The Manhattan Libertarian Party sponsors a monthly "Libertarian Happy Hour" at a famous hotel in midtown. I go, sometimes, or used to go, before the Age of Coronavirus shut NYC down. The meeting is something of an intellectual salon, buttressed by beer and good hamburgers (although I do not drink alcohol, so much of that value is lost on me). In July of last year, I went, and one of the big news items we discussed was: Justin Amash has left the Republican Party.
"He'll join the Libertarian Party," I said. "It is where he belongs. He is a libertarian."
"No, he won't," said another man, who is wiser than I.
Amash has joined us. Did he do it because now he has something to gain?
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"He has nothing to gain by joining us."
"I disagree," I said. But I was wrong — about that.
Now, Amash has joined us. Did he do it because now he has something to gain? What he gains, what he seeks, is clear: the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, and the fame and media coverage that entails.
So my question is: why did he wait until now to join? Why not months ago? Is it because he wants only to use us for our presidential nomination? Is he an opportunistic vulture, circling around us and then choosing his moment to swoop in? Or is he a libertarian hero — the Libertarian Party's first actual, real-life, registered Libertarian member of the United States Congress? Does he want a quid pro quo: he gives us a Libertarian in Congress, and we give him our presidential slot? Is that unethical, or would it be like any other trade of value for value in an economy? Why should we object to a trade?
I do not know whether he is a hero or a villain. But it does not matter, because nobody is going to vote for him in the general election, if he does in fact become the LP candidate.
Justin Amash has always been a small-l libertarian. His statements and voting records are clear. He has said that F.A. Hayek is his favorite theorist. During his time as a Republican in Congress, he would butt heads with GOP leadership because he was loyal to libertarian values, and they sometimes were not. But he has never been a capital-l Libertarian, before this April.
Only he knows his real motivations. I cannot read his mind. So I do not know whether he is a hero or a villain. But it does not matter to me. Why? Because nobody is going to vote for him in the general election, if he does in fact become the LP candidate. As our only member of Congress, now or ever, I suspect that he will win at the LP convention (if there is a convention). But it does not matter — because he will not win the White House and will hurt neither Biden nor Trump. He will exert no influence. He is a nullity.
The media have discussed whether he is a threat to Biden or a threat to Trump, as if he had to be one or the other. He is neither. Look at the last election. The Democrats made much of the fact that, if every Libertarian in Florida had voted for Hillary instead of Johnson, Trump would have lost Florida, thereby rescuing America from horror, from their point of view. One problem exists with that analysis: no Libertarian voter would ever vote for Hillary, not in a billion years. The media, and the Democrats, do not understand Libertarian voters. We are not mere moderates or independents. We are libertarians. We vote for libertarians. A similar identity trait holds for the Democrats. Liberals are Democrats. Democrats are liberals. Liberal voters will vote for Biden. Why would they vote for Amash? So Biden has nothing to fear from Amash.
Moderate and independent Republicans do not vote for candidates perceived as extremists or radicals, not even radicals for capitalism.
The same is true for Trump, except even more so, because Trump has quite a cult of personality. Biden's voters self-define as liberals. Trump's voters self-define as Donald Trump supporters. Trump's voters will never vote for Amash. So Trump has nothing to fear from him. But what if anti-Trump Republicans vote for Amash?
Conservatives support Trump, so presumably the appeal of Amash would be limited to moderate and independent Republicans. But such people pride themselves on being reasonable, so they will think about Biden and Trump, with an open mind, and choose one of them. Such people do not vote for candidates perceived as extremists or radicals, not even radicals for capitalism.
As with disloyal Republicans, so too with disloyal Democrats. All Democrats hate Donald Trump and will vote against him, which is the vote for Biden. The only anti-Biden Democrats are the Sanders socialists. They would rather die than vote Libertarian.
Amash might make a good president. He might not. But he will not get enough votes to win the White House, or to influence the 2020 election in any way.
Justin Amash is a latecomer to the Libertarian Party, and the Libertarian Party's rank and file knows it. We know that we have doubts about whether he is using us, whether he really cares deeply about our party, whether he will stay with us in 2021, especially after the Bill Weld fiasco. Many Libertarians will not vote for Amash; they will just vote for Trump, or not vote at all. We Libertarians are finicky like that.
Amash does not have the ability to become president, so I won’t speculate about whether he would make a better president than Trump or Biden. In terms of abstract policy, he might. If you view Trump as a hero, and the bane and scourge of the Left, voting for Trump is obviously better than voting for Amash.
Little is known about Justin Amash's leadership abilities. He might make a good president. He might not. But he will not get enough votes to win the White House, or to influence the 2020 election in any way.
At least for now, the Libertarian Party has something that I never thought I would live to see: a sitting Libertarian in the House of Representatives. Because the Democrats and Republicans of Michigan will both be intent upon ending Amash's hold of his congressional seat, I suggest we enjoy this while it lasts. It won't last.