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What’s the Matter with Justin Amash? (But Really, What’s the Matter with the Republican Party Under Trump?)

In 2010, a bumper crop of Republicans were elected to Congress on the promise of essentially blowing stuff up. Despite the accomplishments they made with then President Barack Obama on health care and economic recovery, most Democrats struggled to develop any kind of coherent message. Yet while many of these “Class of 2010” Republicans have since left office as “red tides” were being replaced by “blue waves”, one remains in the House and is making many waves with his refusal to acquiesce to President Donald Trump.

So who is this Republican? Why is this former Freedom Caucus hero now their top villain? And how on earth does Joe Biden fit into this story? Don’t worry, we’re about to make sense of it all.

Let’s remember how Justin Amash got here.
Photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

Here in Nevada, U.S. Senator Harry Reid’s (D) final reelection victory and other Democrats’ down-ballot victories made our state feel like the exception to the rule of “The First Red Tide” wiping them out elsewhere. Meanwhile in Michigan, a 30-year-old attorney and State Rep. Justin Amash (R) was elected to Congress in the Grand Rapids based 3rd District (MI-03).

Like so many other Republicans running that cycle, Amash campaigned on a “Tea Party” friendly platform of lower taxes, a smaller social safety net, and more faith in laissez-faire “free market” economics. But unlike other Republicans who entered into Congress or advanced into higher office at that time, such as Nevada’s own Senator Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson), Amash held fast to his libertarian governing principles regardless of whether he was challenging Democratic or Republican leadership.

And as most other Republicans have since adapted to the “economic anxiety” fueled “populism” of President Donald Trump, Amash has remained a “Never Trump” conservative, even to the point of endorsing the impeachment of Trump after taking the time to study the facts and truths that were ultimately compiled in Robert Mueller’s report. Once upon a time (as in, earlier this decade), Amash was a celebrated member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus due to his consistently right-wing voting record. But yesterday, Amash announced his departure from the Freedom Caucus as his colleagues rushed to protect Trump instead of their (supposed) ideological fellow traveler.

But why is he nearly all alone?
Photo by Andrew Davey

When Amash first announced his support for impeaching Trump, many pundits and “political insiders” dismissed it as a marginalized House backbencher venting his frustration over the Republican Party becoming “The Party of Trump” and predicted few, if any, additional Congressional Republicans would follow suit, and that Amash would eventually face consequences for crossing Trump. This is one of those rare instances when I credit these pundits and “insiders” for being correct about anything, as their prediction has generally been spot-on here.

Despite Justin Amash providing some cover for fellow Republicans to distance themselves from Trump, they’ve been covering for Trump instead. Even when Trump sides with North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-un over our own intelligence agencies, Republicans cover for Trump. Even when Trump sides with Russian aspiring dictator Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence agencies, Republicans cover for Trump. Even when Trump engages in additional activities that Republicans once condemned, they instead cover for Trump and perform linguistic gymnastics to justify what they once condemned.

As we regularly reminded ourselves and each other last year, when Dean Heller and (then Gubernatorial candidate) Adam Laxalt (R) fell over each other in their rush to embrace Trump and preach the gospel of Trumpism, the Republican Party has actually become “The Party of Trump” in the past four years. Even though Amash and other conservatives continue to remind the party that Trump goes against so many of their stated values, party leaders have made it clear that they value Trump’s seal of approval over whatever “ideological purity” (and really, ethical consistency) Amash and other “Never Trump” conservatives still aspire to.

Say it ain’t so, Joe. (Yes really, we need to talk about the Democrats again.)
Photo by Andrew Davey

I originally intended today’s column to just focus on the Republicans. But after I read a pool report on former Vice President Joe Biden’s private fundraising event in Washington, D.C., I realized we just struck a point of convergence (or where today’s story merges with yesterday’s thoughts on the 2020 Democratic candidates). At this event yesterday, Biden exclaimed, “With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change. Because these [Republicans] know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Strangely enough, Biden claimed this would happen because he privately spoke with 12 Republicans who “expressed external concerns” over the blocking of then President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. If anything, Biden’s own cited example seems to prove the opposite: that high-level Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) profited richly from “rigging the system” to Trump’s advantage, and they won’t simply change their actions because some of them “express concerns” in private phone calls far from the reach of reporters and constituents.

Look, I get it: Biden thinks comments like these prove his “electability”. But as I asked yesterday, what is “electability”, really? If being “electable” means being “pragmatic”, shouldn’t that mean seeing the situation for all it truly is and developing a realistic strategy to reach achievable solutions? As the plight of Justin Amash proves to us all, it won’t be easy to divorce the Republican Party from its Trumpist ideology. Yet as Democrats like Joe Biden, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Maryland) try to sidestep or outright refuse to acknowledge this ugly reality, just how “pragmatic” are they when they base their “electability” argument on an unachievable goal?

Cover photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.

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