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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Bid by ex-Republican Justin Amash could hurt Joe Biden or Donald Trump — or neither

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is exploring a

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is exploring a longshot presidential run as a Libertarian. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Rep. Justin Amash recently became known for one big thing outside his home state of Michigan. He cast the lone Republican vote in the House for President Donald Trump's impeachment. Ousted from the GOP, Amash has decided to explore a presidential run as the Libertarian Party candidate.

Fevered speculation now arises that his presence on the ballot would draw votes from Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden and thus help Trump win. Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who ended his own primary drive against Trump in February, says in a Washington Post op-ed piece critical of an Amash run: "The best and surest way to beat Trump is to have only one alternative to him." Walsh says he'll vote for the Democrat in November.

That isn't the only way to see an Amash run. He is anti-abortion, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and a stickler on constitutional matters. The independent-turned-Libertarian opposed massive federal spending increases in the months preceding the coronavirus emergency. As a result, he could conceivably appeal to at least some conservatives and Republicans who are disgusted by Trump's conduct in office, but who wouldn't vote Democratic in any event.

Surely on some level, Biden and his camp would enjoy having a five-term Republican on a debate stage explain his impeachment vote right in front of Trump. In December, Amash declared on the House floor that Trump "has abused and violated the public trust by using his high office to solicit the aid of a foreign power, not for the benefit of the United States of America but instead for his personal and political gain … It is our duty to impeach him."

There is an evergreen debate over third party candidacies in a party duopoly. Establishment Democrats still like to blame maverick Ralph Nader for Al Gore's loss in 2000, and even the marginal Green Party's Jill Stein for Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016. Volumes are written about how much independent candidate Ross Perot's strong showing contributed to denying President George H.W. Bush reelection in 1992.

For his part, Amash told MSNBC on Wednesday: "We don't know who people will vote for. It's impossible to say whether more people will vote for Biden or Trump if I'm in the race or not in the race."

"If people want to vote for someone, they should vote for that person … But don't attempt voter suppression essentially by denying people more candidates on the ballot. That seems really ridiculous and, frankly, anti-American.”

But former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri argued: “Every single anti-Trump vote needs to be focused on the viable candidate for president. Every single one. We do not have room for error in this election."

The Libertarian Party nominee in 2016, former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, won only 3.3% nationwide — and by some calculations effectively helped Clinton in a small way by drawing votes from Trump.

For Amash, logistical questions lie ahead. As longtime GOP consultant Rick Wilson, who is now best known as an anti-Trump commentator and author, posted on Twitter: "Getting a 3rd party candidate on a critical mass of state ballots is nearly impossible. It's even harder if outside forces oppose you."

Gathering petitions in 15 states where the Libertarian Party is not already on the ballot could prove daunting amid the health emergency. The Libertarians do not now have a ballot line in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota. That alone makes the potential impact of an Amash candidacy as uncertain as everything else seems to be these days.

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