At 6AM 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 is being echoed in state houses across the country.
While Amash did not lay out any specific plans for his future, he faced immediate criticism following the release of his op ed. Amash was labeled as “afraid” in an out of context quote from Fox News for his anti-GOP stance, and others are including claims that his moves against the party and President Donald Trump are purely for his own personal 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, and fighting the long reelection battle ahead without the support of the party he has 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 help elect even the least qualified candidates to office.
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 any party, 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 outside and also as 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 at the level he would need to be successful. In 2018 Amash spent $770,000 on his reelection bid. The Libertarian party nationally has around 500,000 members and brought in only $1.7Million in the entirety of 2018. Even with that money, the party ran a $237,000 deficit. There is no extra money ready to be spent at the national level or in a key Michigan congressional race and there is not a wide enough base to provide needed support through what will now be both a primary season with Republican and Democratic parties, and a general election. As an independent, Amash is likely to receive the same levels of support from libertarians who adore him regardless of his affiliation, 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 on both sides in congress. As an independent, Amash is uniquely situated 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, not represent a political party above the needs of his constituents. 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.