Formerly Republican, then independent, and now Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash tonight announced a last-minute bid for the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party (L.P.). That it took him so long rubs fellow candidate Jo Jorgensen, the L.P.'s 1996 vice presidential nominee, the wrong way. "I think it's unfortunate he didn't join the L.P. the day he renounced his Republican Party membership," she says in a phone interview tonight, "because we could have had a Libertarian in Congress, the first one ever, presenting the Libertarian message."
That he did not pledge fealty to the Libertarians publicly earlier, Jorgensen thinks, shows a politician perhaps more interested in gaining from Libertarians' ballot access capacity and less about helping the party grow—someone more into the party for what's in it for him and not the cause per se.
Jorgensen notes she's been an L.P. stalwart since 1979 and has done some of the hard petitioning it takes to get the ballot access Amash wants to glom onto. Her years of work trying to sell the Libertarian message to a wide variety of audiences, she thinks, guarantees a candidate more able to communicate all the reasons to support a Libertarian than a newcomer to the party such as Amash will manage.
Jorgensen is proud that her 1996 campaign, with Harry Browne as presidential candidate, saw an over 60 percent rise in dues-paying L.P. members over the year they ran, a rise that continued for years afterward. She thinks running more steadfast L.P. people like herself and Browne does more for the very important cause of sustained growth in membership than the brief flurry of attention that running former Republicans are more likely to get, no matter their vote totals.
That is, a more well-known candidate like Amash may get higher (though still losing) vote totals without leaving the Libertarian Party in a better position down the road. Regardless, Jorgensen says that, like always, she would vote for whoever the Libertarian Party's delegates choose to nominate.
Another former L.P. vice presidential candidate, former Judge James Gray (who ran with Gary Johnson on the 2012 ticket), said in a phone interview tonight that Amash had the courtesy to inform him "a week ago Saturday" in a "most cordial" call that he was planning to dip his toes in the water. "I told him we Libertarians believe in competition and I welcome you into this race."
Gray believes "we will be able to get issues out more to the public" with a sitting member of Congress in the race, and that Gray will have no problem "supporting the eventual nominee" whoever it ends up being.
Gray himself entered the race a mere two weeks ago after former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee dropped out. Gray saw a "stature" gap in the field and jumped in. He grants that Amash is also a candidate of stature, but Gray says he is nonetheless committed to continuing to run until a nominee is selected. He also plugged his own vice presidential pick, Larry Sharpe, as the best veep any L.P. candidate could have.
Jacob Hornberger, longtime libertarian educator with his Future of Freedom Foundation, says in an email tonight that "Congressman Amash's entry into the race for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination provides a big benefit to the LP. It not only brings an air of excitement to the race, it also focuses the attention of the national media on the LP presidential debates that are still left before the national nominating convention in May. Moreover, whoever wins the LP presidential nomination will now be assured of national media attention."
Adam Kokesh, a "voluntaryist" candidate who wants to dissolve the federal government, was not reachable for comment as of posting time, but he did speak to the Amash question in a campaign email last May.
He praised Amash, noting that the congressman "is screwed for having integrity within a party [Republicans, at that time] that amplifies lies on a daily basis" and said that "Now here's the question for us Libertarians…do we welcome Justin Amash and recruit him to seek our nomination? Without hesitation, I say, 'Hell yes!!!'"
As Kokesh explained, "I can say with complete confidence that bringing Justin Amash into the fold would be great for the party," granting that "Amash is aligned with our shared principles. He is the most Libertarian member of Congress. Trained in Austrian Economics, his voting record supports his integrity on our issues."
Despite those positives for Amash, it's not that Kokesh, who wants the nod himself, thinks the L.P.'s delegates should give Amash the prize. The reason Kokesh said he welcomed Amash last May was that "if he throws his hat in the ring, the media attention brought to the LP will be MASSIVE" and it would be delicious, too, in an imagined future convention:
As the cameras roll, and the Trump-hating journalists wait with bated breath for our state chairs to count the ballots…they will be forced to announce the 2020 LP Presidential Candidate. And with hard work and your support, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, New York Times and others will run with the headline, "Libertarians Refuse to be Pawns, Nominate Adam Kokesh as Presidential Nominee."
(The selection process for the presidential nomination may not happen where cameras can roll, as a physical convention may be ruined by COVID-19, but Kokesh could not have guessed this last May. The party will be deciding exactly how they will choose their candidate at a May 2 virtual meeting of the Libertarian National Committee.)
Another candidate unreachable for comment by posting time condemned the idea of an Amash candidacy at an internet-enabled presidential candidate debate hosted by the Kentucky L.P. last week. Mark Whitney, founder of TheLaw.net and a comedian, griped that "if this asshole Justin Amash comes over, if he's the nominee I will not support him."
Whitney insists that the "Party of Principles should stop nominating criminals from [a] criminal organization" like the GOP who "come over last minute" to take advantage of the L.P.'s money and activists and then leave it in the lurch—"stop nominating these [former Republican] pricks!"
Vermin Supreme, a candidate trying to walk a fine line between comedic performance artist and actual politician, sent two written comments via a campaign spokesperson this evening.
The comedic reaction to Justin Amash entering the race: "The Amish are a very valued community in the America I love. Their commitment to community reliance and barn building 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."
But seriously folks…the followup from Vermin Supreme: "In all sincerity, Justin Amash has demonstrated principle throughout his Congressional career and I admire and respect that. He would be a great asset and partner in the House to help whomever the Libertarian Party nominates for President as an advocate for the necessary changes in order to advance freedom in the United States, from exercising the sole dominion over their own body to the freedom of movement across borders for people and capital."