“They don’t support FISA reform,” he declared. “They are not protecting your rights. They want to protect the president. But the rest of you, forget about it. The government can spy on all of you, and they don’t give one crap about it.”But it was Amash’s comments about character and virtue that best underscored why he presents a potent challenge to Trump loyalists in the Republican Party. “More than anyone in our government, we need the president to be ethical, to be of high moral character, and to do the right thing,” he said. “And the pattern you find in the Mueller report is someone who does not meet that standard.”Trump’s moral deficiencies trouble many of Amash’s constituents.“As a retired educator, a grandparent, a parent, someone who has taught in Sunday schools, I don’t know how we tell our children not to lie, that it’s wrong to lie, when it’s evident throughout the highest levels of government,” one woman said. “I don’t know how we teach our children not to bully on the playground when bullying comments are constantly coming out in the media.”The crowd responded powerfully when Amash spoke against the example Trump was setting for children, perhaps because Amash made the version of a moral critique most likely to resonate with constitutional conservatives and libertarians. After a Trump supporter noted that the economy is strong and complained that many Americans oppose the president anyway, for example, Amash said:
Think about how well things are going with the economy and people are still so mad. Why is that? … I think it’s because of the tone we’re setting at the top. We’re not treating one another with respect. We need to bring that back. We need to treat one another with love and respect. And we don’t have that right now. If there’s one thing that I pray and hope for our country it’s that we’ll love each other and care about each other regardless of our backgrounds and differences.
This kind of division is dangerous and it destroys liberty.
I’m a big believer in liberty and the Constitution. Nobody cares about liberty in Congress more than I do. One thing you see around the world is liberty cannot survive in a system where people hate each other and where there is no virtue. You can’t have a system like that. Our Founders and Framers talked about that. You have to have people who care about virtue and you have to have love.
If you hate each other, if you disparage each other, other systems prevail … When you have people who are angry and upset at each other all the time, you’re much more likely to create a system where the government takes more control.
Later, another Trump supporter declared that the people applauding Amash for coming out for impeachment might pretend to like him, but were unlikely to vote for him in the next election. He chided Amash to wake up to that reality. Amash replied:
I represent the entire district. So it doesn’t matter to me if a person voted for me or didn’t vote for me, or donated to me or didn’t donate to me. I think I’ve been pretty clear about that. That’s not going to change my principles and who I am … I agree with you that many of the people cheering me on aren’t going to support my campaign. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. This is what it means to be a bigger person. It doesn’t matter to me that some people won’t support me or are hypocritical. You have to do the right thing regardless.
Amash’s criticism of Trump may never spur an impeachment inquiry. But the nature of it forces conservative Trump voters to make a clarifying choice: To stay loyal to a president of bad character, they must attack a man of good character who votes in accordance with the principles they share.
The Trump playbook isn’t working with Justin Amash.
He hasn’t been bullied or insulted into submission; the tweets haven’t worked, the trolls and flying monkeys of social media haven’t intimidated him; and he seems to have shrugged off threats of a primary challenge and the condemnation by the inaptly-named Freedom Caucus.
And yesterday, after quadrupling down on his condemnation of President Trump he got standing ovations from his hometown crowd.
Of course, it’s possible to overestimate all of this: he remains very much an outlier in his own party and at home it’s not clear how much of the support he’s getting is from the hard-core GOP base. So far, Amash’s call for impeachment represents less the stirring of a GOP conscience than it has served to highlight the atrophy of that organ under Trump.
Among Republicans, breaking with Trump is supposed to be a form of ritualized political seppuku. Ask Jeff Flake or Mark Sanford. There’s a reason why even Mitt Romney seems to have gone into the witness protection program these days.
Even when Trump goes to a foreign country and sides with a blood-soaked dictator to score political points against a domestic critic or when he tosses out insane conspiracy theories and accuses his critics of “treason,” we’ve become accustomed to the GOP crickets.
There’s a logic behind all of this. Polls would suggest that they have no choice: 90 percent of Republicans back the president and conservative media has become both a safe space for MAGAism and a powerful enforcement mechanism for conformity.
Then there is the Trump realpolitik: Nearly the entire incentive structure of Republican politics now pushes elected officials towards acquiescence. If you want to be relevant or have influence . . . or matter at all in conservative politics these days, you have to go along.
Once the bargain has been struck, there is no going back. After a while what was grudging becomes habit and morphs into a culture. …
Does this matter? He’s just a lone voice. But maybe it does, because it creates a counter-narrative: there is political life after independence. Conscience is not suicide. Check out this tweet from our former colleague Haley Byrd:
Perhaps there is a constituency for principle after all. Who knew?
Meanwhile, Amash is drawing attention for making a stronger case for impeachment than the Democrats. If you haven’t read yesterday’s tweet storm, it’s well worth your time.
And just gets better. Read the whole thing.
Exit take: It’s happening. Matt Lewis says it’s time for conservatives to draft Amash for president.
It’s not a crazy idea.
Well, Sykes may not think it’s crazy, but it is highly unlikely to happen. Libertarians are now pondering whether Amash should run for president as a Libertarian party candidate.
So if Amash is opposed to Trump, he must be one of those renegades who doesn’t vote with his own party, right? Well, FiveThirtyEight did the math …
… and finds something I’ve noticed about such Wisconsin Republican renegades as Dale Schultz, Luther Olsen and Mike Ellis — they are less likely to vote Republican when the GOP is in control than when it isn’t. In the 2017–18 House of Representatives, when the GOP was in charge, Amash voted Trump positions only 54 percent of the time. This year, with Democrats in control, Amash votes Trump positions 92 percent of the time.
Part of the reason is that the out-of-power party tends to stick together, and individual majority-party legislators have more power with a small majority. But Amash presumably could score points with his constituents by voting against Trump this year, and yet he hasn’t done that very often. One would think Amash would know his district and his constituents better than national political pundits.
For what it’s worth, the GOP needs more small-L libertarians in it. (I shocked my opponent, The Capital Times and The Nation’s John Nichols, on Wisconsin Public Radio when I said I supported Amash instead of Paul Ryan for speaker of the house.) I bet Michigan dairy farmers are feeling the same pain as Wisconsin dairy farmers over the Trump trade war. Trump lost some of his Second Amendment credentials by favoring a ban on bump stocks, which among other things fails the test of effectiveness.
As someone who is neither a Trump cheerleader nor a NeverTrumper — in other words, someone who praises Trump when warranted and criticizes Trump when warranted — I am certain conservatives would have cheered had Barack Obama faced a primary challenger in 2012, and they may have quietly cheered on Comrade Sanders not because they agreed with him, but because he made Hillary Clinton’s political life difficult. So to condemn Amash because he has differences with Trump, even though he votes with Trump most of the time, is inconsistent and excessively purist.