In an op ed appearing in the Washington Post on the 4th of July, Republican Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan declared his Independent’s Day. Rep. Amash is the first member of congress to cross the floor in ten years. With primary challengers on the horizon, he is also the latest Trump critic to seemingly jump before being pushed. He might not be the last, as a new Republican establishment takes increasing aim at conservative and moderate mavericks within the party. The result could be a House caucus that is both smaller and more loyal to Donald Trump.
Amash, the son of Palestinian refugees, and his family, were Republicans their whole lives. “The Republican Party,” he wrote, “stood for limited government, economic freedom, and individual liberty— principles that had made the American Dream possible for my family.” Amash lays blame for his decision at the feet of both parties, citing disenchantment with party politics as a whole. Left unsaid, but implied, is how he arrived at that conclusion, preferring to describe how President Washington’s prescient warnings about political parties had come true.
Outside his reputation as one of the few small-L libertarian members in congress, Amash had gained a following among progressives as the lone Republican arguing for President Trump’s impeachment and an early NeverTrumper. Amash held packed town halls in May, detailing the findings of the Mueller Report. Notably, several of his constituents, who supported Trump, were amazed to find out for the first time what was in it. Another constituent went viral after she called him out for grandstanding. That didn’t earn, or maintain Amash many friendships on Capitol Hill. At least three primary challengers have stepped forward, each touting their loyalty to Trump. Last month, he quit the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a group he co-founded. Amash’s decision to bolt the party only led to increased speculation about his career plans. Perhaps there’ll be a presidential run in his future.
Trump has gone after other NeverTrump Republicans before, and Amash was— and is— no exception. At least two senators were chased out of re-election campaigns, after pro-Trump challengers emerged. One, Sen. Jeff Flake, saw his Arizona seat fall to Kyrsten Sinema— the first Democrat to win the seat in 30 years— after Trump loyalist Martha McSally was defeated. Another congressional critic within the caucus, Mark Sanford (R-SC), lost his primary to Katie Arrington, who also campaigned on loyalty to Trump. Arrington went on to lose the Charleston-based seat in an upset to Democrat Joe Cunningham. There may be others on the horizon.
With Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) another frequent thorn in the leadership’s side, Republicans, both nationally and in Kentucky, are openly searching for a more compliant challenger. State representative Kim Moser acknowledged being approached, in an interview with the Louisville Courier Journal, and set herself up for a future run. “I would fall more in the pragmatic, solution-oriented camp,” Moser said, contrasting herself with her potential opponent. “I’m always looking for solutions, and that’s not what I see from Congressman Massie.” While Democratic family feuds, between progressives and pragmatists, often makes for good headlines, these types of targeted primaries are quite a bit more rare.
Amash now stands alone in the House, the only one of his kind in the chamber, and now one of three independents— along with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-ME)— in Congress. He seems far from alone, however, in deserting the two major parties. Where identification with either party was once almost universal, today, a near majority call themselves independents. The tribal, yah-boo style of politics more suited for a college football game than a system of government might be all the rage in Washington, but it seems to have lost its appeal back home.
The great ideological no-man’s land of fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters have been looking for a candidate since at least 2016. Maybe they’ll find it in Amash. The problem for this voting bloc is that it’s very small.