Why @kattimpf is Wrong about @justinamash

N.B. — Sometime between when I accessed Timpf’s referenced story, and after I posted mine, the story at NRO updated. The content didn’t shift much, but some of the stridency of tone amped down and the H2 subhead changed. There was no editor’s note indicating a change from the version as published the day before, however.

Edit — the paragraph after “two complexifying factors” was modified to change verb tense throughout, to better represent Amash’s stance as a now-former Republican.


In a January 17 piece published on NationalReview.com, NRO reporter Kat Timpf claims that major funders of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I, MI-3) have backed away from Amash, and that this behavior proves that “there is no place for an independent in politics” and that because “Amash makes his political decisions based only on his principles,” the fact that he’s being de-funded is proof that “the people in power over us are not interested in searching for the truth.”

I disagree.

Myriad substantive questions about politics, ideology and pragmatism weave through The Annals of Amash MMXIX—indeed, throughout the man’s entire Washington career. I suspect a book-length treatment might actually make for compelling reading, but even in the short-opinion-journalism realm of NR and NRO, readers deserve a more intellectually honest treatment of Amash’s complicated story than what Timpf’s piece provides.

I’m a fan of Timpf and, on the whole, I enjoy her work. It distresses me, though, that with this Amash story, she saw fit to focus on FreedomWorks, Club for Growth and the DeVos family without any recourse whatsoever to the people who actually cast ballots in the Third District. Did it not occur to her that other stakeholders matter and might therefore create a feedback loop to FreedomWorks, Club for Growth or the DeVos family? Did she not realize that the Chamber has long opposed Amash? Perhaps, despite her Detroit heritage, she didn’t enjoy access to boots-on-the-ground Republicans in West Michigan through whom she might have done some on-the-record reporting. Maybe Jay Nordlinger could have lent his Rolodex.

So contra the hints that Amash is some wise, noble leader “guided by something greater than the thoughtless partisan hackery” that suddenly infested FreedomWorks, Club for Growth and the DeVos family starting the day before yesterday, I’d like to lay out a series of reasons why Amash has never been an effective steward of the interests of the Third Congressional District.

My comments follow from the perspective of a lifelong resident of the Grand Rapids metro area and as a person who’s repeatedly won election as a precinct delegate, state convention delegate and even (two terms) a member of the Kent County Republican Executive Committee. In other words, as Amash’s constituent. These comments are my own and do not reflect the opinions of local Republican leaders or the county party as a whole.

Contra Amash

So, five specific arguments. Buckle up.

Background: Amash has never been especially popular with local Republicans.

In the 2010 race to succeed retiring Rep. Vern Ehlers, Amash earned 40.4 percent of the vote in a five-way primary. That result was good for first place, but the conventional wisdom at the time was that the next two figures (Bill Hardiman and Steve Heacock) were stronger candidates; they ended up splitting the “business establishment” vote roughly evenly.

One reason Amash succeeded in 2010 stems from a nexus between the Kent County Republicans and the College Republicans at Grand Valley State University, who’ve consistently taken a more libertarian worldview than rank-and-file precinct delegates across the district. Those CRs, in turn, tended to be the people door-to-door canvassing and even working as interns or paid employees of the county and state party. Amash didn’t enter 2010 with incumbency (although he was a state representative at the time), but he came from substantial family money, early DeVos support and the support of a swath of ideologically committed quasi-libertarian door-knockers full of youthful enthusiasm. And all this, at the dawn of the Tea Party era, which would have elected a ham sandwich if it promised to cut the deficit. What’s surprising isn’t that Amash won a five-way race in those circumstances; what’s surprising is that he only earned 40.4 percent despite these structural advantages. Had either Hardiman or Heacock withdrawn and all of his votes transferred to the other, Amash would have lost the primary in a landslide, because together, Hardiman and Heacock drew 51 percent of the vote. (Of course, elections don’t work that cleanly, but if there had been only one conventional-wisdom candidate, it’s easy to see pathways by which Amash never made it to Washington.)

The Gentleman from the Third District of Michigan didn’t face a primary opponent in the presidential election year of 2012. In 2014, he beat businessman Brian Ellis, 57-43. Ellis was backed by several national groups frustrated with Amash’s role in the Freedom Caucus and his public undermining of Speaker John Boehner. That primary was nasty enough that Amash famously refused to take Ellis’s concession call. In part because of the Amash-Ellis grudge match and the outside money that flooded it, no one wanted to primary him in 2016 or 2018 despite several people expressing lukewarm interest. Yet despite all of his structural advantages including incumbency and big outside money and a litany of puff pieces from libertarian journalists inflating his national stature, Amash only netted 57 percent of the Republican vote in the Ellis primary.

Other considerations matter, too. Local Republicans aren’t as sensitive about what the national groups are doing, but some local dignitaries exercise considerable sway. Not just the DeVos family, but also people like Peter Secchia—the U.S. Ambassador to Italy for Bush 41—and members of the Meijer family. And Ellis himself allegedly played a will-I-or-won’t-I game with an eye toward a rematch that foreclosed realistic alternatives over the next two cycles. (He never put his hat in again, though.)

Timpf: “[T]he people in power over us are not interested in searching for the truth.”

A clue about why Amash isn’t quite as loved relates to his imperfect ideological fit for the district. Amash doesn’t shy away from touting himself as a constitutional conservative who exercises fiscal restraint and believes in the separation of powers. Fine and well; on paper, I’m all in. But he also says and does other things that are inconsistent with the principles of the Republican base in his district.

For example, he voted present on bills defunding Planned Parenthood because he claimed that they were unconstitutional bills of attainder. Forget how obscure—and how subjective—his assertion landed. He told the displeased Michigan Right to Life that despite its revocation of his endorsement, he’s the most pro-life member of Congress and that his votes were policy whereas their preferences were merely politics. It’s like Sheldon Cooper Goes To Washington. Amash enjoys a rich history of well-actuallyism in lecturing the rubes on Facebook about hyper-technical aspects of the Constitution that justify him ignoring local priorities. If gaslighting RTL about being the most pro-life member of Congress represents searching for the truth, I dread to contemplate what a dishonest Amash might say or do.

(Relatedly, one is tempted to ask why, if he believed the defunding bills were unconstitutional, he voted present instead of nay as the Founders intended. Surely it wasn’t political cowardice thwarting him searching for the truth?)

West Michigan is a deeply pragmatic place. Observers including Timothy P. Carney in his Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse and Salena Zito and Brian Todd in their The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics have visited, inter alia, various West Michigan communities. They attest, as do others, that the region embodies a salt-of-the-earth Protestant Principle valuing hard work and straight talk. We’re the home of Gerald R. Ford, for cryin’ out loud. Our conservatism has always bent an ear toward justice, and our love of the Constitution is second to none.

We also expect that stuff gets done without needless drama, and we understand that the Constitution is a governing framework and not a part of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. On one hand, most of us nod and smile when we’re lectured about bills of attainder, as long as things get done. On the other hand, we don’t welcome virtue-signaling over Constitutional arcana when the alternative is more dead babies (had his protest vote not been, as usual, utterly irrelevant, he’d have incurred a lot more back-home wrath over that situation). Amash’s balancing act is more tolerated than loved.

Combine this incongruence with two complexifying factors.

First, he wasn’t often present among the rank-and-file Republicans. As in, you never saw the guy. He rarely attended county executive-committee meetings. At state conventions, he mostly hid in the corner. When I was a College Republican at Western Michigan University, I saw Fred Upton all the time. When I volunteered on the youth committee in Ottawa County, I saw Pete Hoekstra all the time. As a member of the Kent County executive committee, I almost never saw Justin Amash—in fact, I see Bill Huizinga, whose district includes a nibble out of the side of Kent County, an order of magnitude more often than I saw Justin Amash. Maybe I’m not important enough to warrant the Congressman’s attention. And that’s fine and probably true. But when a broad swathe of precinct delegates thinks that your congressman thinks that you’re not important enough—well. It’s not clear why groups like FreedomWorks and Club for Growth should fund a candidate whose support among the rank-and-file local activists has always been softer than it looks. Especially now that Amash’s reputation among stalwarts has been deeply poisoned by his blithely leaving the party that sacrificed so much for its long-absentee landlord.

Second, the considerable and uncritical fluffing he gets from libertarian-leaning journalists distorts a reasonable assessment of Amash’s legacy. The running joke among some conservatives in Kent County is that we don’t have a member of Congress, but rather we host the member representing the editorial board of Reason magazine. Timpf is on the record that she’s a libertarian. She’s also a journalist, with the NRO byline of reporter instead of columnist. Her suggesting that the libertarian-leaning Amash is “searching for the truth” comes off, tonally, like Sean Hannity “reporting” that Rudy Giuliani is “searching for the truth” in Ukraine.

Timpf: “Although Amash remains the most fiscally conservative member of Congress, his departure from the Republican party and support of impeachment have apparently made him a leper in the eyes of the exact same groups who claim to want to fight for fiscal responsibility.”

Like it or not—and I very strongly don’t like it—today’s GOP structurally aligns with Trump-style populism that treats deficits with as much seriousness as Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare For All plan does. Relatively few people care about the deficit and budgetary restraint in the current economic environment. It’s surely to Amash’s credit that he does, but it’s not obvious why fiscal conservatism is the only lens that matters. Timpf surely understands that complex situations arise from, and result in, complex causal relationships. Distilling Amash’s fall from grace as a sign that Club for Growth and FreedomWorks don’t care about fiscal restraint is Vox-level concern trolling.

One thing that bugs people at home: Amash is perfectly willing to forego nine-tenths of a loaf if he can’t have the whole thing. For example, he voted against Paul Ryan’s budget program because he didn’t think it went far enough. Regardless of one’s sympathy for Amash’s instinct on the matter, he was quite willing to be part of a cadre of House Republicans whose resistance to John Boehner and Paul Ryan forced the House to incorporate more Democratic demands to pass the House. In other words, active opposition led to a more strongly adverse outcome than merely accepting a partial victory would have. It’s not clear why ideological inflexibility leading to worse fiscal outcomes is truly the mark of a fiscal conservative.

Timpf: “Like him or not, you really should respect the fact that Justin Amash makes his political decisions based only on his principles — which is truly refreshing in our hyper-partisan era.”

If Justin Amash were truly the One Honest Man In Washington™, as he’s so often deified by libertarian-leaning journalists, he wouldn’t have voted present on the Planned Parenthood bills. Period. If he were a man of deep political integrity, he would have resigned his office before he resigned the party that sent him into office, freelancing against our will. I totally understand that he’s come to an anti-Trump space. I don’t own a #MAGA hat, so I get it. But surely Amash understands that for all practical purposes, he’s deprived the people of the district with effective representation. It’s not obvious which principles support a member of Congress undermining the voice of his district because he lacks the grace to resign when his own beliefs meaningfully evolve to contradict the beliefs of the people who elected you.

A principles-based approach to leadership aims to get the best possible result in light of your ideological lens. Amash has proven, time and again, that he’d rather be pure than effective. I understand why, tempermentally, some members of the libertarian-leaning commentariat would rather rhetorically liquidate the kulaks than nibble on half a loaf of bread. Ultimately—as Amash’s own implosion has shown—inflexible ideology inevitably leads to the loss of even that half a loaf. If given the choice, I think most people in the district would rather eat something than gloat about nothing.

Timpf calls this rigidity principle. I think she and I entertain very different understandings of what that word entails.

Timpf: “[t]here is no place for an independent in politics.”

Surely a political reporter has heard of a dude from the People’s Republic of Vermont named Bernie Sanders. (She may have heard of Joe Lieberman, too. Or Ross Perot. Or Ralph Nader. Or Teddy Roosevelt’s second go-around. Or even that one guy with the wooden dentures named George Washington.) I know what she meant, but what she meant, she didn’t write.

Rhetorical precision matters.

Amash, In Perspective

The foregoing suggests, correctly, that I won’t be at the head of the parade celebrating the legislative career of Justin Amash. Yet I’m not anti-Amash. I think he’s done a better-than-average job and really does take his role seriously. I don’t think he habitually lies about his beliefs, and he has the courage to stand up for his perspectives. These are all admirable yet rare traits for a congresscritter.

However, he’s never been well-aligned to the zeitgeist of the district. Some of us back home have grown weary of the self-important thorn-in-the-side shtick so loudly trumpeted by Reason editors and their fellow travelers. Some of us back home have eaten our fill of arcane lectures about constitutional provisions that long since crumbled under the moss of desuetude. Some of us back home would rather see our political beliefs supported by our representative than to be told that our politics is subordinate to his policy.

Justin Amash left the Republican party and he abandoned the president that his district did—and still does—support. If he were truly the man of virtue that he and his disciples position him to be, he’d have resigned his office and simply stood again this November on the Libertarian ballot. 

But power corrupts, and it corrupts most viciously those most convinced of their own far-seeing rectitude.

Credit Where It’s Due, to @RepJustinAmash

A few weeks ago I posted a somewhat negative essay detailing my concerns about my Member of Congress, Rep. Justin Amash, and his public response after his removal from the House Budget Committee.

I didn’t actually catch it until two days ago — my house line usually gets robocallers, so I rarely listen to the messages — but Congressman Amash called my home, personally, to offer a gentle defense.

Part of his message cut off, and regardless it’s a bit unseemly to analyze a private call in a public forum, but I would be remiss if I failed to note the good-faith effort Amash made to address the concerns of one of his constitutents. Not many in his position would bother to take the time.

One of these days I’ll have to attend a local town-hall forum and talk to him in person.

Credit Where It's Due, to @RepJustinAmash

A few weeks ago I posted a somewhat negative essay detailing my concerns about my Member of Congress, Rep. Justin Amash, and his public response after his removal from the House Budget Committee.
I didn’t actually catch it until two days ago — my house line usually gets robocallers, so I rarely listen to the messages — but Congressman Amash called my home, personally, to offer a gentle defense.
Part of his message cut off, and regardless it’s a bit unseemly to analyze a private call in a public forum, but I would be remiss if I failed to note the good-faith effort Amash made to address the concerns of one of his constitutents. Not many in his position would bother to take the time.
One of these days I’ll have to attend a local town-hall forum and talk to him in person.

Knock It Off: An Open Letter to @RepJustinAmash

Dear Congressman Amash:

Greetings from one of your constituents, a long-time resident of Kent County, Michigan.

I’ll be blunt. Congressman, we need to talk. I think you need an intervention.

When Rep. Ehlers retired at the end of the 111th Congress, the people of the Third District faced a three-way contest for the Republican nomination.  In that race, I supported Bill Hardiman, an experienced leader with a good read on the pulse of our community. Alas, Hardiman and Steve Heacock — another respectable candidate — split the grown-up vote, letting you squeak by on the vapors of the Ron Paul Revolution and the advocacy of fired-up youth who thought Facebooking votes is a sign of virtue.

You are from West Michigan. You know as well as I do that the people here — the actual voters, not the Country Club Republicans here who pull the strings — are a sensible lot. We don’t like unnecessary and counterproductive conflict or obviously self-aggrandizing behavior. We favor quiet competence over flashy showmanship, which is why we have a long track record of electing men like Vern Ehlers, Paul Henry, Hal Sawyer and Gerald Ford to the House of Representatives. That’s why giants of the Senate like Arthur Vandenberg hailed from Grand Rapids, too. We favor substance over symbolism. We like our leaders to matter, and we reward them with re-election when they do.

During your first term, your whole communication apparatus seemed to consist solely of Facebook and Twitter. You’ve been the black sheep of the 112th Congress, bucking leaders so often on so many issues that people stopped trying to persuade you about anything. No one heard much about you, except for odd commentary about you being the lone Republican dissenter on bills — with your dissent rooted in distinctly Libertarian interpretations of the Constitution that differ in important ways from the ideals of mainstream contemporary conservatism.

(Seriously? Voting “present” on defunding Planned Parenthood or NPR because the operative legislation might be a bill of attainder? And then apparently believing that out of all the members of the House, you alone have the penetrating insight into the Constitution to see a bill of attainder for what it is? Chutzpah!)

It wasn’t until you got the boot from Budget that people really started to notice you. And we noticed because you decided to break your radio silence with a series of blistering, ill-formed attacks on the House GOP leadership.

Word on the street among your real-life constituents (as opposed to your make-believe constituents at Reason): You’ve embarrassed us. Your reaction to being removed from Budget has all the hallmarks of a temper tantrum, complete with idle threats against the Speaker and infantile protests that you’re the only one out there who’s actually a conservative — that the rest are spineless Beltway types who’ve failed the Reagan Revolution.

As John Stossel would say: Give. Me. A. Break. A real leader wouldn’t conspire over an ill-fated coup against the sitting Speaker; a real leader would have met privately with the Speaker to smooth things out in private, without affecting an air of entitlement about something as inconsequential in the long run as a committee seat. In fact, this whole Budget kerfuffle should never have happened — first, because you shouldn’t have treated the party that elected you as if it were some sort of annoyance to be dismissed at will; and second, because when you finally felt the consequences of your behavior, the right response was to seek redress of your grievances in private.

What do you expect when you’re an unreliable member of the caucus who snipes from afar? Do you think you’ll be coddled and empowered? Did you really expect Speaker Boehner or Leader Cantor or Chairman Ryan to say, “Hey Justin, thanks for being a great Monday-morning quarterback whom we can’t count on when the chips are down; how’d you like a raise and promotion?” Politics is, and always has been, about the art of balancing the possible against the ideal. Open revolt and unreliable allies make it harder to tip the scale closer to that ideal, so effective leaders will minimize this disruption for the benefit of the greater good at the expense of the black sheep.

With Barack Obama in the White House and Harry Reid calling the shots in the Senate, the power of the House of Representatives is circumscribed by reality. Yes, the House GOP should fight for the best deal possible on every issue of public policy that comes up for debate. But the best deal possible in this climate isn’t going to be the most ideologically pure solution. That’s just reality. We can lament it all we like — and boy, do I lament it! — but we cannot escape it. To think that the House alone can force fiscal sanity upon the nation by simply digging in deep enough is, I believe, delusional. You know: Baby, bathwater.

Worse, our focus as a party and as the conservative movement is substantially harmed by the infighting that arises from battles to prove who’s purest. We need to fight Obama and Reid and Pelosi, not each other.

Congressman, on a purely personal level I don’t much care if you oppose the House leadership. I don’t care if you write 10,000-word essays on Facebook about your votes. Just as I am not a fan of childish dissent, I’m also not a fan of lock-step conformism, and I believe that Libertarians have just as much right to seek to influence public policy as conservatives and liberals. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs or to stop articulating your personal perspective — I am, however, asking you to change your behavior and your voting pattern. I’m asking you to recognize that you represent the people of the Third District — a people who aren’t doctrinaire liberarians — and to behave in a manner that seeks our best interests and reflects our innate dispositions. We didn’t elect you to be Ron Paul’s designated heir.

Please don’t act as if you’re some sort of martyr being silenced by a corrupt establishment. You’re not, and protests to the contrary reflect poorly on we hard-working folks in West Michigan who yearn for leadership instead of drama. Actions have consequences, and the consequence of abandoning your party and your leadership is that you’re not going to be granted access to the levers of power. Them’s the rubs. Deal with it and quit the public whining and sniping. Please.

One more thing. With the 2010 redistricting, your constituency has changed. Not many local politics watchers are confident that the Second Coming of Ron Paul will be able to hold this re-formed district in the long haul. You were damned lucky that the local Dems had a bloody enough primary season that Steve Pestka was mortally wounded before the fight began. Next time, you might not be so lucky; already, locals are showing their decided lack of amusement in your antics. I’ve even heard whispers of a primary challenge in 2014.

There’s a battle afoot, in Kent County as well as other communities across America. Sometimes the struggle is pitched as “Tea Party versus Establishment,” but this characterization isn’t quite right. It’s more like a struggle between the pragmatists and idealists. The idealists have made inroads recently, but the pragmatists are fighting back.

Congressman Amash, I implore you: Stop being a source of distraction and an agent of fragmentation. Given the choice, the people of the Third District would rather see you be a loyal Republican over a dogmatic Libertarian. We want news about you to be positive — that you’ve written a great bill or brokered a valuable deal. We grow weary of headlines about you launching coup attempts and declining to support conservative causes over pet Constitutional theories that only you seem to find.

We want a Member of Congress who fights for us. For all of us. You have the potential to get there — but will you be a leader or a bomb-thrower? I’m praying for the former.

Regards and best wishes,

P.S. — If Speaker Boehner ever does decide to visit Grand Rapids, he’ll have a warm welcome by a whole lot of us, even if you decide to sit at home and play on Facebook.

Election Review: We Remembered November, Now What?

The Republican Governors Association encouraged us to remember November. We listened; after the midterm elections, the GOP picked up more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, six seats in the U.S. Senate, a majority of governorships, a majority of statehouses, and — for the first time since the 1920s — an absolute majority of state legislators.

In Michigan, the GOP kept the offices of Attorney General and Secretary of State and, in a landslide, our “tough nerd” Rick Snyder reclaimed the Governor’s mansion for the first time since John Engler. In addition, Republicans took the state House, picked up two U.S. House seats, and earned a majority-conservative state Supreme Court. The Republicans have a solid lock on all three branches of state government and a majority of the state’s Congressmen (nine of 16). The lone ranking Democrats are the state’s two U.S. Senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. And lest we forget, Michigan had a Republican Senator as recently as 2000, when Spencer Abraham — a good Senator but weak campaigner — lost his re-election bid to “Liberal Debbie.”

So now what?

On a national level, the House Republicans are sounding the best possible note. No triumphalism. No gloating. No elephants parading down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, John Boehner is making all the right moves, opening the door to compromise but making it clear that the major mandate the GOP possesses is to fix the problems that originated in Democratic profligacy. Marco Rubio’s victory speech was dead on — the GOP didn’t get a resounding endorsement, it got probation. The next two years will decide whether this probation is eligible for early termination or whether the Elephant goes back into solitary confinement.

On a state level, I sincerely hope that Rick Snyder’s election signifies a change of tone within the state GOP. Michigan is an easy win for Republicans who carry the Reagan Democrat banner, so the state party’s decade-long push for hardcore conservative candidates has been simply wrong-headed, and prior election results proved it. Don’t misunderstand; I want a solid conservative victory. But when the state still has strong UAW membership, conservatism must be taught, not imposed by fiat. The Michigan Republicans have not been up to the educational task these last few years. Ron Weiser’s tenure as chairman has been better, but the whole enterprise still feels a bit inbred and tone-deaf.

Nowhere does the dysfunction of Michigan Republicans play out more clearly than in Kent County. Access is circumscribed unless you have a membership to an Ada country club, or so it seems. There is something significant that this cycle, my three phone calls and emails to the county GOP never merited even a form response, yet both Hoekstra’s primary and Snyder’s gubernatorial campaigns eagerly contacted me to help. This is a sharp contrast to my experiences in Kalamazoo County, where a friend and I were eagerly welcomed into the Executive Committee during our undergrad days as officers at the WMU College Republicans, and my brief stay in Ottawa County, where the chairman asked me to coordinate youth activities for the county party. There are too many big-name, big-dollar fish in Kent County to turn it into anything other than an exclusive club, and that’s a damned shame. As long as the Kent County GOP remains the preserve of the elite, opportunities to expand the Republican message will surely be missed.

Of course, navel gazing gets us only so far. The midterm results suggest a few points worth considering:

  1. Republicans should keep in mind that this election was a referendum on Democratic incompetence and over-reach, and not a rousing endorsement of  a specifically Republican platform. Rubio is right: The GOP is on probation, and public-opinion polling supports this perspective.
  2. America is a center-right country. The ideals of the Tea Party resonate strongly with a disaffected mass in the center and right. Republicans should take care to incorporate Tea Party ideas — which, in fairness, are overwhelmingly conservative principles — into the GOP governing paradigm. Why? To avoid a third-party challenge in 2012 that would almost certainly restore the Democrats to power. We cannot risk a second Obama term because we couldn’t stop the next Ross Perot from grabbing a chunk of the disaffected electorate.
  3. The GOP owns Michigan. We must not fail in effecting the transition from a manufacturing economy. Snyder is saying the right things about innovation. We must work very hard to deliver on his promises if we want Michigan’s electoral votes credit the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. In particular, we need a new message to help bring rank-and-file union members back into the GOP.
  4. Republicans across the board need to do a much better job at candidate recruiting, starting at the local level. Justin Amash, the newly elected Congressman from the 3rd District, is a great example of the worst possible candidate earning the nomination. State Sen. Bill Hardiman and Kent County leader Steve Heacock split the “adult” vote in the primary, leaving Amash — a 30-something bomb-thrower who had his state House seat purchased for him by his parents — grabbing the nomination. But Amash, besides his lack of qualification, doesn’t speak to the tenor of Kent County. Amash would fit better in a solidly Republican district; I fear that in coming years, this seat will become vulnerable to takeover by a center-right (instead of far-right) candidate. I hope the Congressman-Elect will pay careful attention to why Ehlers, Henry and Ford did so well here, and why Kent County is not a solidly red county. And don’t get me started on Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller and Sharron Angle.
  5. Republicans at all level, while retaining their humility about their probationary status, must also govern like conservatives. Center-left candidates were tossed out on their asses all across America. Although some compromise will doubtless be necessary from a purely political standpoint, Republicans simply cannot tax, spend and lobby their way to indolence like they did earlier this decade.

The next two years will be interesting.

Michigan Politics: Post-Primary Edition

The results of Michigan’s August primary are in, and the situation is … interesting.


The results from the AP:

Republican primary
5,715 of 5,732 precincts – 99 percent

Rick Snyder 379,245 – 36 percent ¶
Pete Hoekstra 278,584 – 27 percent ¶
Mike Cox 238,858 – 23 percent ¶
Mike Bouchard 126,807 – 12 percent ¶
Tom George 16,911 – 2 percent ¶

For the governor’s race, businessman and political neophyte Rick Snyder handily trounced the rest of the pack. Snyder’s candidacy is a curious one: A self-described “one tough nerd,” he was the president and COO of Gateway Computers and enjoys an admirable record as a business leader. Arguably, Snyder won because Hoekstra and Cox split the dedicated conservative/establishment vote. Regardless, the nerd gets his chance to pick up the party mantle.

From a purely political perspective, Snyder’s election is thrilling. He is not a hard-right Republican, and this is a good thing. I firmly believe that one of the most significant handicaps for the Michigan GOP is its slavish devotion to its country-club grandees — folks like the DeVos and Yob families, whose pocketbooks ensure compliance but whose social sensibilities are out-of-touch with a state that cares more about economic performance than contrived social mores. The Michigan GOP, like the Kent County GOP, is heavily influenced by the Ada-style country-club elitism that, despite its charms, is simply inconsistent with the culture of a state that remains “Reagan Democrat.” Perhaps Snyder’s candidacy will break open the state party to diverse voices and new faces.

Policy-wise, Snyder is growing on me. I had been an early Hoekstra supporter, and since I discounted Snyder’s potential, I paid him less heed than I should have. Snyder presents a solid pro-business plan for the state. He advocates policies that advance economic growth and more efficient state governance. You see much less by way of unnecessary grandstanding over touchstone cultural-conservative issues from him, and this is good. With Obama-style progressive Virg Bernero — darling of organized labor — as the Democratic nominee, keeping the argument solidly economic in this climate will likely work to Snyder’s benefit.

I dived a bit deeper into just one of Snyder’s points in his 10-point plan, giving a thorough reading into his healthcare white paper. I must admit — Snyder gets it right. Promoting medical homes for high-risk patients, emphasizing lifestyle modification to reduce the long-term cost of chronic illness, and managing Medicaid reimbursement rates will go a long way to fixing what ails Michigan’s creaky health care system. If Snyder can get MDCH to stop doing stupid things like simultaneously replacing both of its Medicaid eligibility systems with software solutions proven to fail in other states, we might be on to something.

Net result: I can stand up for Rick Snyder.

Congressional Races

CD2: Bill Huizenga barely squeaked out a primary win against Jay Riemersma. This is the seat vacated this cycle by U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who stepped down to run for governor. Although this is a deep-red district, and Huizenga is running as a red-meat Republican, the primary race was surprisingly competitive.

CD3: Justin Amash, a 30-year-old state legislator, took this race with 40 percent of the vote. Amash beat veteran county lawmaker Steve Heacock and state Sen. Bill Hardiman, who took 28 and 26 percent, respectively. The seat is vacant this cycle because U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers is retiring. Amash benefited from the grown-up candidates splitting the serious vote, while the enthusiastic youngsters who listened to the vague promises and ultra-hard-right nostrums from the Amash campaign carried the day. Of course, it helps when the DeVos family bankrolls his federal race just as his parents bankrolled his state race. Among dedicated watchers of West Michigan politics, informal consensus is that Amash is something of a blank slate, like a Manchurian candidate sponsored by the Club for Growth; he is vague on specific policy and remains relatively unpolished, echoing hard-right pieties but lacking in the gravitas to be a major player in Washington. This fall will be fun: Amash will stand against Democrat Pat Miles. Miles, a local lawyer, is a bit more of a practical, middle-of-the-road Dem. In a district long-held by quiet moderates like Ehlers, Paul Henry, and Jerry Ford, it is an open question whether a firebrand conservative with relatively limited experience can persuasively carry the district. Conventional wisdom is that he wins in 2010 but will be vulnerable as his district trends slowly leftward thanks to changing demographics.

CD6: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton beat back a primary challenger, but the margin was surprisingly narrow; he won 57-43 despite his incumbency and absurd spending gap over his competitor.

CD7: Former U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg gets a rematch against the Democrat who displaced him in 2008, current U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer.


The 2010 election cycle will be one for the history books — the spotlight will be on Congressional races, where the results will be largely viewed as a referendum on the Obama presidency and the stewardship of the Pelosi/Reid Congress. Pundits will therefore look to various competitive House and Senate races to the exclusion of most other campaigns — even to governorships, which are crucial this cycle because of decennial redistricting.

If the election were held today, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball suggests the GOP picks up 7 Senate seats, 32 House seats, and 6-7 governorships.

However, the real question for the GOP isn’t whether the House or Senate will be retaken or how many governorships it possesses. Rather, the party must focus on its message and its candidates. For every solid conservative with good credentials and a coherent program, there are candidates who have won primary challenges based solely on a populist message. These candidates may not be the best choice for the job — see “Amash,” above — but they won either because better candidates split the serious vote, or because voter anger propelled the “fresh voice” to victory.

For West Michigan, the election season will be competitive even though the certain races are foregone conclusions. We will see Huizenga and Amash in Congress, most likely. And barring poor performance or suprises this autumn, Rick Snyder will probably move into the governor’s mansion.

So yes, let’s focus on the elections. But the elections are going to change our political culture in ways it hasn’t been touched in a very long time, and this is the part of the equation that is the most interesting of all.

Let the election season begin!