Conservatism

Justin Amash's Biggest Fiscally Conservative National Donors Are Abandoning His Re-election Bid

Club for Growth and FreedomWorks cease supporting the congressman they've showered with awards

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FreedomWorks, the influential libertarian/conservative advocacy group that gave Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) FreedomFighter Awards each of his first eight years in Congress, is reportedly not intending to help the incumbent hold onto his seat as an independent.

"We don't have any plans to get involved in MI-03 at this time, seeing as we're focused on some other key races to help regain the GOP's House majority," FreedomWorks spokesman Peter Vicenzi told Declan Garvey of The Dispatch, which published a long profile of Amash today. "We're going to support some incumbents as well, mainly [House Freedom Caucus] members."

Amash, who co-founded the Freedom Caucus and was widely considered to be the brains of the group from 2015 to 2018, left the 30-member bloc last June, then three weeks later bolted from the Republican Party as a whole. It's that last apostasy, coupled with his outspoken support for impeaching President Donald Trump, that has coincided with an epidemic of cold shoulders from the very organizations that before last summer routinely celebrated Amash's intellectual independence and fiscal/constitutional conservatism.

Amash's single biggest campaign contributor throughout his career, The Club for Growth, with whom he has a lifetime rating of 99 percent and from whom he received Defender of Economic Freedom Awards for each of his first eight years in the House of Representatives, gave what Garvey described as "an indignant 'no'" when asked if the fiscally conservative group would again back the most fiscally conservative member of Congress.

Americans for Prosperity, which joined the Club in helping Amash beat back an establishment-GOP primary challenge in 2014, told The Dispatch that they "have nothing to announce at this time."

The influential DeVos family from Amash's own district, which has been his second-biggest donor over the years and with whom his family has various longstanding relationships, announced last year that its days of officially supporting the hometown libertarian were over, too.

Amash's three-way race in the swingish district of greater Grand Rapids is expected to be among the most competitive in the country. The Cook Political Report last month moved its projection for the November 2020 election from "toss-up" to "lean Republican," citing the loneliness of the pro-impeachment right. Democrats and Republicans are holding contested primaries for the nomination on August 4. Increasing the incumbent's degree of difficulty is the fact that Michigan is one of a handful of states to allow for straight-ticket voting, meaning an entire party's slate can be supported by checking just one box.

Amash likes to counter that he routinely exceeds expectations of pollsters and forecasters, that his district has some truly only-in-MI-3 characteristics (therefore rendering comparative models ineffective), and that, well, he has a pretty good track record of winning elections. His race hasn't really been polled, and we're still waiting to hear on fourth quarter fundraising numbers.

But the abandonment of Amash by limited government advocacy groups illustrates how party-dependent their commitment to principle is. As long as you fly the GOP flag, you'll be eligible to receive a "Top Ten Reasons to Support Justin Amash for U.S. Congress in MI-3." Support the impeachment of a Republican president, or leave your party and caucus behind, well, won't you please sign our thank-you card to Rep. Jim Jordan for fighting "shifty Adam Schiff"?

It's hard out there for an independent in this highly polarized political environment. Almost all of the incentives—for politicians, advocacy groups, even journalists—encourage actors to pick one team and work within it, regardless of what bizarre ideological and comportmental turns the institution takes.

After the government-growing, economy-tanking, Middle East-wrecking, disaster-mismanaging record of the George W. Bush administration, many conservative individuals and organizations took stock, expressed regret at having looked the other way, and then helped build a new movement rededicated to hardcore fiscal conservatism, foreign policy skepticism, personal freedom over the surveillance state, and constitutionalist trimming of executive power. It's hard to imagine—and certainly difficult to find a better conservative-group score for—a member of Congress who typifies those values more than Justin Amash.

By making the understandable, pragmatic choice to turn their backs on Amash in a time of need, the very organizations that helped to nurture a new generation of genuinely interesting politicians now threatens to sow the seeds of their own future regret. As ever when it comes to politics, ye shall know them by their fruits.