Amash ends brief bid for Libertarian presidential nomination

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan said Saturday he is dropping his bid to be the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee — a week before the party's national convention. 

The decision comes just shy of three weeks after the five-term congressman formed an exploratory committee for president on April 28.  

"After much reflection, I’ve concluded that circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year, and therefore I will not be a candidate," Amash tweeted. 

Amash said his decision was based in part on limited opportunities for "lesser-known" candidates to secure media opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic and resistance in the media to third-party candidates. 

"I continue to believe that a candidate from outside the old parties, offering a vision of government grounded in liberty and equality, can break through in the right environment. But this environment presents extraordinary challenges," Amash wrote. 

"Polarization is near an all-time high. Electoral success requires an audience willing to consider alternatives, but both social media and traditional media are dominated by voices strongly averse to the political risks posed by a viable third candidate," he added. 

"Today, most Americans are understandably more interested in what life will look like tomorrow than they are in broader policy debates, and news coverage has reflected those priorities. At the same time, fundraising challenges posed by an idled economy will hinder advertising."

Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington in this Dec. 18, 2019, file photo.

Political analysts had said a Libertarian bid by Amash could complicate President Donald Trump's plans to repeat his 2016 win in Michigan, or could have hurt Biden by siphoning votes from the former vice president in battleground states. 

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said Amash wouldn’t have made much difference in the 2020 election either way, even in Michigan.

"We are too polarized and too divided on Trump for any third-party candidate to do particularly well," Sabato said. "Amash seems to have recognized this with his withdrawal." 

In announcing his decision, Amash also cited "lingering uncertainty" regarding ratification of online voting for the upcoming Libertarian convention, the feasibility of ballot access in all 50 states, and the question of unity behind the eventual nominee, saying those issues "have also weighed heavily on me."

"We must address these issues as a party to ensure we maximize our potential," Amash wrote. 

He thanked supporters and said he remains invested in helping the party to become a "major and consistent contender to win elections at all levels of government." 

The former Republican joined the party a month ago and became the first Libertarian ever in Congress. 

Gregory Stempfle, chair of the Michigan Libertarian Party, said he was disappointed to see Amash drop out, predicting he could have won the nomination. 

"It still looks like he wants to be active in promoting the Libertarian Party. There’s a chance he will continue running for Congress, and that’s what I’m hoping he’ll do," Stempfle said Saturday. 

"I think everyone — even those who didn’t want him as a nominee — would back that."

Amash idled his U.S. House reelection campaign in West Michigan in February and has said he doesn't intend to return to that campaign. 

But he has several weeks to change course and pursue a sixth term. Michigan's filing deadline for the Aug. 4 primary is July 16 for independent and third-party candidates. 

Vermin Supreme, one of the leading contenders for the Libertarian presidential nomination, urged Amash to stay the course in Congress. 

"All of us at Team Supreme look forward to @justinamash winning re-election as a Libertarian, electing hundreds of other Libertarian congresspeople, and House Speaker Amash helping me pass my presidential agenda!" Supreme tweeted Saturday. 

Amash, 40, is a former state lawmaker from the Grand Rapids area. He supported Trump's impeachment and left the Republican Party on July 4 after years of clashes with GOP leadership and frustration with hyper-partisanship in Congress. 

He was independent of any party until officially joining the Libertarians last month.

Amash long said he wouldn’t pursue the White House if he didn’t think he would win. 

Third parties face long odds in presidential elections, with individual candidates having gotten over 10% of the vote four times since the end of the Civil War, according to UVA analysts

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson won about 3% of the vote in 2016 — the best performance by any Libertarian since the party's 1971 founding.

Amash was considered a front-runner but not the solid favorite to win the Libertarian  nomination for president over Memorial Day weekend, party activists said in recent days.

The Kentucky Libertarian Party conducted an informal survey of a quarter of confirmed delegates on May 10, and Amash got nearly a third of the vote in the first round. He ultimately won but after 10 rounds of balloting.

Amash had been participating in debates and forums, hosting town halls and reaching out to individual delegates to win them over.

But Libertarians are generally independent thinkers, and some had serious questions about Amash's last-minute campaign, including the pro-choice faction of the party unhappy with his anti-abortion stance.

Amash was also not the long-time party member some activists hoped to lead their ticket, though he impressed many with his transparent style, principled record and ability to attract national media attention.

The latter was a big selling point for members who hoped his White House run would generate public interest and grow the party’s ranks into a greater political force. 

Some delegates were expected to resist a Republican-turned-Libertarian candidate, but there's precedent for such picks, including Gary Johnson in 2016 (a former Republican governor of New Mexico), and former U.S. Reps. Bob Barr in 2008 and Ron Paul in 1988.

Libertarians also grumbled about Amash's year-long tease about a presidential bid, with some saying he waited too long to get into the race, skipping state conventions. Another leading contender, Jacob Hornberger,  called Amash an "interloper." 

Amash has said he's in the party to stay and wants to help it grow, arguing it could be a "strong competitor" to the two major parties. He made the case for a pragmatic, incremental approach to bringing others into the Libertarian fold. 

"I've been a libertarian my entire life. A small-l libertarian," Amash said at a recent debate.

"I believe that when you work within government, you have to make those changes that will convince people to come to your side.

"You have to present libertarianism to them with the issues that they care about or are concerned about right now. It can't be some kind of overnight experiment where we rework all of society or rework all of our government."