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5 Ways Justin Amash Rebelled Against the Two-Party Duopoly

Justin Amash
Created: 18 January, 2024
Updated: 19 January, 2024
8 min read

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

 

Former US Rep. Justin Amash announced Thursday that he has officially launched an exploratory committee to determine the viability of a US Senate run in Michigan. Running would mean switching his party affiliation from independent to Republican in order to be on the party's primary ballot.

However, Amash has never defined himself by a party label.

"I’ve been humbled in recent weeks by the many people who have urged me to run for Senate in Michigan and to do so by joining the Republican primary," he tweeted.

"They see what I see: contenders for the seat who are uninspired, unserious, and unprepared to tackle the chief impediment to liberty and economic prosperity—an overgrown and abusive government that strives to centralize power and snuff out individualism. The people of Michigan and our country deserve better."

Amash served in the US House of Representatives from 2011 to 2021. During his tenure, he established a reputation for being the most independent-minded member of the congressional body, voting against his own party as much as 33% of the time.

His voting record and positions on issues like NSA surveillance, government spending, and foreign conflicts stood out to voters because in the hyper-partisan environment that plagues US politics, a politician who is willing to challenge both parties is a rare thing. 

“One week, the Republicans are mad at me. The next week, the Democrats are mad at me. Maybe the independents will be mad at me someday, too,” Amash once said in a town hall. “The point is, I follow the Constitution; I follow the rule of law and that I think will lead to a better outcome for our society.”

With this in mind, here are five ways Amash has rebelled against the two-party duopoly's leadership:

Amash Sought to Rein in NSA Surveillance; Bucked the Interests of Both Parties

Edward Snowden is a name that may not be immediately recognizable to US households today because it's easy for the public to allow major news stories from over a decade ago to fade away. But Amash couldn't forget this name.

Snowden's 2013 NSA disclosures shook the halls of the US government, and an attempt to rein in the blanket collection of Americans' phone records put a few members of Congress in the spotlight -- one of them being Justin Amash.

Amash and US Rep. John Conyers proposed an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that barred US intelligence agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect data and records on American citizens.

Further, the amendment would have required judicial oversight with "a substantive, statutory standard to apply to make sure the NSA does not violate Americans' civil liberties."

The bill was opposed by prominent Republicans and Democrats, including then-US President Barack Obama. 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against it. The vote killed the amendment, but elevated Amash's name ID.

Amash also opposed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, supported proposals to repeal indefinite detention, and voted against reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act. In all of these matters, he voted against the leadership and interests of both parties.

Spooked Partisans and Anti-Trumpers with a Potential Third Party Presidential Run 

In late April 2020, Justin Amash announced the formation of an exploratory committee to determine the viability of a campaign for the Libertarian nomination for president. All it took was the possibility of a run to raise an outcry from partisans and their media allies.

As IVN author Wes Messamore noted in a 2020 op-ed, much of the criticism stemmed from anti-Trumpism. The irony, of course, is that Amash is not the type of candidate who would siphon many votes away from a Democrat like Joe Biden.

"[Democrats] don't see a former Republican, conservative-minded, anti-welfare state, radically limited government candidate who would be most likely to take votes away from the Republican in the race," Messamore wrote.

"[S]eeking the Libertarian Party's nomination to run for president should have been a loud and clear signal for Democrats to cheer Amash on so the 'spoiler effect' could work for them. Should have been loud and clear, unless you can't hear over the deafening roar of anti-Trumpism."

And he wasn't wrong. A CNBC article titled, "Critics warn ex-GOP Justin Amash: A third-party White House Helps Trump in 2020," quoted public figures and politicians who were either allies of Biden or were explicitly anti-Trump.

This included statements from Republicans and conservatives like Joe Walsh and George Conway, despite claiming to either be supporters of Amash or agreeing with many of his ideological views.

The sizable uproar was met with equally vocal relief from politicians, pundits, and members of the press when Amash decided against a presidential run, citing increased political polarization and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on his campaign. 

The parties are threatened by competition. They have built up barriers to prevent many would-be independent and third-party candidates from even getting on the ballot, much less building the name ID they need to be competitive.

Amash's rebellious legislative track record already boosted his national ID, and if he would have remained a part of the national conversation if he decided a run was viable. 

Didn't Buckle under Pressure from His Own Party

Amash developed a reputation in Congress of never backing down from his principles or apologizing for his votes -- even when Republican leadership attempted to exert pressure and tried to get rid of him.

In 2012, Amash was among a small handful of Republicans who were removed from their committee assignments for not toeing the party line enough and for not being staunch enough team players.

Amash specifically was removed from the House Budget Committee. His response? He called out Speaker John Boehner for doing a bad job and said Boehner wasn't welcome in his district.

He voted against a bipartisan agreement to end a 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, calling it the "height of irresponsibility." He added that "real compromise requires genuine give and take."

Not long after this, a primary challenger emerged with backing from prominent Republicans. The party further sent Amash a message by denying him funding from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

It is important to understand that primary elections are the most effective tool the parties can use against their own members to keep in them in line. The number one threat to a politician's incumbency is a primary challenger with substantial backing and funding.

But Amash didn't give in to this game. He defeated his primary challenger and won re-election in 2014.

Amash's national name ID rose again after the nomination and election of former Republican President Donald Trump. He was a vocal opponent of many of the president's policies, which further drew the ire of GOP leadership.

The Huffington Post quoted Amash on the subject. He said:

"I’m not here to represent a particular political party; I’m here to represent all of my constituents and to follow the Constitution."

Amash would later be the only Republican in the US House to vote for an impeachment inquiry against Trump in October 2019 over the Trump-Ukraine scandal. He was also the only House Republican to vote in favor of two articles of impeachment. 

Not long after this Amash changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent.

Not Afraid to Stand with Other Politicians Who Buck the Two-Party Establishment

There are many things on which US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Justin Amash disagree.  But neither Sanders nor Amash is the type to not pursue something just because someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum agrees -- which is something that can't be said for many members of Congress who have entrenched themselves behind party loyalty.

One example of this is a vote on sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea in 2017, despite overwhelming bipartisan support. Amash was one of only 5 lawmakers who voted against the new sanctions. The other lawmakers were Sanders, US Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, US Rep Thomas Massie (also from Kentucky), and US Rep. John Duncan Jr. of Tennessee.

Amash called the sanctions against Russia "too broad & undefined," and said he also opposed the inclusion of money for "Ukraine energy," and provisions that == along with another bill -- violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures -- an important issue for Amash.

Most Politicians Hide Behind a Party Label; Amash Was Transparent About His Votes

Voters often lament the lack of transparency in government -- particularly, when it comes to the actions of their representatives and the reasons for those actions. Amash set himself apart from Republicans and Democrats in Congress by posting the reason for every vote on social media, both on X (formally Twitter) and Facebook.

“I think it’s important for constituents to hear from the people they elected,” Amash said.

“For too many years our elected officials have operated in the dark. People think they elected conservatives or liberals, but the Members don’t act the way people wanted them to. People need to know who they elected and what kind of votes are going through Congress.”

What's more, he didn't pass the job of updating his social media to a staff member. He got out his iPad or smartphone during each vote to explain what he was voting on and why he voted the way he did -- something voters across the political spectrum respected.