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With Justin Amash as third party candidate, could Libertarians SCORE BIG in 2020?

Zachary Leeman
Zachary Leeman

is the author of the novel Nigh and journalist who covers art and culture. He has previously written for outlets such as Breitbart, LifeZette, and BizPac Review among others. Follow him on Twitter @WritingLeeman

is the author of the novel Nigh and journalist who covers art and culture. He has previously written for outlets such as Breitbart, LifeZette, and BizPac Review among others. Follow him on Twitter @WritingLeeman

With Justin Amash as third party candidate, could Libertarians SCORE BIG in 2020?
Michigan Congressman Justin Amash wants the Libertarian Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Can the prominent ex-Republican give them a chance to break through in the two-party system, or is his candidacy doomed from the start?

Let’s get one thing straight: the chances of the United States electing a third party candidate as president are about as high as Alyssa Milano endorsing Donald Trump. Sure, it’s a possibility, but also the definition of a long shot.

Still, Amash has made waves in recent days for his launch of a presidential exploratory committee and joining the Libertarian Party – and for good reason. The congressman is the most mainstream face the party has had in years, and President Trump’s biggest challenger thus far is Joe Biden, a gaffe machine battling accusations of sexual assault.

Third-party candidates are typically fodder for comedians to mock or pundits to fear-monger with lines about spoiling a mainstream candidates’ chances. They are not always the most level-headed people running, either. Everyone from Roseanne Barr to Joe Exotic has fought for the presidency under a third-party ticket.

But 2016 was an interesting year, especially for Libertarians – which can be broadly defined as socially liberal, fiscally conservative thinkers. Gary Johnson had the best showing of any Libertarian in history, mainly thanks to an election that presented two extremely controversial candidates from both major parties – but it still only accounted for around three percent of the national vote. 

With Biden as the presumptive nominee for the Democrats in 2020 and Trump running for reelection in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled the economy and somehow divided an already divided nation even more, Libertarians have another chance to make a bold showing. While Amash is not the biggest household name, he is a five-term congressman who is less likely to get stumped in an interview on important topics – remember the What is ‘a Leppo’ debacle from Johnson? – or pick a running mate with little interest in winning – here’s looking at you, Bill Weld

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Amash himself made it clear in an interview with Reason that he believes there is a path to victory, otherwise he wouldn’t be running.

“At the end of the day, I think people just want someone who's normal, honest, practical and capable. That's what they want. And when you look at that criteria, Donald Trump doesn't fit the bill and Joe Biden in most respects, doesn't fit the bill,” Amash said.

He also defended his candidacy’s viability in an interview with MSNBC. When confronted with the fact his “party has never run the country before,” he retorted: “Parties aren’t supposed to run the country – we elect officials who’re supposed to represent the people.”

Whatever the possibility of Amash actually earning the Libertarian Party’s nomination – the outcome will be decided at the end of May – he has already succeeded in whipping the NeverTrump camp of renegade Republicans into a frenzy of concern. George Conway, husband of White House official Kellyanne and friend to any leftist station that will give him the time of day, has said Amash only “[enhances] Trump’s chances.”

The New York Times ran a piece claiming the congressman can only “cause trouble,” while The New Yorker questioned the “point” of a third party run.

Hosts of ‘The View’ weighed in on who Amash could hurt more in November’s election, Trump or Biden, with Joy Behar waving off third party candidates in general as a “pain in the butt.”

While the narrative is the same every election cycle, Amash maintains “the math is impossible” when it comes to third party candidates being “spoilers.”

Democrats have accused Green Party candidate Jill Stein of taking votes away from Clinton in 2016 for instance, but the argument was based on the assumption that all of Stein’s voters would have voted for Clinton otherwise. In an election decided by the electoral college rather than the popular vote, Clinton had a clear loss to Trump in key states.

But there are more practical advantages to voting third party. For example, Johnson’s campaign expanded ballot access for his party by hitting certain percentage thresholds in states in 2016.

Amash is facing slightly better odds now. By switching parties, he is now the first Libertarian member of Congress in the country’s history. Being seemingly a more viable candidate than Johnson who can speak to both sides of the political aisle – he supported Trump’s impeachment, but also pushes small government ideals – he may have a real chance at making a dent in the partisanship that has stifled real debate in the US.

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That is not to say he might actually win the race, but it could be a refreshing expansion of the possibilities people see when it comes to presidential elections. American voters are used to a pick between only two options, with smaller, more eccentric characters thrown in for what seems like little more than entertainment value.

Amash, however, is a sitting congressman able to fluently explain why both Trump and Biden are bad picks to lead the country. He can introduce libertarianism to people who typically only see Republicans and Democrats when they look at politics. By simply being a serious option in the race, Amash could try and open up a conversation that has, for far too long, been controlled by just two sides. Unlike many past third-party candidates, it’s not even a stretch to see Amash actually performing the job he’s seeking.

If Johnson could manage to get three percent of voters to take a chance on him in 2016, it’s not hard to imagine Amash achieving more than that in 2020 – even if the cost is a forever-title of a “spoiler” from the mainstream.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.