More than three years after first seriously contemplating it, one year after coming out in favor of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, nine months after leaving the Republican Party, two months after hitting pause on his congressional reelection campaign, and just 22 days before the Libertarian Party (L.P.) is scheduled to select its own nominee, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the most libertarian member of Congress, has decided to form an exploratory committee about running for president.
"Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people," the congressman tweeted Tuesday night. "We're ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together."
The 40-year-old son of Middle Eastern immigrants (mom is from Syria, dad a Palestinian refugee) now seeks to become the limited-government standard-bearer against septuagenarian big-government competitors Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He would certainly be the most high-profile presidential candidate, and the first to concurrently hold elected office, in the Libertarian Party's half-century of existence.
Amash, an F.A. Hayek–quoting five-term incumbent from Grand Rapids and former co-founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, became a sustaining member of the L.P. some time over the past two weeks, thus meeting the party's minimum nominating requirements. He now has three weeks—or perhaps more, should the Libertarian National Committee at its May 2 meeting decide to reschedule a national convention whose physical and legal status is in coronavirus limbo and whose Austin hotel abruptly canceled the event on Sunday—to convince wary delegates for a fourth consecutive election to select a candidate who has won office only as a Republican.
Like former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in 2012, and former-and-future Texas congressman Ron Paul in 1988, Amash is currently arguably the favorite nationally known politician among both small-l and big-L and libertarians. He has long been touted as the heir successor to Paul on Capitol Hill, has described himself as "the only libertarian member of Congress," and told Reason back in July 2017 that he prefers the descriptor "libertarian" over "libertarian-leaning Republican." He has led congressional attempts to deconstruct the surveillance state, restore legislative-branch responsibility, and stand athwart the federal firehose yelling "Stop!"
Yet that does not make him a shoo-in for the nomination.
Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger, an anti-war/anti-Fed stalwart who has been the dominant candidate thus far in non-binding Libertarian primaries and caucuses, has been withering in his critiques ever since Amash publicized his interest in the party's potential 50-ballot prize two weeks ago.
"How many LP conventions has Congressman Justin Amash attended in the last year? None," Hornberger wrote last week, in the fifth installment of a series he titled "Justin Amash, LP Interloper." "How many LP presidential debates has Amash participated in? None. In fact, the very obvious reason that Amash has not attended LP state conventions and participated in LP presidential debates is that he does not want to subject his conservative positions to scrutiny, examination, and challenge by LP members and the other candidates for the LP presidential nomination."
Hornberger's critique reflects his self-interest, but it will nonetheless find resonance among even Amash-enthusiast Libertarians, who have become snippy about the congressman's long Hamlet act. Anarchist activist Adam Kokesh, for one, has been energetically campaigning for president at least the beginning of 2018.
At the January 2019 LibertyCon conference in Washington, D.C., Amash, with several L.P. officials in attendance, told Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward that the ideal Libertarian candidate "wears Air Jordans" (he was wearing Air Jordans at the time), should not be a "squishy Republican" like controversial 2016 L.P. vice presidential nominee (and later a failed 2020 GOP challenger) Bill Weld, and should be "a person who is persuasive to other people, can bring Republicans and Democrats on board, or bring a large part of the electorate on board, because you can't just appeal to diehard libertarians and win the election."
That appearance, as well as several high-profile moments ever since—especially his July 4, 2019, declaration of independence from the Republican Party, which he decorated with such sentiments as that "the two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions"—made L.P. members salivate over the prospect of a long, full-throated presidential campaign by one of the most eloquent and newsworthy members of Congress. Instead, it's been 15 months of Hornberger, Kokesh, political satirist Vermin Supreme, and more than a dozen other candidates competing to represent the Libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party.
In the only 2020 three-way poll thus far, Morning Consult on April 14–16 found just 1 percent of 1,992 registered voters saying they'd vote for Amash over Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Two national polls in 2019 had Amash averaging 5.5 percent. His potential impact on the presidential swing state of Michigan is something both parties will be looking at with interest, though a highly polarized political climate following a razor-thin presidential election tends to be numerically brutal for minor candidates.
There is no word yet on whether the congressman will officially withdraw from his own reelection campaign, though he cannot seek both offices come November.
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