Ex-Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) knows all of this. He, like me and the majority of Americans who don’t approve of the job Trump is doing, and who aren’t Fox News-watching minions, know that four more years of this presidency would cause permanent damage to this country. Which makes Amash’s announcement last night that he’s forming a presidential exploratory committee — to mount a run for the Libertarian Party nomination — so damn perplexing. And so disappointing.
I consider Justin a friend. We’re former colleagues, both elected to Congress in the 2010 tea party wave. In my brief tour there, I was more of a smash-mouth guy. It landed me in hot water more than once. But voters sent me to Congress to shake things up, and that’s what I tried to do. Amash was a cooler customer, using Facebook to meticulously explain his votes to constituents.
Despite our different styles, we both were ultimately despised by the Republican Party establishment because we voted our beliefs and didn’t toe the party line. We both learned the hard way that some of our former House colleagues, such as Trump attack dog Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Trump’s former acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney — who both served with Amash in the House Freedom Caucus — were all talk.
Amash, by contrast, is a principled conservative. His philosophy and mine line up well. He left the GOP last year when he couldn’t stomach the Trump toadying anymore. History will look kindly on him for being the only non-Democrat to vote for Trump’s impeachment. I left the party in February after my primary challenge to Trump. As I said at the time, the Republican Party has become a cult.
So, I get it. I get how disgusted Amash is with both major political parties. I get that you don’t go, overnight, from being a conservative Republican to becoming a progressive Democrat. I get that he’s probably the only lower-case-L libertarian with enough name recognition to make the Libertarian Party even remotely relevant right now. I get that he doesn’t want to spend the next 20 years on the backbench as the only genuinely liberty-minded member of the House of Representatives.
But that’s not what’s at stake right now. The pettiness and corrosion of both parties in Congress are no joke, but they are not the immediate threat to the viability of our government. That threat is Trump. And that’s why Amash running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket is such a terrible idea.
Just look at 2016: When you Google most major exit polls, the Libertarian Party results don’t even show up immediately — they’re buried in the “other” category. Dig a little deeper and you see that, according to The Washington Post, the last Libertarian ticket of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld never made it out of single digits nationally with any major demographic. According to CNN, Johnson-Weld never made it out of single digits in any state — in Johnson’s home state, he was at just over 9 percent.
At least one reporter tweeted that Amash recently said that he would run third-party only if he thought he had a chance to win. But he’s kidding himself. Even if, by some miracle, Amash doubled Johnson’s 9 percent result in New Mexico nationally, he would still only be in Ross Perot 1992 territory, when the billionaire got around 19 percent of the popular tally and still didn’t win a single electoral college vote. Amash can’t win.
But he can siphon enough votes from the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, to hand the election to Trump.
And you don’t have to be happy with your choices at this point to see that the only candidate who can beat Trump is the Democratic Party nominee. Or that any vote that's not for the Democratic nominee is effectively a vote for Trump. That’s why, when I dropped out of this year’s Republican primary, I pledged to vote for anyone the Democrats nominated, even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose policies I hate. Because the presidential election this year isn’t about whose health coverage plan is the most confusing or whose Afghanistan exit strategy is the least realistic. The issue is whether Trump gets a second term.
Earlier this year, critics said that Trump’s would-be GOP challengers — me, Weld and former South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford — were making a mistake by putting ourselves out there as an alternative to Trump in the primaries. All of us knew we had no shot at the nomination, but we all believed someone had to offer an alternative. Even if we had stayed in, none of us would have impacted the general election vote in November.
This is different. If Amash gets the Libertarian nomination and stays in until the end, he could wind up going in the books as the guy who voted to impeach Trump one year, then tipped the election to him 11 months later.
The best and surest way to beat Trump is to have only one alternative to him. To give all the disaffected Republicans, conservatives and independents only one alternative to Trump. Giving them a conservative alternative might be ideologically satisfying, but it increases the likelihood that Trump can pull off another narrow win.
In the past several months, I’ve been approached about running as a conservative independent in the general election. I’ve had people suggest that I run as a Libertarian. My answer has always been the same: No. Because I won’t do anything that might help Trump win. Because this isn’t about what’s best for me, and it isn’t about what’s best for Amash. For the good of the country, this is the time to put policy differences aside and put country before party — and ourselves.
I know how committed Justin is to the founding ideals of liberty and limited government. When this is over, I’ll gladly join him in fighting for those principles again. If he wants, I’ll join him in starting a new political party. Right now, our only job is ridding the White House of an authoritarian con man.
The last thing we need is a third-party candidate. Not this year, congressman.