Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), the only Republican in Congress to have called for the impeachment of President Trump, continues to enjoy the media spotlight for breaking rank. He is, however, neither unbiased nor a typical Republican, rendering such attention way overblown.
Amash makes much of his claim to have read the entire report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Amash says the report clearly established that Trump has obstructed justice and hence deserves impeachment. But that is akin to saying as a member of the jury that you’ve decided to convict the defendant after you’ve heard the prosecutor’s opening statement. For that is what the Mueller report is, a statement by a prosecutor without any ability of the defendant to question the witnesses whose testimony the prosecutor selectively presents.
A prosecutor has no obligation to present his conclusions in an evenhanded manner. Even if he tries to do so, his views and the evidence he presents have not been previously viewed or contested by advocates for the defense. An unbiased person would wait until the defense has an opportunity to present its own theory of the case and its own witnesses before deciding to convict. Amash’s presumption of guilt before such cross-examination speaks volumes about the bias he brings to the table.
Amash is, for all intents and purposes, a libertarian sitting as a Republican. That’s not a description he would deny; he’s often called himself a libertarian and chairs the House Liberty Caucus. Even those who have defended him following his call for impeachment do so by arguing he is a “libertarian-leaning” congressman. Amash has even refused to rule out challenging Trump for reelection — as the nominee of the Libertarian Party.
This matters because it means Amash is more like the typical Democrat who vehemently opposes a host of Trump’s policies. He is vocally opposed to the dramatic increase in government spending that Trump has sanctioned. He regularly tweets his opposition to Trump’s tariffs and trade policies. He splits with the majority of Republicans on how to use government power to combat terrorism. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said Amash “votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me.”
Unlike most Republicans, Amash isn’t someone who has to weigh the value of having a leader whose policies he supports against the political damage impeachment might cause. He is already in opposition to Trump’s agenda, and he’s so out of step with his party that he doesn’t particularly care if it’s damaged by impeachment.
Amash also does not have to worry as much about a potential primary challenge as do other Republicans. Michigan does not have partisan registration, which means that anyone who wants to cast a ballot in a Republican primary can do so regardless of whether they have voted for Republicans in the past or even intend to vote for the Republican in the general election. Similar crossover voting saved incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) from a conservative primary challenge in 2014. Amash, who turned back a well-funded primary challenge himself in 2014, surely knows such cross-partisan appeal could help insulate him from a Trump-friendly challenger.
Much has been made of Amash’s Tuesday night town hall in which he received a standing ovation from a crowded room. The district he represents, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has long been a Republican bastion, leading some to contend the event demonstrated a pent-up demand among Republicans for someone such as Amash who stands up to Trump. But those attendees could well have been Democrats who showed up eager to embrace a Republican who supports their cause. We don’t know if the Republicans in his district endorse his views and won’t know unless a challenger or a poll takes their temperature.
Partisan pundits and Never Trump Republicans have latched on to Amash’s stance as a way to promote their unwavering agenda — the removal of Trump from office. But there’s no reason to think Amash’s decision represents anything more than what it plainly is: a decision by an ideologue who uses his review of the Mueller report to come to a conclusion he had already reached — that Trump is bad for America and needs to go. In this, if in little else, Amash has much in common with the progressive “resistance.” Each believes their ideological ends justifies the means, no matter how divisive impeachment would be for the nation at large.