Rep. Justin Amash on Dumping Trump, Supporting Ted Cruz, and Why Apple Shouldn't Unlock its iPhone

Libertarian Republican from Michigan suggests Donald Trump might be "a bigger threat" to freedom than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.


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Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) views the rise of Donald Trump as understandable "push back" against a Republican establishment that has consistently refused to cut spending and the size and scope of the federal government. But for the libertarian grad of University of Michigan Law School, Trump is the wrong kind of push back.

"He cares about power, he doesn't really care about things like the Constitution, and I'm concerned that he could push us in a very dangerous direction," says Amash, who endorsed Ted Cruz after his first choice, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Despite serious differences—many of which he outlined in his endorsement statement—Amash says that Cruz is "a person I can work with and he's a person I can persuade." The same, Amash warns, doesn't go for Marco Rubio or Trump. Indeed, Amash even suggests that in some ways Trump is a "bigger threat" to limited government than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

Nick Gillespie sat down with Amash at the 2016 Students for Liberty Conference to talk about the presidential race, the Apple iPhone case, what's at stake in Congress before the November elections, and reasons to be optimistic about the future.

About 7.30 minutes.

Shot by Meredith Bragg, Austin Bragg, and Josh Swain. Edited by Austin Bragg.

Music by Poddington Bear

Image from www.forestwander.com

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Reason: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason TV and today we're sitting down with Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. Thanks for talking to us. We're at the Students For Liberty Conference. Tell us, between now and 2016, what are the most important votes for a libertarian-leaning Republican?

Amash: We'll probably have some privacy votes coming up. The encryption bill, encryption issues are hot, so we'll probably have some bill related to encryption.

We're working on something in my office to try to protect companies like Apple, make sure the government is going through the proper process if they're asking for anything and not asking companies to do anything that we think violate the First Amendment, violate what we think companies should be required to do under our constitution.

Reason: It's a free speech issue to have strong encryption?

Amash: I think it's a free speech issue to protect the rights of a company, a group of people working together who don't want to produce something. It's one thing for the government to ask a company to turn over something that already exists. It's another thing to tell a company, "Hey, you have to produce new software for us."

Reason: We just saw a recent GOP debate where all of the Republican candidates were like "Yeah, Apple should totally turn over. They should do whatever the government says." You obviously disagree with that. What's the point of principle there?

Amash: Well we have to stand on principle. We can't just turn over things to the government because the government asks for it. And I think it's important that the company takes it all the way to the Supreme Court and fights the issue.

The idea that just because it's associated with something that we think is horrific, a terrorist attack, means that we should give up all of our privacy and have companies basically be conscripted to work for the government is wrong.

Reason: What are the prospects for growing the number of congressmen and senators who, like yourself, believe in shrinking the size, scope and spending of government in 2016?

Amash: I think it's pretty good. I mean, it'll depend on this presidential election. I actually think if you get someone like [Donald] Trump into office, you might actually improve the prospects for liberty candidates going forward because you'll need someone who's going to stand up to what seems to be a more authoritarian type of system.

Reason: Donald Trump [is] leading the Republican [nomination] race as we speak and that may or may not change. You've endorsed Ted Cruz. Is Trump a bigger threat to freedom than say Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? How do you work through that math?

Amash: First, I endorsed Rand Paul of course and then I've endorsed Ted Cruz now that Rand Paul has stepped out of the race.

I think that Trump presents a kind of threat to our system that is maybe in some ways bigger than what the Democrats present because he's attacking from the right, or what's perceived as the right. I think actually what he's pushing is basically a leftist philosophy but he's coming at it from the Republican party side of things.

So if he undermines the concept of liberty on our side of the aisle and you already have the Democrats weakened where they've basically given up on the concept of following the Constitution, I don't know who's left. So in some ways, it could be more dangerous.

Reason: Why do you think Trump is doing so well among Republican primary voters if he represents an assault on limited government, which is ostensibly what Republicans believe in?

Amash: I think there's a lot of anger out there. I'm not sure [Trump's appeal is] related to his policies. It's more his approach.

They like his style. He's telling it like it is, as they see it. He's telling off the people who have been screwing them over for all these years. They feel that Congress is hurting them, that the president is hurting them, and here's a guy who's going to come in and make them pay for it.

And I think that's popular.

Reason: What's the best outcome for the 2016 election as far as you're concerned?

Amash: I think the best outcome at this point is someone like Ted Cruz.

Because Ted Cruz is a constitutionalist, a constitutional conservative– libertarians like me have some concerns about some of his positions–but I think we can work with him. If you have someone like Trump or [Sen. Marco] Rubio, you move pretty far away from libertarianism.

Reason: So what is it about Cruz that you can work with? In your endorsement of him, you talked about how he's not libertarian and there's a lot of differences on things like foreign policy and immigration. What is it about him that makes him different than, say, a Rubio or a Trump?

Amash: Well philosophically, he's more grounded in constitutional principles. And when you look at his foreign policy, in many ways it's much more rooted in the ideas that are supported by people like me and Rand Paul and Mike Lee than it is by people like Rubio. Rubio, [Sen. Lindsey] Graham, and [Sen. John] McCain are in their own world. They're very interventionist. They believe that you go into other countries and you nation-build and Cruz doesn't come from that perspective.

Now, some of [Cruz's] rhetoric on the campaign trail I think has been a little too charged on his part. But I think he's much more rooted in our philosophy than he is in theirs. And I've had lots of conversations with him, I know he's a person I can work with and he's a person I can persuade. I can't say the same of Sen. Rubio or Donald Trump.

Reason: We are at the International Students For Liberty Conference. When you were a student, what was the most important issue on campus to you and is it still a big deal for you?

Amash: For me, it was probably economic issues. I was studying economics and learning about the market, learning about free markets and those were probably the top issues for me.

Reason: And thankfully we have perfectly free markets now, right? So we don't even have to sweat.

Amash: Over time, I've become more of a civil libertarian, more than I ever would have expected.

That happened because there really was that gap. I came to Congress and found that there weren't that many people protecting our liberties, our civil liberties, our privacy, our rights.

There are people out there who are talking about economic issues, but on the civil liberties side–surveillance and those kinds of things–there aren't that many people.

Reason: Do you find that [civil liberties] resonate well with students today? I mean are they interested in civil liberties more than economic liberties? Or do they see them as joined?

Amash: It depends on which students you talk to. I would say that yeah, it's probably more important today than it used to be and technology probably has something to do with that. People are using their iPhones and Twitter and they're concerned about their privacy.

Reason: What makes you pessimistic these days? And then what makes you optimistic?

Amash: Well, look at Trump. He's doing really well in the polls. And look, the fact that I have concerns about Trump doesn't mean that the establishment is good.

The current establishment is why we have Trump. People are fed up with them and I have serious problems with them and that's why I ran for office, to present some push back against them.

But at the end of the day, Trump is the wrong kind of pushback. I think in many ways, he's just like the establishment. He cares about power. He doesn't really care about things like the Constitution. And I'm concerned that he could push us in a very dangerous direction.

Reason: So what makes you optimistic, if anything?

Amash: I look at the House Freedom Caucus, which I'm a member of. This is a group of about 40 conservatives and libertarian-leaning conservatives.

I'd say I'm probably the most libertarian person in that group. But those folks have moved in a much more libertarian direction over time, from when I first met them. And I think my influence has made an impact there, and I feel good about the fact that we have a core group of about 40 people who can influence the Republican party. That group is a pretty formidable block. We've been able to push back on corporate welfare, on civil liberties violations, and on foreign policy issues too. It's made a difference.

Reason: Alright, well we will leave it there. Thank you so much for talking to us.

Amash: Thanks, Nick.

Reason: We've been talking with Representative Justin Amash of Michigan. We're at the Students For Liberty Conference, and I'm Nick Gillespie for Reason TV.