Why Justin Amash could give the GOP a headache in Michigan’s Senate race

Former Rep. Justin Amash entered the Republican primary for Michigan’s open Senate race on Thursday, but he’s unlikely to have much appeal with GOP voters after quitting the party due to his hostility toward Donald Trump. However, by further fracturing the non-MAGA vote, his presence in the race could open the door for a more Trumpist candidate to jump in—and leave Republicans saddled with a nominee who could cost them a shot at flipping this seat.

During the 10 years Amash represented western Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, he often found himself at odds with Republican leadership and frequently dissented by invoking beliefs he described as “libertarian.” His differences with his party reached new heights, however, when he came out in support of Trump’s first impeachment in 2019, making him the only Republican to do so.

Amash soon after quit the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which he had co-founded, then left the GOP to become an independent. The following year, he joined the Libertarian Party, making him the first member of Congress to ever serve under the party’s banner. But with his path to reelection seemingly foreclosed in a race that already featured candidates from both major parties, Amash opted against seeking a sixth term in 2020.

Now, though, Amash apparently sees a road back to office, but even setting his many apostasies aside, he still faces a further obstacle: former Rep. Peter Meijer, the man who succeeded him in Congress. Meijer also knows what it’s like to be ostracized by the Republican Party. While never the maverick Amash was, Meijer backed Trump’s second impeachment in 2021 and paid the price when he lost the GOP primary to a Trump-endorsed challenger, John Gibbs, the next year. (Gibbs was defeated in the general election by Democrat Hillary Scholten.)

For that same reason, Meijer also probably is not what pro-Trump voters are looking for; in a recent poll conducted by a GOP firm, he trailed former Rep. Mike Rogers 23-7. But the problem he and Amash pose to one another is not so much their standing with Republican voters but rather that they share the same geographic base in the Grand Rapids area. Rogers, by contrast, represented turf in the central and eastern parts of the state, though he’s been out of office for nearly a decade.

It’s therefore Rogers who’s probably happiest to see Amash jump into the race, though the National Republican Senatorial Committee may be pleased as well. The executive director of the Senate GOP’s official campaign arm slammed Meijer on the record when he launched his campaign last year, saying that “the base would not be enthused” if he were the nominee, so the committee may be hoping that Amash will hold Meijer back. Indeed, an NRSC spokesperson greeted Amash’s announcement by snarking, “And here we thought Peter Meijer was the biggest Trump hater in this race.”

But it’s just as possible that the GOP’s woes have increased. Politico’s Ally Mutnick reported in November that NRSC operatives were worried Meijer could “split the moderate vote with another centrist candidate, such as former Rep. Mike Rogers,” and allow an extremist to capture the Republican nomination. The far-right contender that party leaders were likely worried about, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, has since dropped out, but a more formidable option could still emerge to take his place.

Amash can’t be considered either a moderate or a centrist, but he’d draw from the same broader pool of primary voters who aren’t aligned with Trump. And Rogers, who said in 2022 that “Trump’s time has passed” as he mulled his own presidential bid, is unlikely to scratch MAGA’s itch.

Rogers, who did not end up seeking the White House, did an about-face and endorsed Trump earlier this year, but his belief that “Biden was lawfully elected to the presidency” may be too much for Big Lie believers to accommodate. Another candidate, wealthy businessman Sandy Pensler, could have his own issues with the base, as he told the Detroit News in December that he opposed passing federal laws that would roll back abortion rights, including any policies that would overturn the state’s 2022 reproductive rights amendment.

But the time for a new candidate to enter the race is running short. Michigan’s filing deadline is on April 23, and campaigns need to devote time and resources to make sure they have a place on the ballot.

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