President Trump responded to the news that Rep. Justin Amash could enter the 2020 presidential race as if Christmas had come early.
“I like him even more than Jill Stein!” quipped Mr. Trump, referring to the 2016 Green Party nominee whom Democrats viewed as a spoiler for Hillary Clinton.
The anti-Trump crowd is more bah-humbug about Mr. Amash running as a Libertarian Party candidate and griping that he could steal votes from Trump skeptics who would have pulled the lever for presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
“I do think this hurts Biden with those Republicans who have already decided that under no circumstance they would vote for Donald Trump and they would hold their nose and vote for Joe Biden not because they are ideologically aligned with him, but because they hate Trump so much,” said a Republican consultant close to the Trump campaign.
“Now they could have the option of voting for a semi-serious third-party candidate who is closer to them ideologically,” the consultant said.
Mr. Amash, who left the GOP last year dismayed over the direction of the party under Mr. Trump, told the libertarian magazine Reason that voters right now have only bad options in Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.
“I think most Americans see the same thing I’m seeing, which is: These two candidates aren’t up to being president of the United States, and we need an alternative,” he said Wednesday. “And I’m confident that I can be that alternative.”
When Mr. Amash started flirting with the idea last year, The Detroit News released a survey that showed he lured independent voters away from Mr. Biden in Michigan.
Mr. Biden was up 12 points over Mr. Trump in a head-to-head matchup, but that lead was cut in half when Mr. Amash was thrown into the mix.
Mr. Amash, who voted for the articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump, said he is exploring a third-party bid because the nation is ready for a president that “will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together.”
The announcement came a day after former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said he is testing the waters to run as a Green Party candidate.
“Justin Amash presents an option for right-wing skeptics of Trump and libertarian skeptics of Trump and civil libertarian skeptics of Trump,” the Republican consultant said. “Whereas Jesse Ventura, if he chooses to run, provides an alternative for left-wing skeptics of Biden — Bernie voters and anti-war voters.”
Democrats hoped to avoid a repeat of 2016 when Ms. Stein was cast as the second coming of Ralph Nader by Demnocrats after the number of votes cast for her surpassed Mr. Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
Her supporters said Democrats were just seeking a scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss.
Mr. Amash dismissed the spoiler talk.
“There are millions of people who want an alternative, and that’s important,” he told Reason. “We shouldn’t deny them an alternative, deny them a chance to vote for someone who will be practical, and have common sense.”
Former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, whose presidential primary bid against Mr. Trump went nowhere, urged Mr. Amash to stay out of the race.
“If Amash gets the Libertarian nomination and stays in until the end, he could wind up going in the books as the guy who voted to impeach Trump one year, then tipped the election to him 11 months later,” Mr. Walsh said in a Washington Post op-ed.
“The best and surest way to beat Trump is to have only one alternative to him,” he said. “To give all the disaffected Republicans, conservatives and independents only one alternative to Trump. Giving them a conservative alternative might be ideologically satisfying, but it increases the likelihood that Trump can pull off another narrow win.”
George Conway, the husband of Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway and advisor to the anti-Trump Project Lincoln political action committee, also panned the idea.
“Admired how @JustinAmash stood up for the rule of law in Trump’s impeachment. And needless to say, my views align more closely with Amash’s than Biden’s,” he wrote on Twitter. “But the only real effect Amash could have in this campaign is to enhance Trump’s chances.”
Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian Party, ridiculed the Conway response.
“Reluctant supporter of replacing one elderly, not-quite-all-there guy with a different elderly, not-quite-all-there guy opposed to the candidate he ‘admired’ and whose views ‘align more closely’ with his,” tweeted Mr. Sarwark. “So much for ‘serving the Constitution first, last and always.’”
Mr. Trump responded by fanning the flames of discontent.
“No, I think Amash would make a wonderful candidate, especially since he is way behind in his district and has no chance of maintaining his Congressional seat,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “He almost always votes for the Do Nothing Dems anyway. I like him even more than Jill Stein!”
Mr. Conway countered: “Okay, this should tell you something @JustinAmash.”