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Interest in a New Conservative Challenger to Trump Is Rising

Will he or won’t he?

The notion of a third party challenger – a real challenger – has intrigued me since before the 2016 election. Back then, it was my fervent desire to see former Texas Governor Rick Perry brush himself off and launch a third party comeback to challenge Trump and Clinton directly. At least then, he wouldn’t have had to go through a primary process and fight the uphill battle against a media that chose the GOP candidate for us.

Others pushed for that from Perry, at the time, but it was not to be. Now, he has found his refuge as part of President Trump’s Cabinet, working as the secretary over the Department of Energy.

He’s apparently quite satisfied in that role. In fact, the man who hit Donald Trump the hardest during the primary process, rightfully labeling him a “barking carnival act” and a “cancer” on the conservative movement, has now forgotten his own warning that continuing in the Trumpian way would lead the party straight to perdition. He’s boarded the Trump train, and he’s content to see conservatism driven straight over a cliff.

C’est la vie.

You don’t make politicians your heroes, because ultimately, you’ll be forced to either compromise your own principles or admit they’ve let you down.

So here we are, and the prospects for 2020 don’t look great. The GOP has flatly refused to allow the people a voice and are throwing full support behind President Trump, with no consideration of a primary challenger, should one from the party step forward.

The Democrat field is a veritable clown car of socialist lunatics, far left crackpots, and otherwise unsavory characters. Crossing party lines has never been much of a solution for conservative voters, but in this case, we truly are stuck between two big government entities, simply with different party affiliations.

There are also a host of third parties out there, but the major stumbling blocks would be recognition and ballot access. The only third party now that currently enjoys any sort of recognition and that crucial access is the Libertarian party.

Let’s look at that for a second. Did anyone else get a gander at the last Libertarian party convention?

It was held in a hotel conference hall in Orlando, Florida. A fat guy stripped on stage, before removing his name from consideration for party chairman.

The eventual nominee, Gary Johnson, would have probably been taken more seriously, had he stripped on stage.

As it was, he stumbled through interviews, gave off a goofy, “Whatever” vibe, and in general created this image in the minds of many voters that the sole platform item for Libertarians is to get the government’s hands off of their stash of mind altering substances.

I’ve described the Libertarian party in these terms before – along with characterizing their meetings as happening in the back booth of the local Waffle House at 2am.

I’m still not convinced that that’s not hitting perilously close to reality, but given the past several years in this nation, I’m thinking it may be time to tuck away my sarcasm bone and give them a fair listen.

First things first, they need to offer up someone more serious than Johnson. We’ve already seen what electing a punchline can do to a nation.

In that area, there is potential.

Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) is a name that has come up repeatedly in recent weeks.

He’s a 5-term conservative from the Grand Rapids area. He enjoys a solid “A” Liberty Rating, and he never endorsed, nor does he bend the knee to Trump, making him immediately palatable to those likeminded conservatives who feel pushed aside in the age of Trumpism.

It’s not that he’s a strident critic of the president. In fact, his language, while firm, has always been respectful, but firmly rooted in conservative principles.

That’s not exactly respected on the Trump right, but it would definitely be a breath of fresh air.

Amash, the son of a Palestinian Christian father and Syrian Christian mother, was swept into office in 2010, riding the original Tea Party wave. He’s one of the few from that movement who still remembers what it was supposed to embody.

He enjoys considerable support from his home state, but would he be able to launch a viable challenge there – not to mention everywhere else – against Trump or whoever the Democrat nominee turns out to be?

That’s really the question, and Libertarians, when they show, tend to siphon votes from Republicans, while alternatives like the Green Party tend to take from the Democrats.

Let’s face it: 2016 was a mess, between Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Jill Stein, and the Russian chaos campaign. That doesn’t even take into account the various other third party hopefuls.

Would a serious lawmaker with a solid reputation, like that of Congressman Amash want to dive into that potential morass?

Well, maybe.

It’s maddening for those of us who really want another choice on the right, but for now, he is neither confirming, nor denying his interest in running as a Libertarian in 2020. The subject, however, has come up.

“‘Considering’ is too strong a word,” Amash said in an interview at his office.

“There’s no shortage of possibilities, and I just don’t want to rule things out. I think about them and make decisions according to what I think will make a difference.

“And, you know, you also only run for things if you feel like there’s a good possibility of winning,” he added. “So you have to weigh all these factors.” 

Could he even get the Libertarian nomination?

There are very strong indicators to suggest he absolutely could.

“Tens of thousands of people in West Michigan have voted for Justin Amash. They don’t just walk away from him suddenly,” said Czuba of the Glengariff Group in Lansing.  

“That’s not to say he’d get the same number of votes by any stretch, but it wouldn’t take a lot of votes to siphon away if Michigan were a close race. As we saw in 2016, it doesn’t take a lot of votes from a third party to tip the scales.”

In the 2016, Gary Johnson took nearly 4 percent of the Michigan vote. Trump ultimately won it by a little over 10,000 votes, but with four years under Trump’s chaos, and presenting a solid challenger – preferably one who knows what “Aleppo” is – things could definitely go another direction.

For his part, Amash is not ignorant of the uphill challenges a third party candidate faces. When presented with the notion that his current popularity in Michigan could portend his potential success at a presidential run, he’s quite pragmatic.

“Who knows? Maybe he’d deny me Michigan. I don’t know,” Amash said of Trump.

“That kind of perception of third-party candidates and independent candidates is a problem,” he added. 

“One of the reasons it’s persisted as a problem is we haven’t had strong candidates typically running third-party campaigns or independent campaigns. I really think if you have a strong candidate, that person can far exceed expectations.” 

I believe that, as well. This holds especially true when you consider how many people walked away from both parties in 2016, looking for more viable options, rather than stay entrenched in two major parties that only seem to care about holding power.

There’s also the chance of Trump becoming so incensed at being challenged that he promotes a primary challenger for Amash’s seat in Congress. We’ve seen him do this before.

That doesn’t mean any Trump-backed challenger would be successful.

Amash’s Libertarian-leanings within Congress make him a standout voice, and he’s getting noticed by the leaders of the party.

“It’s definitely a path that seems like it’s open to him,” said Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian National Committee. 

“There is excitement. There is an organized effort by people within the party to draft him, to encourage him to jump over and get into the race. I haven’t really seen that kind of heavy draft effort since probably people tried to get Ron Paul to run as a Libertarian again in ’08,” Sarwark added. 

“At this point, he’s the one who’s generating the most buzz. But as I remind myself every time I open my Twitter feed, we’re still a ways out from the actual calendar year 2020, so I don’t get too excited this early about anything.” 

Then there is the possibility that Libertarian voters might see a jump by Amash to their party as an intrusion. He is currently a registered Republican.

Would they revolt?

That’s one of those things the party, as well as Amash, would have to consider, along with everything else.

Libertarians in Michigan have challenged Amash, and lost. They insist his views are not strictly aligned with the Libertarian ideology, in order to consider him a Libertarian purist.

Would the Libertarian delegates warm up to him?

The Libertarian nominee should most importantly be libertarian, Amash said, and should be able to attract supporters from the two major parties without compromising his or her principles. 

“If you can get people to think about libertarianism as the philosophy of America — that it is just an appreciation for American principles of individualism and liberty and freedom — I think it’s very accessible to a lot of people,” he said. 

Amash is in the minority party in Congress for the first time but, “I’ve always been a minority of sorts here.” 

Amash has always been a Republican, he said, but willing to take positions counter to the party when he disagrees with leadership.

“There’s obviously a real sense in which I am the most independent Republican in Congress,” he said. 

To that point, consider the conservative House Freedom Caucus, of which Amash is a member. They’ve turned into the raving pom-pom girls for Team Trump, no matter how big government or fiscally unsound his policies become.

Amash says he no longer attends the meetings regularly. I can imagine why.

“The Tea Party is largely gone. There are not that many members of Congress who care about limited government, economic freedom and the individual liberty — at least not as a combination like that,” he said. 

“Maybe that’s why I stand out a little more now, because I do care about those things. I ran for Congress to help move us back in that direction — more a direction of liberty.”

And it really is a shame when you consider what passes as true conservatism on the right, these days.

The notion that a man with Amash’s solidly conservative record could be so isolated, while a man like California Representative Devin Nunes – complete with his “F” Liberty Score rating – could be seen as a rock star to the party is nothing short of depressing.

If Amash chooses to run, he would be risking a lot. By Michigan law, he would have to give up his seat in Congress.

Would he take that risk?

We’ll have to wait and see, because he’s not saying.

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