Justin Amash Wants to Destroy the System that Created Trump - POLITICO
Category: News & PoliticsVia: freewill • 2 months ago • 57 comments
By: TIM ALBERTA (POLITICO)
I kinda like what this guy has to say, and he left the party for many of the same reasons I did. Need to do some more research on the man, but might be someone who could challenge the 2 party lock on our system. Somebody that perhaps both moderate Republicans, Democrats and of course Independents could get behind? Civil, rational and reasonable thoughts welcome. Nasty partisan bickering, not so much.
Justin Amash Wants to Destroy the System that Created Trump
But critics fear his third-party White House bid will only serve to reelect the president.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
By TIM ALBERTA
04/30/2020 08:21 AM EDT
Tim Alberta is chief political correspondent at Politico Magazine.
Like so many Republicans running for Congress in 2010, Justin Amash, then a 30-year-old state representative from West Michigan, was disgusted with a president who had abused his executive authority, expanded the powers of the federal government and rung up historic amounts of debt and deficit. But unlike his fellow tea party conservatives, Amash wasn't fixated on Barack Obama.
"I got active in politics in part because of what George W. Bush was doing," Amash told me years later, retracing his political rise. "The Obama backlash, of course, started around the time of the tea party. But a lot of us blamed George W. Bush for Obama in the first place."
Amash didn't come to Washington looking for partisan warfare. He was more interested in fighting for the heart and soul—and future—of the Republican Party. It was an exhilarating time to be a hard-charging conservative. The Bush-era Republican Party, Amash believed, had become indistinguishable from the Democratic Party, two cogs in a broken machine that was responsive to the needs of only favored constituencies. Now, the ascendant tea partyers were poised to remake the GOP in their image. Failure would carry a steep cost. If Republicans could not redefine themselves and chart a distinctive path forward, Amash warned his freshman comrades, the rise of a third party was inevitable.
Ten years later, Amash, 40, is fulfilling his own prophecy. After defecting from the GOP last summer to become an independent, the Michigan congressman announced Tuesday night that he has joined the Libertarian Party and launched an exploratory committee to run for president.
The decision is both surprising and thoroughly predictable, the culmination of his decadelong assault on the two-party system. It didn't take long, after landing in Congress, for Amash to suspect that many of his tea party colleagues were opportunistic frauds whose only principle was the retention of power. His outlook grew darker by the day. His battles with Republican leadership intensified as his circle of trusted allies grew smaller. Once, in 2015, after a second failed attempt to oust John Boehner from the speakership, I asked Amash whether he worried that conservatives might accidentally give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi. "Well," he smirked, "What's the difference?"
The only glimmer of light—the boldest line of demarcation between the Republican and Democratic parties—was his beloved House Freedom Caucus. Having co-founded the group in 2015, Amash viewed the Freedom Caucus,a cadre of some three dozen hard-liners, as a last gasp for limited-government Republicanism. Victories over the party's leadership—including the effective ouster of Boehner—were short-lived. Soon enough, Amash saw a new threat from within his party. After Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, I sat with Amash in June 2016, weeks before the GOP convention. "I think it'll be interesting to see what happens if Trump becomes president," he told me. "Will conservatives in Congress put up a fight? Or will they go along with violations of the Constitution just because it's a Republican president and because Trump has a lot of popular support?"
Three summers later, that question asked and answered, Amash declared his independence from the GOP. "The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions," he wrote in the Washington Post on July 4, 2019. "The parties value winning for its own sake, and at whatever cost."
That Amash later voted to impeach the Republican president placed an exclamation mark on his exit from the GOP. It also led the newer members of his fan club to believe that Amash was a Never Trumper, someone for whom removing the president from office is an all-eclipsing priority. Their surprise was evident in the reactions to Amash's tweet declaring his exploratory effort; as of Wednesday night, there were roughly 35,000 replies and counting, many of them hostile and even hateful in nature, some coming from the same people who cheered him just months ago as an exemplar of courage after his impeachment vote.
"How much is Betsy DeVos spending (and paying you) to ensure all-important Michigan goes Trump? He can't win without it, his support won't grow, but you can steal the anti-Trump votes from Biden," wrote Cheri Jacobus, a former Republican strategist and prominent activist. "57,000 Americans are dead because of Trump. How much did you sell your soul for?"
The dubiousness of these assertions aside—Amash has become estranged from the DeVos family because of his feud with Trump, and there is no evidence yet that his candidacy would hurt Joe Biden—the anger at his announcement suggests a serious misreading of the congressman. Amash has spent so much time fighting with Republicans in Washington that it's easy to forget he's not a Democrat.
"Make no mistake, the viewpoints held by Biden and the Democratic Party are far, far to the left of the viewpoints held by Justin Amash," says Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina congressman and the only other anti-Trump voice inside the Freedom Caucus. "This is a no-man's land Justin lives in. He doesn't think Trump belongs in office. But why would he want to throw the election to the Democrats? Think about the Supreme Court. Think about regulation. Think about these issues he really cares about. That makes no sense, either."
To understand Amash's motives for running, his allies say, one must accept that he views any other outcome—be it a Trump victory or a Biden victory—as disastrous. It's undeniably difficult to fathom how someone who views the president as a menace to the Constitution could see the man running against him as an equally existential threat. And yet, this is exactly who Amash is: someone who sees no real difference between the two parties, someone who feels stung by failing to change the trajectory of his former party, someone who is no longer a Republican but certainly not a Democrat.
"Personally, I think there's a huge difference between Trump and Biden. But not Justin," says Raul Labrador, the retired Idaho congressman who was Amash's closest friend on Capitol Hill. "People must be surprised to realize that Justin would rather see a Trump presidency than a Biden presidency, even it's a 51/49 proposition."
On Wednesday evening, I spoke with Amash about playing spoiler, the state of the two-party system and whether Trump's Republican Party is beyond salvaging. The conversation below is edited for length and clarity.
Tim Alberta: If you wanted to be president, wouldn't you have been better off staying in the Republican Party and challenging Donald Trump in a primary, mano a mano ?
Justin Amash: Maybe, but I had no plans on staying in the Republican Party. I was not happy with the Republican Party as I've made pretty clear. And I don't think the Republican Party is going to change anytime in the near future. It's changed its identity over the past few years and I really don't feel like it's a home for people who believe in classical liberalism, or what many would call constitutional conservatism. I think it's a place now for nationalism and protectionism—it's a place for Trump, basically.
Tim Alberta: Do you feel like the Republican Party is beyond salvaging at this point? And is that going to be part of your message to voters? Or do you think this is a phenomenon that only lasts as long as Trump?
Justin Amash: No, it doesn't last only as long as Trump, that's for sure. Is it beyond salvaging? I can't speak to the very long run, like what will the party look like in 20 years. If you're talking about the next decade or so, it's going to look very much like this party. I don't think you can underestimate the type of revolution that's happened in the Republican Party. And it's not even a revolution of principles; it's a revolution of tone. The tone has largely supplanted principles.
There are Republicans who agree with me on the principles—many, many Republicans. But even among many of those Republicans, when you go online—I'm talking about talking heads and politicians, for example—you find that they have adopted the president's style. And style and tone are very much a part of who you are. I don't think you can separate them from your politics and say, 'Well, my policies are good, but I'm going to be a jerk to everyone and be rude to everyone and harass people and ridicule people,' which is largely the style under Trump. I think you're stuck with that for a while. And that's not me. Everyone says some things in their life that they regret, but it has become a culture in the Republican Party. And it's very dangerous.
Tim Alberta: You once joked to me that there's really no difference between John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi.And I'm curious if that same thinking applies to your decision to run for president. What's the difference between Republicans and Democrats? What's the difference between a President Trump and a President Biden?
Justin Amash: Well, there are differences in tone between President Trump and a potential President Biden. But I don't think that there are differences in the parties to the extent that people think there are. When you get on the wrong side of people on the left, a lot of it sounds like things I hear from people on the right. I mean, it's very similar. Everyone wants to immunize themselves and say that the other side is so terrible and our side is so good, and that's just not true. There are differences in degrees, but they're not that different in kind.
That's what created Trump. And I think people keep misidentifying the problem. What they don't recognize is that he's a creature of this system where everyone is hyperpartisan and hates each other and where they're told repeatedly, 'If you don't vote for our party nominee, you are selling out your family, your friends, your country to these people who want to destroy it.' And that's what both sides are told. The Democrats are told that and the Republicans are told that, and we got Trump precisely because people were told, 'You must vote for him or else. Don't worry about the fact that he's bad. Just vote for him. He'll be better than the other side.'
And now, we're hearing the same thing from the Democrats. 'Don't worry about any concerns you have about Biden. He has to beat Trump. That's the most important thing. Everyone just keep your mouth shut. Yeah, he's got a lot of issues. He's got a lot of problems. We don't like everything about them, but we're going to support him because he's better than Trump.' This mentality is really dangerous. And we need to fight it. I don't believe most Americans hold those views. I spend a lot of time talking to regular people. Most Americans are not partisans like that.
What you see on Twitter and Facebook and in the halls of Congress and at White House press conferences is not America. Most people are actually pretty kind, compassionate, they are not superpartisan. They're not superangry about people who have different views. They don't have a lot of choices right now because they're stuck with these two parties. And we've let a small group in each party control the entire system and tell us who's going to be our president, who are going to be our elected officials. And we have to challenge that. And I want to lead that effort right now.
Tim Alberta: But OK, to play devil's advocate—
Justin Amash: You always do.
Tim Alberta: This zero-sum partisanship you're describing in both parties, doesn't it feel apples-to-oranges given that you yourself voted to impeach this president? And given that there's a sense among many people, not just partisan opponents, that defeating this president at all costs is the priority come November?
Justin Amash: Oh, don't get me wrong. As I said before, I think that from a personality standpoint, I'd take Biden. I think Biden is a better person than the president—I mean, by all appearances at least. I can't speak to his personal life or any of that, but he seems to be a better person. But I don't think the differences between the parties are as stark as people make them out to be in terms of tone and approach.
Tim Alberta: You say they're not that different in style and in tone, but what about in substance?
Justin Amash: Well, both parties when it comes to the major issues follow the same line. And you saw some of that theater with the coronavirus relief packages, right? Where each side says, 'Oh, we really need this.' And the other side says, 'No, we want that.' And at the end of the day, they basically aren't that far off from each other. Even at the beginning of the negotiation, they pretend like they're really far off from each other. But basically, they have the system in mind where you'd have the Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve handing out cash to the biggest corporations and taking care of the people who are well-connected and you'd have a more convoluted system for everyone else.
And part of the reason they make the system so convoluted is so that they can each get pats on the back from their respective constituencies. 'Thank you for the thing you did specifically for farmers. Thank you for the thing that you specifically did for airline workers. Thank you for the thing that you specifically did for truckers.' If they did something like, let's just send everyone some money, direct cash payments, as I suggested, universal monthly cash relief, there's only one constituency for that. That's the entire public. And they're not getting much out of that in terms of politics. But when they each can go back and say, 'Hey, I got something from the labor unions,' and someone else says, 'I got something for the farmers,' that's when they're winning a political point. That's the bottom line for what goes on in Washington. It's pretty sad. And we need a president who will stand up to it and expose it.
Tim Alberta: You come from a conservative district where you've never won more than 60 percent of the general election vote. But to be elected president in this environment, as polarized as things are, with the grip Donald Trump has on the Republican Party, you're going to need a lot of left-of-center voters to buy into your message. These are voters who are inclined toward Big Government policies. You are not a Big Government guy. What is your pitch to these people?
Justin Amash: Most Americans, as I said earlier, are not very partisan. Most Americans hold a fairly classical liberal position.
Tim Alberta: But what do you base that on?
Justin Amash: Just interactions with people. This is the thing I've tried to get through, especially to libertarians over the years. Most Americans are fairly libertarian. They understand that the government that works best is the one that's closest to home. You might think of your family as a sort of government and everyone recognizes that their family is a government that works better than a government that involves all of your neighbors, which works better than a government that involves your city or county, which works better than state, which works better than federal, which works better than the U.N. Everyone gets that.
So, the question just becomes, which government should be doing which activities? And right now, the federal government is doing a lot of activities that it shouldn't be doing and it's actually making things worse for people. It's giving people fewer choices and leading to less happiness. It's been a benefit during this entire [pandemic] that Donald Trump is not in charge of all the states. Could you imagine if Donald Trump were in charge of all the states? Literally, in terms of closing down? When states are able to make these decisions, they can make better choices for their people.
We have issue after issue where the federal government gets involved and people understand that that's a problem and is actually hurting them. And you can talk to people on the left, for example, about marijuana laws and all of a sudden they say, 'Oh, no, no, no. That should definitely be left to the state. Don't get the federal government involved in any of that.' So, I don't think this is a challenging concept to get across. It's just a matter of getting them to see that they're with you.
Tim Alberta: How do you break down the widely held perception that this is a binary choice? How do you convince tens of millions of Americans that this is not a binary choice, that they're not throwing away their vote on you?
Justin Amash: I still have very low name ID when it comes to the presidential election, but I'm in a better position than a lot of people who would be running, from outside of these two parties. I have a better platform to do it. I'm in a position to make it interesting and exciting for people, for people to see that there is capability outside of these two parties—that in fact, the person running in the Libertarian Party is more capable than the people running in the Republican and Democratic parties. I think it's really important for people to see that. And when they see that they will start to change their views. I did not expect when I announced that immediately every Republican pundit or Democratic pundit out there was going to think, 'Oh, let's get behind Justin Amash.' But I do think that if you have me on the campaign trail for the next several months, people will start to see what I'm about. They will start to see that I'm a normal person, that I'm a capable person, and they will contrast that to the candidates of the major parties who at many times do not seem normal or capable.
Tim Alberta: How does that happen physically when, when there is no campaign trail, when everybody's locked in their houses and we've got quarantining and sheltering in place?
Justin Amash: Who's done more interviews over the past few days—me or Joe Biden or Donald Trump? I would wager that I've done more interviews. I'll be getting out there, speaking to people, doing TV, talking to journalists, getting stuff out on Twitter. I will have an advantage here. I'm in a position, given my age, where I think I have a little more capability, frankly, with social media and with this kind of stuff than these other two candidates. So, I think this presents an advantage for me over the next few months. And then when things open up, we can hopefully hold rallies and other things as well. But right now, I think they're sort of stuck and I have a bit of an edge in this environment.
Tim Alberta: Do you have some sort of vision for running a wildly unconventional campaign for these wildly unconventional times? Is there a strategy for you to break through where other third-party candidates have failed?
Justin Amash: The strategy is adaptation. Right now, we're in an unfortunate circumstance having this pandemic going on, but it does present an opportunity for someone like me to reach out to lots of people in ways that I would not have been able to otherwise reach them. And I'm maybe more accessible in this current environment than I otherwise would be because people are at home and they have an opportunity to check out social media and watch interviews. I wouldn't run for the presidency if not for the fact that I believe I can win. It's not for fun. It's not for messaging. I don't think that those are the reasons you run. I believe you run to win, and when you win, you can make the biggest difference. We've seen that with the president: He won and he transformed the Republican Party. When I win this thing, I can transform the political system.
Tim Alberta: But you would admit that there is no precedent for you winning.
Justin Amash: There was no precedent for Donald Trump to win, either.
Tim Alberta: Well, except he was on a major-party ballot line.
Justin Amash: Yeah, I know. But there was also not an expectation that someone like him could pull it off. And there was no expectation for Barack Obama to win. He came out of nowhere. So there are examples like this throughout history where people were not expected to win, or it was an unusual campaign or an unorthodox campaign and the person came out on top. And I think we have that chance here.
Tim Alberta: Let's talk Michigan. Our state was decided by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2016—and that's with both Trump and Clinton taking less than 48 percent. How heavily does Michigan factor into your thinking?
Justin Amash: I obviously care a lot about Michigan. It's my home state and I'd like to do very well here. But I think it's a mistake for any candidate running, whether it's the major parties or the Libertarian Party, to run a strategy where you focus on particular states. You have to be popular and supported throughout the country. And when people hunker down in one state, what ends up happening frequently? They do well in that state and they do terrible everywhere else. That's not a strategy for winning; that's a strategy for being a spoiler. And that is not the intent of this campaign. I want to win the campaign. I want to improve my name ID everywhere and gain support everywhere. It's not going to be a one-state strategy or a few-states strategy.
Tim Alberta: On that note of playing spoiler: If you were to wake up on November 4, 2020, and Joe Biden has lost very narrowly, and you're studying the results, and you see all the data suggesting it was your candidacy that helped deliver a second term to Donald Trump—what are you going to think to yourself?
Justin Amash: Well, I would question the data because nobody can analyze data like that. There's no way to know how a third party or libertarian candidacy affects the other candidates. It's impossible to figure out. It's too complex, mathematically. Anyone who actually knows anything about statistics or math would tell you that you can't figure that out. You can't know because you don't know who would have turned out to vote if not for that other candidate, or if they would have supported the two major candidates regardless. You can't know that. So, I don't worry about that kind of stuff. My goal is to go out and win and change the system.
Tim Alberta: You've launched an exploratory committee to run for president, but it certainly sounds like your mind is made up. Is there any scenario where your exploring comes to a sudden halt?
Justin Amash: Well, I'm seeking the nomination of the Libertarian Party and I'm respectful of the process and I'm respectful of the delegates. I'm new to the party. I want to earn their support; I want to earn their trust. And that's why we're in this exploratory phase. If I'm able to earn the nomination of the Libertarian Party, then we can talk about the next phase. But for now, I'm committed to this race.
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