Finley: Amash won't bust political duopoly

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

America is ripe for a credible third-party presidential candidate.

President Donald Trump has narrowed the Republican Party base and turned off many GOP-leaning independents.

His Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, is an immensely flawed candidate who continues to have trouble exciting the electorate.

So this promises to be yet another hold-your-nose-and-vote presidential election, unless an exciting alternative emerges.

Justin Amash hopes to be that third choice. The newly independent congressman from Grand Rapids left the Republican Party in protest of Trump, and this week formed an exploratory committee for a White House bid as a Libertarian.

Justin Amash hopes to run for president as a third party candidate.

Can Amash be the one who breaks America’s political duopoly? Not likely. He has neither the financial nor organizational resources to mount a successful nationwide presidential campaign, nor the personal charisma to inspire a populist movement.

Amash may struggle even to play the role of spoiler, if that’s his intent. 

Democrats will be hoping he can draw off enough Republican votes in his home state to deny Trump a repeat of his extremely narrow victory in Michigan, a place that remains key to his hopes.

A Detroit News poll taken last June, after Amash left the Republican Party and first hinted at a presidential bid, found he was more likely to hurt Democrats.

In a head-to-head match-up, that poll had Biden leading Trump by 12 points in Michigan. But when Amash was added to the mix, Biden’s lead dropped to six points. 

Pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group says the difference was Libertarian-leaning men who switched from Biden to Amash.

Czuba says the only way Amash will impact the election here is if Democratic enthusiasm to vote drops. And while national polls are showing lackluster enthusiasm for Biden’s candidacy among Democrats, in Michigan Czuba says the party’s voters are still eager to get to the polls.

"If Democratic turnout is as strong as it was in 2018, Amash is irrelevant," he says.

Political scientist David Dulio of Oakland University says Amash could galvanize the president’s base, which sees the congressman as a traitor for voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment. But he agrees that he's not likely to siphon Democratic votes.

"Democrats are so focused on beating Trump, that’s all they care about," he says.

As much as we complain about how partisan politics are failing us, the real problem Amash and every other third-party hopeful faces is that Americans don’t believe it’s possible for them to win. And so they view casting their ballot for anyone other than a Republican or Democrat as wasting their vote.

Four years ago, in endorsing Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, I wrote that a third party candidate could absolutely win — if a majority of Americans woke up on Election Day and decided to reject the dominance the Ds and Rs have over our political system.

I doubt Amash will be the candidate who inspires that movement — the icebreaker will need a lot more money and a more dynamic message. But I hope it happens in my lifetime.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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