Staff Columnist

If you want to challenge the partisan duopoly, come to Iowa

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) holds a Town Hall Meeting on May 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Amash quit the Republican party on Thursday. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) holds a Town Hall Meeting on May 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Amash quit the Republican party on Thursday. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan announced last week he is leaving the Republican Party.

In an Independence Day column in the Washington Post, he delivered a harsh criticism of the “partisan death spiral” and the “party-first mind-set” of federal politics.

“Most Americans are not rigidly partisan and do not feel well represented by either of the two major parties. In fact, the parties have become more partisan in part because they are catering to fewer people, as Americans are rejecting party affiliation in record numbers,” he wrote.


Amash did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but the president clearly played a role in his decision to leave the party.

In May, Amash — who is ranked among the best members of Congress by leading conservative and libertarian advocacy groups — became the first and only Republican in federal office to say Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.

Amash plans to run for re-election for Congress, but he has consistently declined to rule out a possible third-party or no-party presidential campaign.

“I still wouldn’t rule anything like that out. I believe that I have to use my skills, my public influence where it serves the country best. I believe I have to defend the Constitution in whichever way works best, and if that means doing something else, then I do that,” said during a CNN interview last week.

If Amash is serious about exploring a presidential campaign, here’s some free advice from a fellow Trump-skeptical conservative — come to Iowa, sooner than later.

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While politicians running outside the two-party system don’t compete in the Iowa caucus nominating process like Republicans and Democrats, this is where the action is.

Because we have the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowa voters are uniquely well-informed. Plus, this is a state where no-party and third-party voters combined outnumber either major party’s voter registration total.

Journalists covering the presidential campaigns are already on Iowa soil in huge numbers. Reporters love conflict and controversy, so stories about a prominent conservative criticizing Trump and the Republican establishment are tailor-made for the modern news cycle.

We already know Trump can’t resist giving free publicity to his critics, so Amash can expect to be mentioned in the president’s tweets if he decides to run for president.

Amash already has a small but committed constituency in Iowa. Libertarian Party of Iowa members have been running an informal “draft Amash” campaign for several months, and there’s a grass roots “Iowans for Justin Amash 2020” Facebook page with several hundred followers.

Amash is articulating what millions of Americans already know — that partisan tribalism makes voters and politicians do stupid things.

The challenge he and other independent candidates face is that many would-be independent political activists are so disillusioned by the process that they have checked out. The last time the portion of eligible voters participating in a presidential election exceeded 60 percent was 1968, more than a decade before Amash was born.

Maybe the partisan duopoly is too sturdy to break, but maybe it’s not. One way to find out is to come ask Iowa voters for their support.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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