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‘But He’ll Cost Biden the Election!’

Justin Amash is running for president and America is still masochistic when it comes to independents and third parties.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) holds a Town Hall Meeting on May 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

There was, for many years, a member of the Maine legislature who was an Aroostook nationalist. Henry Joy, a Republican who served as a state representative from 1993 to 2010, wanted Aroostook County, a vast swath of northern Maine larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, to secede and become its own state. Cheekily, Joy suggested that Aroostook retain the name Maine, while the southern bits be called Northern Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, Joy never ran for Congress. But I wish he had, preferably as an independent, and then started a one-man Aroostook secessionist caucus once he was there.

Why not? Parliaments the world over teem with third parties, nationalists, secessionists, greens, libertarians, whatever the UK’s Liberal Democrats think they are these days. Yet in America, we still insist that everyone be assimilated into one of two Borg collectives—either Republicans or Democrats, take your pick. Consequently, in the U.S. House, there’s only one independent member; in the Senate, only two (one of whom, naturally, is from Maine). Out of more than 7,000 state legislators, only 34 are independents or belong to third parties.

Now one of those rare independents is running for president. Yesterday, Justin Amash, the congressman from Michigan who left the GOP last year, announced he’ll be seeking the Libertarian Party nomination. The freakout on Twitter was instant. From progressives and anti-Trump Republicans rose a hue and cry: Amash is the new Ralph Nader! He’s going to reelect Donald Trump!

First, the idea that Nader decisively cost Al Gore the 2000 election is weaker than might be expected (the notion that Ross Perot defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992 is even flimsier). But more generally, are we really so masochistic as to think we deserve only two choices? When Scotland concluded that the British Parliament had lost touch with its interests, it ditched the Labour Party and sent nearly three dozen Scottish Nationalists to Westminster. The Dutch House of Representatives contains four parties in its governing coalition alone, with another nine in opposition plus two independents. When French voters grew tired of their center-left and center-right, they wiped them out, sending Emmanuel Macron to the presidency and his brand new party En Marche to an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.

Certainly too many parties can result in squabbling dysfunction. That’s why Germany still requires parties to receive 5 percent of the vote nationwide in order to enter the Bundestag, a threshold meant to prevent the kind of parliamentary chaos that prevailed during the Weimar Republic. And it’s also true that America’s presidency is not a parliament: Amash can’t coalition with Biden to deny Trump the White House. Hence the freakout.

Still, when it comes to third parties, America truly is exceptional. Here and only here do we demand that 200 million voters of variegated backgrounds and opinions be crammed into two giant, cynical, self-serving, commercialized, widely despised political conglomerates. The argument for this used to be that it maintained political stability. How’s that working out? In an era of partisan groupthink and gridlock, maybe Republicans and Democrats sitting down with third partiers and independents is exactly what the country needs.

Justin Amash opposes America’s involvement in regime-change wars. He’s backed a constitutional amendment that would cap federal spending. He wants to both secure the border and expand legal immigration. He spearheaded a resolution in 2013 that would have ended the NSA’s blanket collection of phone metadata. A Michigander, he dislikes Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus crackdowns. He became an independent because he thought the Republican Party was growing too nationalist and the Democrats too socialist. He voted to impeach President Trump.

Some of that may be to your liking, or none of it. But consider too that, unlike the major-party candidates, Amash has never been credibly accused of sexual assault and has yet to imply that spraying Fantastik into one’s eyeballs could be an effective epidemiological measure. Before we castigate him as a spoiler, maybe we should at least hear him out.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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