Mr. Amash, elected five times from a Grand Rapids-based House district as a Republican, had been an independent for the past nine months and will now seek the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. The party’s live-and-let-live ethos fits with the 40-year-old’s politics; he’s always been more ideological than partisan and has endorsed the presidential campaigns of former Representative Ron Paul of Texas and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
But if Mr. Amash is known for anything outside West Michigan and Washington, it is for his pre-independent status as the leading skeptic of President Trump among House Republicans. Because of that, Mr. Amash’s announcement that he is starting a presidential exploratory committee drew a chorus of groans from both never-Trump Republicans and Democrats who are nervous that Mr. Amash may siphon enough votes away from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to hand the president a second term.
Mr. Amash called on Wednesday from his home in Grand Rapids to speak about why he’s running for president, who his candidacy might help and what should be done about government restrictions on public life during the coronavirus pandemic. (As always, our conversation is edited and condensed for clarity.)
Why announce now that you’re running for president?
People are looking for honesty and practicality in Washington and they’re not getting it out of the current crop of candidates, and they’re certainly not getting it out of Republicans and Democrats. I will give people an alternative that reflects the views of millions of Americans, the plurality of Americans, who aren’t really represented by the two candidates or their respective parties.
There is a partisan death spiral, and what you have increasingly is a few leaders at the top who decide everything. And because they decide everything, the president has a tremendous amount of leverage. So we’re empowering the president in a way that is contrary to our system of government, and people are no longer represented in this process.
You can see it in the coronavirus relief packages, where trillions of dollars are spent yet most of the relief that comes quickly is going to those at the top and those with connections, and those who are struggling are being left behind. So what we need in Washington is a little more humility and trust of the people.
How are you going to be able to talk about your message from Grand Rapids if you’re not able to go out and campaign?
I’m doing it right now. I will be on TV. I will be talking to reporters. I will be doing tweets and emails and other things to get the message out there. It’s an unusual campaign because many of us are at home, but I think this gives an opportunity for this message to get out there because a lot of people will be paying attention, and a lot of people are being hurt right now and they want an alternative.
It’s impossible for anyone to know how things will shake out when you add a candidate or remove a candidate. The math is way too complicated. People claim to know. They don’t know.
A lot of the hype in that direction is based on a few people who are well known — former Republicans who are supporting Joe Biden — and they falsely assume that everyone must be like them, that every person who was a Republican or is a Republican and doesn’t like Trump, is looking strongly at Biden. And I don’t think that’s the case. I think actually a lot of people who like Biden but are Republicans will still vote for Trump because he’s closer to their policies. That’s just the way politics works.
For a lot of those people, their first choice might be me and their second choice is Trump. It’s hard to know. I don’t try to overanalyze that because no person could possibly know. It’s arrogant to think you could know how things will shake out. There are a lot of people who won’t vote for either one regardless, and the entrance of a major candidate provides them an opportunity to vote when they otherwise would not have voted. Nobody really knows. My goal is to win this race and provide an opportunity for people to vote for somebody they believe in.
There are lots of people in history who came in as underdogs who faced a big uphill climb, and they got their message out there and it resonated with the people. I believe that’s what will happen in this race. Give me months on the campaign trail and I think people will recognize that I am the more qualified candidate for president than either of the two major party candidates. So I’m not worried about that.
How do you feel about the restrictions on public life put in effect by governors to fight the coronavirus?
I think we have to allow people who are closer to the situation to make decisions. Nobody is against the idea of staying home during a pandemic or practicing social distancing in the abstract. Nobody is opposed to those things. Everyone recognizes that we want to stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing. What gets people upset and causes them to ignore practical, common sense advice is when governors and presidents overreach and tell people that they can’t do things like buy items in an aisle when they see it right in front of them, that they have to go to another store.
There are a lot of things like that, that are not common sense and upset people and cause them to ignore governors and leaders altogether. And I think that’s very dangerous.
I don’t sympathize with the way they did it. I don’t think it’s wise to ignore guidance on social distancing. I think that a lot of them are wrong about their belief that there’s no risk at all.
But they are right to be upset about a lot of the restrictions that were put in place.
You can disagree with the idea of people getting all together to protest and potentially putting more people at risk — I think that’s a bad idea — while still supporting their right to protest. Nobody should be denied the right to protest. We have a constitutional protection, a First Amendment protection. And I don’t think we should disagree with some of their major concerns about excessive restrictions.
You came into Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010. You didn’t have an issue with the two-party system then or when you ran for re-election. Why is it different now?
When I first ran for office I really thought the Republican Party believed in many of the principles that I believe in. When I got into office, I recognized that they didn’t necessarily agree with those principles. They talked about them publicly, but in practice they did not agree.
After several years in Congress, it became clear to me that we weren’t actually moving forward in changing the system, that it was too difficult, that these parties had too much of a lock on things from the top down, that nobody could come in from below and really change the system.
What I’ve recognized over the past several months, that as an independent it is hard to persuade new people to join you. I’m doing fine in my district. I’m raising more money in my district. I’m polling better. I would win re-election in my district, but would I persuade anyone to come with me? And I’m not sure that people are ready, at this point, to abandon the parties altogether. So what we really need is a major competitor to the two parties.
I think it’s important that these two parties be challenged and that we elect a president and elect major officials from outside the two parties. Once you’ve broken down the system and restored it to its proper place, where we have a representative government, then we can start to work toward no parties. But that’s a long-term project, and I do think we can get there. I do think there’s a future in America where the parties don’t matter much.
In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, Washington has poured trillions of dollars into rescue packages for workers and businesses, as states and cities hardest hit by the pandemic brace for crippling revenue shortfalls. This week, the DealBook team is joined by Paul Krugman, a Times Opinion columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist, to discuss deficit spending and the debate over future federal bailouts.
Bailout packages, protests, vote by mail and a presidential campaign: There’s so much to follow when it comes to coronavirus politics.
Curious why we can’t all vote online? Or what’s next for Congress to take up?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with all of your politics questions. We’ll try to answer them in a future edition. As always, please remember to include your name and where you live.
Sing Trump’s praises, be featured in an ad
For governors around the country, there was a not-so-secret tactic to securing more aid, resources and ventilators during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak: offer some public praise for President Trump.
Now, that praise has been edited into a digital campaign ad by the Trump campaign.
The ad features four Democratic governors, including Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gavin Newsom of California, praising the administration’s response to their specific requests for help to combat the coronavirus. (Absent, of course, is the frequent criticism, notably from Mr. Cuomo.)
The digital ad comes as the Trump administration has been making a major public relations push to take credit for its response to the virus while national polls have found the president’s approval rating trending downward as the U.S. death toll nears 60,000.
Recent polling has found governors to be much more popular within their own state for how they handled the crisis; a recent poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found 47 percent approved of Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic compared with more than 75 percent who approved of their own state’s governors.
— Nick Corasaniti, Domestic Political Correspondent
As long as we’re talking about Libertarian Party politics, it’s worth knowing that one of party’s presidential candidates is a man in a yellow hat running on a platform of legalizing pineapple pizza. His Federal Election Commission report said he had lent himself $50 million — enough to buy a lot of pizza.
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