for upholding libertarian principles, and I’m still not allowed some leniency in, you know, attending debates, then I think the party should look long and hard in the mirror.”
Some of the other candidates were much more willing to answer questions about Amash in particular, or have made public statements about such a possibility.
Kim Ruff and Daniel Behrman are two long-shot candidates and long time party activists.
I asked them first about the effect of a sitting US Congressman switching over, regardless of Presidential aspirations. Most candidates saw significant value in such a switch. Kim Ruff said simply “It’s always beneficial to have an individual in a position of power or influence publicly declare their advocacy for liberty.”
Behrman’s opinion on the effect was markedly different, however. “None. it’s been done before. They usually lose support because many of their votes were from blind party affiliation. it would take an amazingly outgoing person who has really changed the values of their constituents for their support to follow them.”
Next, I asked how it would be perceived if Amash waited until losing re-election to his seat before announcing seeking the Presidential nod within the LP. All acknowledged that many delegates would look much less kindly on this. Ruff claimed “it would reinforce the sentiment that we are the political pasture that the GOP sends its lame horses.”.
Behrman echoed and amplified the sentiment by stating that “it would make us look like the party where republicans go to die.”
Most candidates I talked to thought Amash has been a force for good where he is. For instance, Ruff said “I respect Amash’s self-imposed transparency and efforts to keep the federal government’s power confined to its Constitutionally-defined limitations.”
However, when asked to comment on the positives of Amash, Behrman primarily lamented that he couldn’t find any instance of Amash declaring that “Taxation is Theft”.
When asked about Amash’s negatives, I think Kim Ruff accurately summed up the basis for reluctance on the part of some in the LP.
“Amash is undeniably bold…as a Republican. Despite the invocation by the GOP of the ideological basis for our nation’s foundation, there are few of note within their party who actually do generally advocate for those things. That is what makes him significant and refreshing as a member of the GOP.
As a Libertarian Candidate, notwithstanding the issues inherent with the timing of a party switch and the time-lapse between switching affiliations and running for POTUS, Amash is really rather moderate and there’s a distinct possibility that many of our core members who are here because of our stance on social issues will feel underrepresented and excluded.”
Many of the responses I’ve relayed here I was able to get through merely asking. Sending out questions and hoping for the best. One Presidential candidate, Adam Kokesh, responded in video form, which you could watch here…
Justin Amash will decide what Justin Amash will do, and he has yet to announce rather than hint at his own intentions or possibilities. But if he wants to know what he could expect in terms of reception from Libertarian Party leadership and major personalities? He needs to read this article, and of course… follow me and The Libertarian Republic.