Of all the potential damage done by President Donald Trump’s meltdown during Monday evening’s briefing on the coronavirus, the biggest self-inflicted political wound may just be its impact on Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. The libertarian-inclined Amash was already a vocal Trump critic, so much so that last year he left the Republican Party over its fealty to the president and voted in favor of impeachment. The 39-year-old representing Grand Rapids has previously hinted at the idea of running a third-party campaign for president this fall, but speculation was boosted Monday when Amash took to Twitter to express his opposition to the president’s performance, particularly Trump’s assertion that he had “total authority” as president to reopen the American economy on whatever timetable he wished.
In response to a Twitter user urging Amash to run himself, Amash responded he was “looking closely at it this week.” Making a social media proclamation that you’re considering a run for president isn’t exactly launching a campaign, but the Washington Post notes that the Libertarian Party is set to nominate its candidate in six weeks time, which would make for a reasonable ideological fit and provide at least some semblance of infrastructure for a potential run.
What would an Amash candidacy mean for the race? It’s obviously impossible to know for sure, but it would seem to give an alternative to disaffected Republicans, like Amash, who can’t stand the leader of their party and the direction it has veered. That could be bad news for Trump since presumably Amash would siphon off more votes from the Trump campaign than from Joe Biden. Given how close many states were in 2016, it would probably be more important where Amash’s support was located geographically than the total level of his national support. Last time out, Libertarian Party nominee former Gov. Gary Johnson managed to pull in nearly 4.5 million votes or just over 3 percent of the national vote. That’s a meaningful number for both Trump and Biden given that just tens of thousands of votes in three states decided the presidency last election. Beyond vote totals, Amash has proved an articulate and pointed critic of Trump, which could give his candidacy more influence than Johnson’s loopy run. Amash likely wouldn’t reach the support necessary to qualify for the presidential debates, but a persistent, coherent, and principled critic on the right could do damage.
For more on the impact of the coronavirus, listen to Tuesday’s What Next.