Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., declared his independence from the GOP on July Fourth in an op-ed in USA Today. He joins a lot of Americans in the ranks of the politically homeless. While Amash didn’t vote for Trump and has often been critical of the administration, like many of us who’ve left in recent years, the reason for leaving goes beyond problems with the President:

These are consequences of a mind-set among the political class that loyalty to party is more important than serving the American people or protecting our governing institutions. The parties value winning for its own sake, and at whatever cost. Instead of acting as an independent branch of government and serving as a check on the executive branch, congressional leaders of both parties expect the House and Senate to act in obedience or opposition to the president and their colleagues on a partisan basis…

With little genuine debate on policy happening in Congress, party leaders distract and divide the public by exploiting wedge issues and waging pointless messaging wars. These strategies fuel mistrust and anger, leading millions of people to take to social media to express contempt for their political opponents, with the media magnifying the most extreme voices. This all combines to reinforce the us-vs.-them, party-first mind-set of government officials.

Amash sees two parties ripping the country apart and is done playing the game While he plans to run as an Independent for his current seat in Congress, Michigan law makes this a challenge as the state allows straight-ticket voting, which serves as an impediment to any Independent candidate, even an incumbent.

For many, his bold stroke stance signals a presidential run and the Libertarian party nomination would seem to be a good fit for the libertarian-leaning Michigan Congressman. 

The greatest thing the Libertarian Party could offer Amash is ballot access. They’re experts at clearing the hurdles by the major parties as they’re the only third party to get their nominee on all 50 states ballots in 2016. They’ve had ballot access on at least forty-five state ballots and the District of Columbia in every Presidential election this century.

If Amash were the Libertarian nominee in 2020, he’d be doing a service in giving voters a choice in a race between a corrupt President and what will likely be a radical far-left nominee from the Democrats.  However, if Amash is looking for long-term solutions to America’s problems or to break the hold of the major parties, the Libertarians are a poor option.

If Amash is unhappy with the wedge issues the major parties use, I doubt he’d be thrilled with the fringe issues that take inordinate debate and focus from the Libertarian Party members including advocacy for the repeal of all drug laws (not just those related to marijuana) and the legalization of prostitution in every community in this country. Don’t look to Libertarians for sensible tax reform to address real-world problems as Libertarians declare all taxation to be theft.

Not only do Libertarians take fringe positions, but the party is often embarrassed by the fringe actors who rise to prominence. In 2016, facing the prospect of the awful election choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, news focused on the Libertarian Party National Convention. With a former two-term Governor running as their likely nominee were the Libertarians ready for prime time?

Part of the answer came from James Weeks, a candidate for National Chairman of the Libertarian Party, who did a striptease on stage down to his underwear. To be clear, Weeks would later be expelled from the party for this stunt. However, he had been nominated for the U.S. House in 2014 by the Libertarians and was also their nominee for County Sheriff at the time of his uninvited burlesque show. The key question is not what the Libertarians did about Weeks, but how Weeks attained enough prominence to end up on their national convention stage in the first place.

If you look at the sheer number of votes that the Libertarian Party garners, it seems that among the hundreds of thousands who cast votes for their candidates, there must be many people more suitable for leadership than Mr. Weeks or a large number of Libertarian candidates who lack the political skills or personability required for political campaigns.

I believe the reason you have so few good Libertarians candidates for office is that most Libertarians have concluded that there’s no chance of actually winning an election outside of a few local elections and an occasional state legislative race. Running for office is a grueling task and most people aren’t going to undertake a serious campaign just to make a point.

If, like Amash, you believe that the major parties need to be challenged, why would you turn to a party that’s been around for 45 years and failed to come close to being competitive?  In a way, having minor non-competitive third parties is part of the two-party system. The Libertarians have functioned much like independent baseball leagues such as the Nothern League of the 1990s. The Nothern League became a destination for down on their luck baseball players no major league team would touch in order to get playing time for a chance to get back to the big league.

Similarly, the Libertarian Party has become a refuge for former major party politicos.   If Amash becomes the Libertarian nominee, the LP will have nominated an ex-Republican officeholder for president in four straight elections.

One should note that this is two-way traffic. Many of these same politicians jump back to their old party as Ron Paul did after he was the party’s 1988 nominee. Both members of the Libertarian’s 2008 ticket and 2016 Vice-Presidential nominee William Weld are back with the Republicans. If Libertarians expect anyone to commit to their party, it would be nice if the people they made their national standard-bearers would do so.

As I said, if Amash runs for President as a Libertarian, it would solve a problem in 2020. Solving the real problems Amash has identified is beyond the LIbertarian Party’s grasp.  If Amash helps start a new political party that can appeal to a broad-based coalition, it’ll be a far greater service than becoming yet another former Republican to carry the losing Libertarian banner.

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