Pressed to justify his potential third-party presidential bid, Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) told HBO's Bill Maher on Friday that he wants to offer voters something they won't get from the two major-party nominees.
"If you spend time with me over the course of this campaign, I think you'll find that I'm the normal guy, the regular guy," Amash told the Real Time host. "These other two guys are the buffoons."
If Amash wins the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party (L.P.), the well-spoken 40-year-old son of Middle Eastern immigrants will have no trouble standing out against President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden—a pair of septuagenarian white dudes who seem to be showing signs of cognitive decline and have each been accused of sexual assault.
But Maher wanted to know if Amash's campaign could "be the Ralph Nader of 2020," and potentially spoil Biden's chances to unseat Trump. Amash responded that he wants to take votes away from both Biden and Trump, and hopes to draw support from Americans who feel alienated from politics. About 45 percent of the country didn't vote in 2016, he pointed out.
"There's a big pool of people out there," Amash said, "and I'm going to reach out to all of them."
Once the "spoiler" argument was dispensed with, Maher and Amash got into a far more interesting debate about the American health care system and the correct governmental response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Amash criticized the $3 trillion in stimulus spending approved by Congress so far—the congressman was one of the few "nay" votes against the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—saying that the aid has not gone to the people who really need it.
"You had the government spend $3 trillion and they still couldn't help the people who need the most help," Amash said. "Libertarianism would say, 'Let's help the people who need the help, not the people who are connected and feel entitled to it.'"
When it comes to fixing the American health care system, Amash redirected a Maher barb that criticized libertarians for not having any ideas by arguing that government is often the reason why health care is too expensive. He pointed to certificate of need laws that make it difficult for hospitals and other health care providers to adapt to changing circumstances without approval from state governments. As president, Amash said he would work to remove health care regulations and give states more authority to build "backstops" to provide care for the truly needy.
Whether Amash will earn the opportunity to go head-to-head-to-head with Biden and Trump is still an open question. Libertarian Party officials were meeting Saturday afternoon to discuss plans for their nominating convention, which was originally supposed to begin on May 21 in Austin, Texas, but may have to be rescheduled or moved online in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
If nothing else, Friday's interview with Maher demonstrated why the Michigan congressman's presence makes the 2020 presidential election more palatable. It's difficult to imagine either Trump or Biden doing a better job of discussing specific policies—do either of them know what a "certificate of need" is?—while also outlining in broad strokes the principles that would guide their decision-making in office.
"I want people to make as many decisions for their own lives as possible," Amash said, "and get the government out."