At the top of Politico on Monday was a story with the title “Justin Amash: The House’s New Ron Paul.” It is a short summary of the Michigan representative’s career, the “purges,” and the possibility that he will run for US Senate in 2014.
With Sen. Carl Levin’s retirement, the seat opens, so it will be easier for anyone to win it. The Democrats could run any of a number of candidates, including former governor Jennifer Granholm. In addition to Amash, Republicans are also suggesting US Rep. Mike Rogers and Scott Romney, Mitt’s older brother.
An Amash campaign intrigues me, and the possibility that he could join like-minded US Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz is tantalizing, but there are some issues that could make it a troublesome venture.
The first is that he was the face of an abortive coup against Speaker of the House John Boehner. Although Boehner retained his gavel by a fairly comfortable margin, the rebellion was short-lived and ultimately futile. Whether it’s fair to see Amash as orchestrating a coup against Boehner matters less than the fact that the GOP establishment and special interests will be lined up against him if they can unite behind a single figure. The Boehner brouhaha will be as good a reason as any for the powerbrokers cut him off at the knees.
Second, as a Ron Paul type of libertarian, Amash is an unapologetic free trader. In a state with a crumbling auto industry that thrived for decades under protective tariffs, native son Mitt Romney was lacerated for his “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed of 2008. It mattered little that Romney was actually advocating a managed bankruptcy plush with taxpayer dollars. Regardless, Romney was incapable of shaking the image that he was a Monopoly man capitalist, and he barely contained the margin of defeat in Michigan to single digits. Amash is not a corporatist of any sort and a much more articulate spokesman for free market economics than Romney. However, Amash’s problem will depend on how effectively his Democratic opponents can paint him with the brush they used on Romney.
Third is the lesson Ron Paul learned the hard way. In 1984, after three full terms in the House, Ron Paul ran for US Senate only to founder against eventual US Senator Phil Gramm. But to run for the US Senate, Paul had to relinquish his House seat and by losing to Gramm, he was out of office for a dozen years. In Paul’s own words for Politico, he knows that his political protégé is risking everything he’s already achieved, “If [Amash] runs for the Senate, and is then not in the Senate or the House, that’s not so good.”
Yet, Amash is a formidable candidate who has already survived a gerrymandering attempt in 2012, which he won by nine points. A statewide campaign, however, has a lot of unknowns. With low name recognition outside of his district, Amash is not a primary-clearing name.
Still, none of this takes into account the grassroots support Amash is likely to receive or the amount of monetary support he will have to receive in order to succeed.
While Amash’s name recognition is low overall in Michigan, that is not the case in the loosely-defined “liberty movement” that actively follows the moves of US Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to an extent, and US Rep. Thomas Massie. A lot of the support for a successful Amash Senate campaign will have to come from the pockets of these supporters because the big donors will be behind anyone and everyone else.
There is more to be said of Amash, who has done very well in his few years in Washington. He has a seemingly safe House seat for the foreseeable future, so any run for the US Senate has to be considered long and hard. For the sake of the liberty movement, running for the sake of running cannot be the goal. As Amash told Politico, “I would never consider running if I didn’t think I had a very good chance of winning.”