At 6 AM on July 4, 2019, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed by Representative Justin Amash of Michigans 3rd Congressional District in which he announced his departure from the Republican Party.
Amash said he has become “disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it. The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions.” His sentiment is one that state houses across the country are echoing.
Backlash for Justin Amash
While Amash did not lay out any specific future plans, he faced immediate criticism for his choice. Amash was labeled as “afraid” in an out of context quote from Fox News for his anti-GOP stance; others are including claims that his moves against the party and President Trump are purely for his own financial gain.
Despite NPR claiming that “standing alone is rarely a good thing” in Washington DC, Justin Amash seems set on taking a stand this Independence Day. He’s now fighting the long reelection battle ahead without the support of the party he called home for so long. But can that independence last?
Amash is likely to face significant pressure to re-affiliate with a political party, despite his affirmations that the power inherent in them is against the desires of the founders and simply bad for the American people. From a political practicality standpoint, it is enormously difficult to achieve success in politics alone. The strength of a support network can elect even the least qualified candidates to office.
Avoid the Libertarian Party
The party most likely to welcome Amash with open arms is the Libertarian Party – America’s largest third party for which Amash has long held a soft spot – going so far as to hint at a presidential run in 2020 under the libertarian tag. As a defender of liberty, Amash must refuse the invitation, and stand as an independent for three reasons.
First – Amash focused on the inherent failure of political parties in his resignation op ed. If that is a genuine sentiment, that partisanship is our “worst enemy,” joining even a third party is counter-intuitive. As a member of the Libertarian Party, he would become vulnerable to attacks from both major parties as an outsider and a hypocrite. Instead of focusing on partisan squabbles, Amash has an opportunity to further demonstrate his priorities and build a non-partisan (or at least bipartisan) support structure leading up to 2020 and beyond.
Second – The Libertarian Party is not prepared to support Justin Amash at the level he needs to succeed. The party does not have the funding, membership, or tools to support Amash the way he needs. In 2018 Amash spent $770,000 on his reelection bid. The Libertarian party nationally has around 500,000 members and brought in only $1.7 million in the entirety of 2018. Even with that money, the party ran a $237,000 deficit.
There is no extra money ready to spend at the national level or in a key Michigan congressional race. Moreover, there is not a wide enough base to provide support through his primary and general election. As an independent, Amash is likely to receive the same levels of support from libertarians who adore him, while leaving the door open to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents with whom he can build relationships and raise money.
Third – Amash can do more for liberty as an independent than he could as a Libertarian. Joining the Libertarian party is likely to close more doors than open them, both financially and as it relates to his ability to work across the aisles in Congress. As an independent, Amash is uniquely in a position to vote with Republicans, Democrats, or any coalitions that form around the idea of liberty.
Amash is famous in some circles for publishing his justification for each bill he votes on. He now has the opportunity to build relationships and represent people, rather than a party. His newfound independence does not have to place him on an island. It can, if used properly, be leveraged as a strength.
If Justin Amash is true to his principles, independence from any political party is a good first step.
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