Jacques: Is Amash the new GOP maverick?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Justin Amash doesn’t take marching orders from the Republican Party or President Donald Trump.

Rather, the West Michigan congressman turns to the words of the U.S. Constitution and free-market economist Friedrich Hayek for guidance.

His allegiance to principle over party has vexed some of the GOP faithful, most recently this past weekend when Amash made a case on Twitter for why he believes Trump has “engaged in impeachable conduct” based on his reading of the full report by special counsel Robert Mueller.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash has made surveillance reform the hallmark of his five years in Congress.

This of course got the attention of Trump, who fired back on social media that he’s never been of fan of Amash and that the congressman and attorney is “a total lightweight” and a “loser.”

Amash’s tweets also earned him a 2020 primary opponent. State Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, made the announcement Sunday and says he’s all in for Trump.

GOP pollster and consultant Steve Mitchell, who is working with Lower, says the representative had already been planning to challenge Amash but decided to move up the launch of his campaign by several weeks.

More:Amash gets primary challenger after Trump impeachment tweets

For Lower, Amash’s disloyalty to the president was unconscionable and unacceptable for anyone who calls himself a Republican.

“This is Trump’s party,” says Mitchell, who points to Trump’s sky-high approval ratings of over 90 percent among Republicans — including those in Amash’s 3rd Congressional District.

But is it?

Surely, there is still room in the GOP for independent thinkers who believe more in the principles of individual liberty and limited government than in aligning with a president who too often contradicts those conservative values and tramples codes of decorum.

Much like Michigan native and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney -- and Arizona Sen. John McCain before he died — Amash has never shied from criticizing Trump. Nor did he ever support Trump’s presidency. McCain’s independence over the years earned him the title “maverick.” Perhaps Amash is following his example.

Amash explains his philosophy well in a February tweet:

“If you think my job is to support the president one hundred percent, then you don’t understand what it means to be a representative in Congress. My job is to support the Constitution one hundred percent and to represent all the people of my district by protecting their rights.”

That sounds reasonable to me.

If supporting Trump wholeheartedly becomes the litmus test for Republicans in Michigan then the party may have a tough time winning back the independent voters and suburban women who turned against the GOP in 2018 — it could also make recruiting formidable candidates more difficult.

How the GOP responds to Lower or any other Amash challenger will be telling, says Michigan-based Republican strategist Dennis Lennox.

“Amash will lose re-nomination, but only if Trump’s 2020 campaign, the Michigan and national GOPs and the House Republican committee invest money and resources behind one challenger,” Lennox says.

He says the Republican National Committee and state GOP chair Laura Cox can sign a waiver that would free spending in a contested primary, and if they do that then Amash is better off running as an independent or Libertarian in the general  something Amash has already reportedly mulled.

Given the challenges ahead for Michigan Republicans in 2020 this doesn’t seem like the best use of party funds. The state GOP still needs strong challengers to run against Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, as well as new Democratic congresswomen Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin, who respectively swiped the 11th and 8th Districts from Republicans in 2018.

By joining the impeachment bandwagon, Amash is now marked as a party deserter. The policies he supports, however, from slashing federal spending to reining in government surveillance on citizens, are sound.

We need more elected leaders like Amash who stand for what they believe.