While U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., contemplates a presidential bid, many #NeverTrump Republicans who praised his vote for President Trump’s impeachment and his criticism of Trump’s behavior oppose it.
Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., showing the same type of winsome charm that shined through during his late lamented bid for the Republican nomination, said of Amash, “If @justinamash runs 3rd Party for President, he’s placing his own interests ahead of the nation’s interests.”
Rather than impugning Amash’s motives to persuade him (which was about the same tactic Walsh used on Republican primary voters), Tim Miller and Sarah Longwell wrote a piece for The Bulwark that showered Amash with praise before pleading with him not to run this time, lest Donald Trump win another term. However, regarding a 2024 bid, they say, “Sign. Us. Up.”
Amash has got a couple important factors to weigh in deciding whether to run. What people think his effect on the Trump-Biden race will be shouldn’t be one of them. There are three reasons why Amash should ignore the bluster of Joe Walsh and the flattery of Miller and Longwell.
1. Amash’s effect on the 2020 presidential race is far from certain.
The effects of an Amash candidacy on the presidential campaign are disputable. Eleven months previously, The Bulwark published a piece suggesting Amash could deny Trump a second term.
Miller and Longwell cited a Michigan poll from last summer as proof that polled 600 likely voters. It saw former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in the state shrinking from twelve points to six points. This argument is weak. Amash isn’t a statewide figure in Michigan, so most people who were polled would not think of him as a generic third-party candidate. Also, it was one poll, ten months ago. The way time and events pass in the Trump presidency, ten months ago might as well be ten years ago.
If you look at the long history of third-party candidates, they do not tend to help incumbent Presidents get re-elected. Look at the relatively good years for third-party presidential candidates,1912, 1932, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2000, and 2016. They’ve been marked by the incumbent president or the party that held the presidency losing the White House. The elections of 1924 and 1948 featured strong third-party candidates, but it’s doubtful they made any impact on the final outcome.
In addition, as I’ve written about before, examinations of modern presidential campaigns show that partisan talking points about Ross Perot costing Bush the 1992 election or Ralph Nader costing Al Gore the 2000 election are false. Generally, a portion of a third-party candidate’s voters will come from one candidate, a portion from another, and a final portion from people who wouldn’t have voted at all. It’s hard to predict where these numbers will fall. For example, you would have thought a Libertarian ticket featuring two former Republican Governors would’ve taken more votes from the Republican nominee, but Gary Johnson votes were more likely to go for Hillary Clinton in a two-person race.
There’s no way to tell how “Amash voters” would go in a two-person race until you know who they are.
2. Professional #NeverTrump advocates have little credibility on strategy.
#NeverTrump political writers are at their best when they are making legitimate arguments against the President’s actions and calling out the hypocrisy and selling out of many conservative intellectuals, pundits, and the like who enable behavior from the President that they would have condemned from Obama.
What are they not good at? Strategy and finding an effective way to counter the President. The folks behind The Bulwark as well as other #NeverTrump advocates have tried to undermine Trump’s support on the right, but ended up driving conservatives further into Trump’s arms. Thanks, in part, to candidates who gained the support of #NeverTrump leaders such as Governor Ralph Northam, D-Va., who delivered an infamous pro-infanticide statement as well as the actions of Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic Majority, which some #NeverTrump pundits support.
While great at identifying problems, #NeverTrump leaders have failed at identifying solutions. Given their lack of strategic vision for the past three years, why should Amash or anyone else take what they have to say about strategy seriously?
Varad Mehta at ArcDigital calls the demand to support the Democratic nominee no matter what, the Flight 39 argument, referencing Flight 93 argument, which led Trump supporters to help him “storm the cockpit” by winning the White House even though he might crash the plane. Mehta points out, if we get a binary choice election between Trump and Biden, it’s perfectly possible this election goes for Donald Trump:
NeverTrumpers, at least the popular front variety, can’t conceive that a binary choice may not go their way. This is their blind spot. If you force someone to make a choice, you may not like the choice they make.
These #NeverTrump advocates are betting everything on Joe Biden winning in the Fall in a two-way election. However, if they’re wrong, they’ll have compromised themselves and gotten nothing out of the bargain because they chose to promote a lesser evil rather than offering voters an actual good option.
3. Promises of 2024 support are worthless.
I think Miller and Longwell are sincere in their desire to support Justin Amash in 2024, just like most people who make New Year’s Resolutions are sincere. It’s not going to happen. It might as well be a by-word that in politics the best time to found a new political party is at the next election.
The problem is the next election is a political eternity away. I remember after 2016, there was much talk about “a new conservative movement” and a new political party. However, this gave way to leaders deciding it was important to continue being Republicans even if it was just to say, “I am a Republican and I oppose the President.” Months were spent talking up a primary challenge to Trump. Some time was spent boosting the doomed candidacies of Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. Now we’ve reached the stage of, “Everyone back Biden in order to get rid of Trump.”
Promises about “the next election” are cheap. By the time it becomes “this election,” political animals will revert to their typical form. The temptation of the 2024 Republican nominating contests will present themselves and you can bet that many of the #NeverTrump advocates will be involved in that race, most in predictably ineffective ways.
Some might push someone like pro-abortion liberal Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, R-Mass., and then reign down righteous fury when others don’t back him. Some might suggest #NeverTrump clemency for U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who after three years of principled criticism of Trump, decided to put himself in the incumbency protection program last year by going almost completely silent.
Eventually, after the first few primaries, the most pragmatic will end up declaring we need to forgive former Ambassador Nikki Haley’s bows to Trumpism to help her stop Donald Trump, Jr from being the nominee. Once Trump, Jr. gets the nomination and selects his brother-in-law Jared Kushner as his Vice-President, we’ll again be told we need to vote for the Democratic ticket to defeat Trump’s heirs. However, if we’re good boys and girls and vote Democrat in 2024, we can have a principled third party in 2028, at which time we’ll be told the same thing still again.
Is there anyone who thinks this scenario is far-fetched? It doesn’t matter what year you propose a third party, you’re going to have a lot of people telling you, “This isn’t the year. We have to stop the worst evil from winning. But in four years, I’m with you….”
If you’re going to wait to start a third party until no one’s going to object and say your efforts are going to lead to the election of a horrible person as President, you’re never going to pull the trigger. In fact, if you’re at a point when neither candidate is horrible, why would you need a third party?
Opponents of a Justin Amash 2020 Presidential run argue that it’s not the right time for a third-party run. Yet, times of great crisis offer the best opportunity to promote a radical new direction. It’s often when politics is the most broken that third-party candidates enjoy their greatest success. Socialist Norman Thomas had his best result in 1932 with the Great Depression raging. U.S. Rep. John Anderson’s independent campaign enjoyed success due to the recession and national peril in 1980. Ross Perot’s success came on the heels of the recession of the early 1990s. Ralph Nader’s campaign resonated after the Lewinsky scandal.
America is led by an Impeached President who has responded to a national pandemic by boasting about “his ratings” for daily press conferences, telling jokes that reference his sexual encounters with models, and engaging in reality-TV catfights with various governors. His opponent is the previous Vice President, who is showing signs of the cognitive decline typical of a man in his late 70s. Biden’s key selling point is a return to the atmosphere of the previous eight years, when the administration he served depleted our nation’s supply of personal protective equipment for medical emergencies and never bothered to replace it.
There are factors Amash needs to weigh in deciding whether to run. However, this is as a good year for a third-party candidacy to challenge the failed political leadership of the two major parties.