Is Justin Amash the new face of Republicanism?
America's most interesting development since November is the Republican Party becoming more interesting. Consider the congressman from Grand Rapids, Mich., who occupies the seat once held by Gerald Ford, the embodiment of vanilla Republicanism.
Justin Amash, 33, might seek the Senate seat being vacated by six-term Democrat Carl Levin, who was elected in 1978, two years before Amash was born.
Michigan supported Barack Obama over native son Mitt Romney by 9.5 points and has elected just one Republican senator since 1972. The governor, however, and nearly all other statewide officers are Republicans, the GOP controls both legislative chambers, and Amash, son of a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother, would benefit from Michigan having the nation's second-largest Arab-American population (almost 200,000).
He absorbed a libertarian understanding of opportunity from the example of his father, who began his very successful business career by buying stuff from small wholesalers, selling it door to door. Amash graduated magna cum laude with an economics degree from the University of Michigan, then earned a law degree there. “Some of my views,” he says mildly, “were a little bit different from my Republican peers'.”
He began reading Friedrich Hayek and other representatives of the Austrian school of economics, and less than four years after he left Ann Arbor he was in Michigan's Legislature, where in his one term there he cast the only “no” vote on more than 70 bills.
When an eight-term Republican incumbent retired from Congress in 2010, Amash, supported by the free-market Club for Growth, handily won the primary and the general election because, he says, of “the simplicity of my message” — limited government, economic freedom, individual liberty.
Amash voted against reauthorizing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act because it “created new federal crimes to mirror crimes already on the books in every state pertaining to certain domestic violence offenses” and because it addresses “subjects over which the federal government has no general jurisdiction.”
In foreign policy, “I'm a non-interventionist who believes there are reasons to wage war but defensive reasons,” meaning “an actual or imminent — meaning immediate — threat.”
Like his parents, Amash is an Orthodox Christian and pro-life. He believes marriage is a sacrament, but because others do not, perhaps “government should not be engaged in marriage at all.”
He says, “Tell me how a Democrat is going to attack me on the social issues.” Republicans, however, might take up that task. Nevertheless, he thinks he could win a Republican primary and that “my mix of positions is best for winning the general.”
He adds, “Because I do not fit neatly in the Republican box, some establishment Republicans and pundits think I am extreme” but “I am a moderate” because “the point of the Constitution is to moderate the government.”
Immediately after Levin announced his retirement, Amash received a late-night text message from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, encouraging him to run. “There's a great coalition over there,” Amash says, referring to freshmen Lee, Kentucky's Rand Paul, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, Arizona's Jeff Flake, South Carolina's Tim Scott, Texas' Ted Cruz, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and Florida's Marco Rubio, a group whose average age is 48, 13.5 years less than the average age of Senate Republicans.
Last month, when Paul was waging his 13-hour filibuster, Amash made his first visit to the Senate floor and was struck by the contrast with the House, which he says is “good fun” and “loud and boisterous.” The Senate would be more so with Amash inside and Michigan Republicans, having lost six consecutive Senate elections, might reasonably want to try something new.
But as Amash undertakes to “tear down the left-right paradigm,” he must consider how the delicate but constructive fusion of libertarians and social conservatives has served Republicans — and the sometimes inverse relationship between being interesting and being electable.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Rutherford falling apart, too
- Injured Penguins optimistic about returning next season
- Group strives to preserve memory of SS McKeesport
- Mon-Yough communities pick up litter, collect recyclables during Great American Cleanup
- Counselors available at Hempfield after crash kills student
- Protest planned Monday at Plum Borough High School
- Behind starter Liriano, Pirates complete sweep of Diamondbacks
- Coach Johnston trying to figure out why Penguins ‘fell off a cliff’
- Crosby, Malkin want to remain in Pittsburgh
- Pirates notebook: Wainwright injury doesn’t sway Hurdle on DH
- Armstrong County Health Center celebrates decades of care