Trump remark prompts Amash to reconsider run for president

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Michigan's independent U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of West Michigan indicated he’s considering this week whether to run for president. 

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan

A former Republican, the congressman from Cascade Township criticized President Donald Trump Monday for remarks he made during a press briefing indicating the president has “the ultimate authority.”

“Americans who believe in limited government deserve another option,” Amash wrote Monday on Twitter. 

When a follower responded with “Please be you,” Amash said, “Thanks. I’m looking closely at it this week.”

The Grand Rapids area congressman is a libertarian who bolted from the Republican Party on July 4 after writing a Washington Post commentary criticizing hyper-partisanship and saying he is "disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it." 

Libertarian Party leaders last year predicted Amash could win their party's nomination should he pursue it, and some analysts contended the fifth-term congressman could draw GOP votes from Trump in upper Midwest battleground states.

Gregory Stempfle, chairman of the Michigan Libertarian Party, said Tuesday that he hadn't spoken directly with Amash about a potential run for president on the party's ticket.

The national party's convention, where it will pick a nominee, is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in Texas, Stempfle said.

"If he is serious about it, he should make it public as soon as possible," Stempfle said.

"I think he has a very good chance," he said of Amash's ability to get the nomination. "He’s not going to be a shoo-in."

The advantage for Amash to run for president as the Libertarian Party's nominee instead of as an independent candidate is ballot access. Stempfle said the Libertarian Party should be able to get its nominee on the ballot in all 50 states. Getting on ballots as an independent would be a "logistical nightmare," he said.

Asked if he thinks Amash will ultimately run for president as a Libertarian, Stempfle responded, "He’s hinting at it. I don’t think he would hint at it if he wasn’t planning to.”

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson won 3.6% of the vote in Michigan in 2016, when Trump best Democrat Hillary Clinton by 10,704 votes or two-tenths of a percentage point. Johnson won over 172,000 votes.

When the 39-year-old lawmaker previously flirted with suggestions that he make a run for the White House, he told The Detroit News in 2019 that "'considering' is too strong a word." 

Amash's reconsideration of a presidential run came two days after he criticized Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s revised stay-home order that includes limits on shopping for nonessential items like plants and seeds, bans motorized boating and prohibits traveling between homes. The Democratic first-term governor is on the vice presidential short list of the party's presumptive nominee Joe Biden.

Amash encouraged Whitmer to “reassess” her actions, which he said “will erode confidence in her leadership."

“Most Michigan residents recognize the challenging circumstances and are willing to make considerable sacrifices to keep themselves and others safe,” Amash said. “But several recent measures provide marginal benefits at best, while substantially heightening frustration and resentment.”

Until Trump's Monday comment about presidential power, the congressman seemed intent on running for re-election in his 3rd Congressional District, where he has attracted Republican and Democratic challengers.

The 3rd District has been considered a traditional GOP stronghold, but Whitmer's strong showing in the 2018 gubernatorial election has convinced Democrats that they have a decent shot at capturing the seat in the November election. Independent candidates usually are at a disadvantage in Michigan's election system because of straight-ticket voting, which automatically racks up votes for the Republican and Democratic candidates.

Amash should pass on a run for the presidency and try to keep his U.S. House seat, said Jeff Timmer, a longtime Republican consultant in Michigan who has broken with the party and opposes Trump.

Running for president as a Libertarian would be a "fool's errand," he said.

"Any vote that doesn’t go to Joe Biden is a vote for Donald Trump," said Timmer, who plans to vote for Biden.

“If he truly respects the constitutional authority that governs this country, Donald Trump has to lose this election," Timmer said of Amash. "Joe Biden is the only option.”

On whether an independent candidate can win a U.S. House seat in a state where the two major parties usually dominate, he said there's a narrow path to victory for Amash.

“This fall, we are going to see some things that I think are going to astound some people in turnout levels," Timmer predicted.