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Opinion Justin Amash’s run is a bad idea. But is he relevant?

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) in Washington in July 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), the former Republican who has consistently called out President Trump for his grotesque constitutional violations and voted for impeachment, announced on Tuesday he was forming an exploratory committee to run for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. He declared that the country has been waiting for someone like him:

Amash’s chances of winning the presidency are nonexistent, but the question on political watchers’ minds is: Who is helped by this quixotic run? The Post notes: “In 2019, a Detroit News poll found Biden leading Trump in Michigan, a state that has grown rockier for the president, by 12 points. With Amash added as an option, Biden’s lead shrunk to six points, with some independents and Republicans moving away from the Democrat.” Morning Consult, however, found in national polling that Biden leads Trump by the same margin with or without Amash in the race.

Many NeverTrump Republicans who have been working doggedly to defeat Trump do not like the idea of an Amash run one bit. This month, the Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell and Tim Miller wrote: “Could we be certain that a third-party campaign from a Constitutional conservative would not help Trump get reelected? The answer, unfortunately, is no.” They looked at the large third-party vote totals in 2016 in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which were considerably larger than Hillary Clinton’s margin of defeat, concluding, “For all the discussion about the voters who switched from [Barack] Obama to Trump — and turnout decline in urban areas — Hillary Clinton could have won the White House simply by getting a minority share of the voters who hadn’t historically voted third party, but in 2016 decided to throw their hands up.”

Prominent Republicans who have formed the Lincoln Project to endorse former vice president Joe Biden panned Amash’s decision:

Several caveats are in order.

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First, Amash announced only an exploratory committee, so a failure to garner money or support might deter him. Recall that independent Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks, got such a putrid reception that he never launched his presidential race. Given the immediate reaction among people who would be Amash’s target audience (disillusioned Republicans), Amash could reach the same conclusion.

In early May, the Fix’s Natalie Jennings analyzed how an Independent campaign from Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) could have impacted the 2020 election. (Video: The Washington Post)

Second, there is no guarantee that Amash would win the Libertarian nomination, which is set to hold its convention in late May in Austin. (It is unclear whether the coronavirus would prompt a cancellation or change in format.)

Finally, it’s quite possible Amash will not have much of an impact either way. In 2016, then-Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, who had been a governor and ran for president in 2012, was much better known than Amash. He drew 3.27 percent in the general election. There is no guarantee Amash would do even that well.

The worry for NeverTrump Republicans such as Longwell and Miller is that a third-party contender with some national profile would “tend to give those people who weren’t going to vote for Trump anyway an excuse to vote for someone else [other than the Democrat], while not pulling many voters from the Trump column.” In a razor-close race, Biden would need every single vote he can get, even from voters who dislike both him and Trump. (Trump carried those who disliked both him and Clinton in 2016 handily.)

Those who fear for the future of the republic are not anxious to make it any harder for Biden to win, and are in no mood to tolerate spoilers. Amash, who previously said he would not run unless he could win, is engaging in what amounts to a vanity campaign in an absolutely critical election. We hope he reconsiders.

Read more:

Henry Olsen: Justin Amash may not even be the most important third-party candidate

Joe Walsh: You can’t win, Justin Amash. You can only help Trump get reelected.

George F. Will: Voters don’t have to settle for a binary choice. Look at Justin Amash.

Justin Amash: Our politics is in a partisan death spiral. That’s why I’m leaving the GOP.

Jennifer Rubin: Justin Amash explains why the GOP is irredeemable

Paul Waldman: Joe Biden is not the candidate of the future. Which might be why he wins.