Rep. Justin Amash announced April 28 that he was launching an exploratory committee to seek the Libertarian Partys presidential nomination.
There had long been buzz about a potential presidential run around Amash, who last year left the Republican party and became an Independent member of Congress (a spokesperson for Amash says he is now officially a Libertarian member of Congress). Though hes been critical of Trump and the Republican party, Amash says his main argument is broader: He believes the country is locked in what hes repeatedly called a partisan death spiral in which representative government is broken.
Amash, who says he will not seek reelection to his current House seat, spoke with TIME via Skype from his home in Michigan on May 3, where he discussed the state of the current Republican party, how he believes campaigning virtually levels the playing field, and why he thinks he has a pathway to the nomination.
Below is a lightly edited, condensed transcript of the interview.
As a presidential candidate, what would the core idea of your campaign be?
The core idea is liberty and representative government. And what we have right now in Washington is a very broken system. What happens right now too often is a few leaders in Congress negotiate with the White House, and they decide everything for everyone. And this leads to a lot of frustration and a lot of partisanship because when Congress cant deliberate actual policies, when you have most members of Congress left out of the process, then they start to debate personalities.
Why are you dipping your toes into this with an exploratory committee instead of just outright running?
Im new to the Libertarian Party, and Im seeking the nomination of the Libertarian Party. I want to be respectful of all the delegates, I want to be respectful of the people who have been a part of that party for a long time. And Im starting it as an exploratory committee so that I can try to earn the nomination, and if Im able to get further along and obtain the nomination, then we can talk about changing it to a full committee.
Do you have a deadline then when it comes to deciding whether you will actually run versus exploratory?
I dont have a specific deadline in mind. I think as this goes on, well have a better idea of where we stand with the delegates. And there may come a point where I feel more comfortable moving forward concretely and saying, yes, Im in 100%, Im going all the way. But right now I want to make sure Im being respectful of the delegates and working to earn their trust. And Im going to continue to work to do that over the next few weeks.
Why now, when its so late in the election cycle, and in the middle of a pandemic?
Well for one thing, I think its important to think about the fact that the election cycles have been getting longer. Theyre starting early in the year before the election, and we dont need that much campaigning going on for a presidency, otherwise these things are just nonstop, around-the-clock, and people get really tired of it. But actually, at the beginning of this year, in February, I started to look at it very carefully, and wanted to consider whether I would be a candidate, and I would have made a decision earlier, but then we had the coronavirus pandemic come up, and I had to make the decision, the right decision, I believe, to delay the final judgement of whether Im going to jump in or not, because I want to be able to represent my constituents during this time, I wanted to make sure Im in top of what was going on in Congress, and I wanted to reassess how a pandemic situation where were all stuck at home would affect the campaign.
Is it still possible to advance the things you want to talk about as a third-party candidate?
It is possible to do that, and the way Im going to do that is by getting my message out there. And if I do that, I feel confident that people will see that among the three candidates, the one running as a Libertarian Party nominee right now, or seeking the Libertarian Party nomination, is the one who will be the most compelling and qualified candidate of the three.
Do you think your presence in the race will help or hurt either candidate?
I think it hurts both candidates. The goal is to win, so you obviously want to take votes from both candidates. Theres a huge pool of voters who arent represented by either of the parties, and a lot of times, they just stay home or they settle for one of the two parties, but they would be happy to vote for someone else if they felt there was another candidate that was compelling.
Have you thought about whether youd vote for Biden or Trump?
I would not vote for Biden or Trump. Getting rid of Donald Trump does not fix the problems because Donald Trump is just a symptom of the problems. The problems will still exist with Joe Biden in the White House.
Is there anything that your friends in the Republican Party could do to redeem themselves now in your eyes?
I dont think that theres any way to pull them back from where they are. The culture of Donald Trump that has become dominant in the Republican Party is not going away anytime soon. Its probably here for at least a decade. Its a very different tone; its a very different style. Theres not much focus on principles anymore, its a focus on personality.
What makes you think that theres a viable path for you?
When you think about whether Republicans are firmly behind Trump, yes, theyre firmly behind Trump because they dont see an alternative. And they view the alternative right now as Joe Biden, and thats not a viable alternative for most Republicans. So there is a path for a third candidate to receive votes from Republicans.
Michigan has been in the news recently for the protests against the governors coronavirus policies. Can I ask what you made of them?
I support people protesting. I support their right to protest. I think people are very upset in Michigan about much of the overreach. I do condemn and denounce things like using Nazi flags or Nazi symbols at protests. Or coming into the state capitol holding weapons in a way that might be intimidating to many people.
What about the protests where folks havent been adhering to socialdistancing practices?
It shouldnt happen where people dont keep away from each other by at least 6 ft. I mean, were hearing from doctors and epidemiologists and others. We should adhere to those guidelines.
What was the decision not to run for reelection like?
It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I think its important to focus on one race at a time, and this is the race Im focused on. Ultimately I decided that even though I can win reelection as an independent, I wasnt sure it would make the same kind of difference to our system as running a presidential campaign and winning that campaign. If you win as an independent, some people might just write it off to some oddity of the third district of Michigan, saying, well in that district, an independent can win, but it wont work anywhere else. If you win the presidency as a Libertarian, you have a chance to really upset the system in a way that can restore our constitutional process and our representative government, and to me that is the more important thing.
Whats it like being home and deciding whether you want to run for President under these circumstances?
Its a different kind of campaign, but its one that actually may work to my benefit. If we were running a normal campaign, I obviously dont have the name ID yet to go out and hold massive rallies or any of those kinds of things, like the President might, or maybe Joe Biden might. So were at a point where we can compete with the other candidates through video and through technology, and I have an advantage in that, maybe, as a younger candidate, going out there and getting my message out on social media and elsewhere.
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