At first, Amash said he wasn’t worried about being a “spoiler,” because it’s unclear whether a third-party campaign ever advantages one major-party candidate over the other. But the longer we spoke, the clearer he was: A second Trump term, in his view, is simply not the worst-case scenario.
“I’m a guy who didn’t vote for Trump, and I don’t particularly like the way he conducts himself in office,” he said. “But I’ve never described myself as a” Never Trumper.
If running a third-party campaign in the age of Trump is playing with fire, Amash isn’t too concerned. To him, it’s more like striking matches in a house that’s already burning down.
Amash was first elected to Congress in 2010, at the peak of the Tea Party movement. He’s a staunch fiscal conservative, having the distinction of voting to cut more government spending than almost all his colleagues. And he thinks of himself as a devout constitutionalist—so much so that he was the only member of the House to vote against a bill to create a national suicide-prevention hotline, because, even though he said he liked the idea, he believed that it lacked a “constitutional basis.”
But not until Trump’s swift ascendancy over the GOP did Amash start getting a flurry of media attention. In 2016, he was one of the few congressional Republicans who opposed Trump all the way through the election. Since then, he’s become only more outspoken about the president, and in 2019 he left the Republican Party entirely.
“Going back to his time in the state legislature, he’s always been someone who didn’t necessarily follow party leadership on issues,” says Robert McCann, a Democratic strategist in Michigan. “So to see him progress into a congressman that followed the same path of staking out his own territory to the point that he had to leave his party wasn’t exactly shocking.”
Read: The day GOP resistance to Trump died
Now Amash is running for president as a Libertarian, and to say that the odds are stacked against him—or any third-party candidate, for that matter—is an understatement. “It’s virtually impossible for a third party to win the presidency,” says David Paleologos, the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, pointing to third-party candidates’ lack of resources and ballot access, among a host of other obstacles.
Evan McMullin, a former CIA official who ran for president as an independent, Never Trump conservative in 2016, believes that this time, the best path to winning the White House—and removing Trump from office—is through the major parties. “The best prospects for Americans to be united on Election Day is probably through a unifying Democratic nominee,” he told me, adding that Joe Biden, the party’s presumptive nominee, has so far met that standard. “Many [anti-Trump conservatives] will at first say, ‘Justin Amash represents my policy positions better than Joe Biden does.’ But if [Amash is] unable to gain significant traction that would allow him to win, then he won’t be in a position to protect our constitutional order.”