Justin Amash stands up to Trump, even after Mark Sanford's defeat

While most other Republicans and conservatives were celebrating President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., called it a “disappointing pick.”

“Kavanaugh is not another [Justice Neil] Gorsuch — not even close,” the congressman tweeted. There had been some quiet conservative skepticism of Kavanaugh before the selection was announced, mostly because there were other names on Trump’s list of 25 that excited the Right more. But it was Kavanaugh’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that had Amash concerned.

“Future decisions on the constitutionality of government surveillance of Americans will be huge,” Amash wrote. “We can’t afford a rubber stamp for the executive branch.”

Amash gave similar advice to Republican congressional leaders after the passage of a “symbolic” rebuke of Trump’s tariffs and trade policies. “I can’t relate to why they’d want to be congressional leaders if all they intend to do is outsource their jobs to the president,” Amash tweeted.

It’s a potentially dangerous game. Just ask fellow Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who lost a primary to a challenger who argued he was insufficiently pro-Trump — and then received an 11th-hour endorsement from the president.

“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump tweeted. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina.” The last bit was a reference to Sanford’s extramarital affair while he was governor of South Carolina.

If anything, Amash has escalated his criticism of Trump since Sanford’s defeat. He has weighed in multiple times to defend his friend and colleague from the president.

“[Sanford]’s one of the most principled, consistent, and conservative members of Congress I’ve ever known,” Amash tweeted back at Trump after the president endorsed Katie Arrington. “And unlike you, Mark has shown humility in his role and a desire to be a better man than he was the day before.”

Trump again taunted Sanford during a meeting with House Republicans after the primary was over, sarcastically congratulating the South Carolinian on his campaign. After reports emerged that the remarks elicited mild boos, Trump took to Twitter to do damage control.

“Had a great meeting with the House GOP last night at the Capitol,” Trump tweeted. “They applauded and laughed loudly when I mentioned my experience with Mark Sanford. I have never been a fan of his!”

“Nobody applauded or laughed,” Amash shot back. “People were disgusted.” He described House Republicans as “having front row seats” to Trump’s “dazzling display of pettiness and insecurity.”

Amash has always been independent. He was booted from the House Budget Committee in 2012 by then Speaker John Boehner after voting against one of Ryan’s budgets (Ryan chaired the committee at the time). Even as a freshman, the New York Times called him the “most contrarian” — no small feat after the Tea Party wave.

As prolific a social media user as the current occupant of the White House, Amash hit back on Trump on flag-burning (“No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment”), tariffs (“Maybe the slogan should be #MakeAmericaVenezuela”) and the nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general before the president even took the oath of office.

The four-term congressman has long chafed under partisanship. “Obama NSA spies on Americans. Rs in Congress: Boo! Trump signs extension of unconstitutional FISA 702 spying. Rs in Congress: Yay!” Amash tweeted. “FBI uses FISA to allegedly spy on Trump campaign.
Rs in Congress: Boo! Trump nominates judge who supported Obama NSA spying. Rs in Congress: Yay!”

Amash’s pinned tweet, appearing on his profile exactly a month into Trump’s presidency, is a quote from George Washington: “Let me now… warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.”

Trump’s massive popularity with the Republican base and willingness to lash out at intraparty critics has claimed scalps besides Sanford’s. Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are both retiring rather than continuing to face Trump’s wrath. Old clashes with Trump forced Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., into a primary runoff, although the president has since endorsed her over her opponent, a former, not especially conservative Democrat.

“Amash may be inviting some danger in launching the attacks he has, however, I suspect he’s done himself a favor by focusing his ire more on Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan than Trump per se,” said Liz Mair, a Republican strategist who has herself bucked Trump. “Yes, the comments do involve dinging Trump, but Amash probably won’t incur the full wrath of Trump because he picked on two of Trump’s favorite guys to also pick on, at least historically speaking: McConnell and Ryan.”

Amash, whose House predecessors include Gerald Ford, isn’t exactly representing deep Trump country either.

“Everyone knows Amash is a libertarian, thus it is not a real surprise,” said a Michigan Republican pol. “District is more moderate than folks realize.”

All this could spare Amash Sanford’s fate.

“I suspect there will be people who ask whether Amash is about to become the new Mark Sanford,” said Mair. “I’m not convinced that will be the case, also because I suspect Amash might be a better politician than Sanford. Rumor always was that Sanford’s ascendancy had as much to do with his now ex-wife’s smarts as his own talent. Love Sanford though I do, I have a sneaking suspicion that Amash might be a slightly better politician than Sanford is.”

Weary after some bruising electoral setbacks, libertarian Republicans certainly hope so.

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