Opinion: Don't over think it: Amash in the race helps Biden win
Last week, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash announced an exploratory committee for a presidential bid on the Libertarian line. Usually, when politicians explore, they plan to run.
The announcement has already generated feverish speculation about whom Amash will help or hurt more — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden. Let’s not overthink it.
Amash is in the Republican lane even if he’s running as a Libertarian. He is a conservative through and through, with lifetime scores of 88% from the Conservative Review and 98% from the conservative PAC Club for Growth. Officially, he left the Republican Party and became an Independent over impeachment because he is a conservative with a conscience and believes in country over party.
While he remains critical of Trump’s actions — from pulling troops out of the Middle East to his response to the coronavirus — he espouses many of the same policy positions as his Republican colleagues and continues to advance a conservative agenda.
The 2020 election will be a referendum on Trump. Some argue that Amash will make the choice less stark and take anti-Trump votes from Biden. And a 10-month-old speculative poll shows Amash taking more votes from Biden than from Trump in Michigan.
More likely, by joining the race Amash will give many conservatives who have had enough of demagoguery, dysfunction and division a palatable alternative who is not a Democrat. If Amash weren’t in the race, these Never Trumpers would vote Libertarian anyway, stay home or hold their noses and cast again for the president.
A minority may have voted for Biden, but the greater pull will be from Trump because the philosophical alignment between Amash and Trump is stronger. By contrast, there is no natural pull from Biden to Amash on any substantive level.
Because Michigan is ground zero in this year’s presidential race, some argue that an Amash candidacy would have an outsized effect in this important swing state. But Biden has a sizable lead in poll after poll, and anyone who stayed home in 2016 because they thought Trump would never win will not make that mistake again. Biden will win the Wolverine State big.
Let’s be clear: Biden will win with or without Amash in the race. He already is leading in swing state after swing state, and he was on a path to victory even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The country is hungry for a change and wants more competence and compassion out of the White House — feelings that have only been amplified in the COVID-19 era.
A similar dynamic was at play in the 1992 presidential contest. Conventional wisdom has it that Ross Perot was the key to Bill Clinton’s victory by taking more votes away from George H.W. Bush than from Clinton.
But post-convention, Clinton was already well ahead in the polls when it was a two-person race, and the country, suffering a poor economy, wanted a change regardless. Clinton would have won either way: he had a focused economic message, an electorate ready for change and a strong Democratic infrastructure.
With that trio of factors in play nearly 30 years later, Biden will win whether Amash tosses his hat in or decides to sit this one out.
Michael Gordon is a Detroit native, the principal of New York-based strategic communications firm Group Gordon and a political columnist for Business Insider.