What does Justin Amash's GOP defection mean?

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Speed read

What's happening: On July 4, Rep. Justin Amash announced he was leaving the Republican Party to run for reelection as an independent. In an op-ed on his decision, the Michigan congressman decried the two-party system as an "existential threat" to American principles, saying "modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral."

Amash has repeatedly argued that President Trump's conduct is grounds for impeachment, something no other prominent Republican has done. Amash said high-level members of the party have privately thanked him for his stance. Trump responded to Amash's announcement by calling him one of the "dumbest & most disloyal" members of Congress.

Why there's debate: Amash's defection raises the question of whether he's just an upset outlier or his move is a sign of wider dissension within the Republican Party under Trump. Some argue Amash's departure will serve as a warning for other conservatives who might consider breaking with the president from the party line. Amash lost his standing in the House Freedom Caucus, as well as significant financial backing. He also was set to face a tough primary challenge before leaving the party.

There are others who believe Amash is a harbinger of even more discontent among Republicans, who are becoming increasingly weary of Trump's behavior, legal troubles and perceived abandonment of traditional conservative principles.

Others have praised Amash — even those who don't agree with his libertarian beliefs — for speaking his mind and bucking the political pressure that surrounds most members of the two-party system.

What's next: Amash will likely face a difficult challenge holding onto his seat in a firmly Republican district. He may have his eyes on a bigger office, however. He has not ruled out running for president on a third-party ticket, a move some believe could siphon off votes from Trump in Midwest states that were crucial to his 2016 electoral victory. Trump won Amash's home state of Michigan by just 11,000 votes.


Amash's libertarian beliefs are not popular enough to be a threat to Republican power

"Amash is right that millions of Americans are unhappy with the choices the two major parties give them. But he is wrong in his implicit assumption that they yearn for a more consistently principled libertarianism." — Henry Olsen, Washington Post

There is no room for change in the Republican Party under Trump

"There is no fighting a party in the grip of a mentally, morally and emotionally unfit figure such as Trump. You cannot break up a cult from the inside. You must leave it and then draw others away, compelling them to reflect and shed their delusional beliefs." — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

The GOP has changed to a point where Amash no longer belonged

"Amash’s decision to leave the party signals just how frustrated he has become with the ideological state of affairs in the GOP and its relationship to Trump. He argues that it’s not him who’s changed but the party." — Emily Stewart, Vox

Political self-interest will stop more lawmakers from following Amash's lead

"Trump and his legion of supporters within the party base have shown that any dissenting opinions will be punished. … Self-preservation is a powerful emotion -- and one that seems to have overrun many committed conservatives in the last three years. The exit of Amash then is rightly understood as further evidence of the total takeover of the conservative movement by Trump." — Chris Cilliza, CNN

Third-party candidates stand no chance in the American political system

"A big part of the reason that this appears so self-serving is that it is absolutely hopeless. … No third party can fix the problems Amash imagines he sees. A more honest and useful approach would have been to announce he is becoming a Democrat. At least then he might have a seat at that table to moderate its policies." — David Marcus, the Federalist

The U.S. needs more politicians willing to speak out

"The aim of Amash's rare and risky stand against partisanship was not personal political gain. Hopefully its effect will not be personal political loss, because his independent voice is precisely what Washington needs." — Bonnie Kristian, the Week

Independent candidates are needed to make our democracy healthy

"I hope Amash is the first of many independent candidates. We need their minds and their voices, untethered to party opinions, to foster deliberation and encourage wholesome debate in Congress. We need them to challenge our status quo and bring new energy to a government bogged down by partisan bickering." — Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

Amash may be the first of a wave of independents on both sides of the political spectrum

"Go forward, and this applies to both parties, unless the political parties … start to respond to their bases and then work with one another — beyond just the brand, on the actual issues — I do believe we will see more individuals declare their independent candidacy." — Political strategist Jason Johnson, MSNBC's “AM Joy”

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