WASHINGTON — Rep. Justin Amash became the first Republican congressman to call for President Trump’s impeachment over the weekend. The question now is whether it’ll cost him his job — and whatever conservative campaign donors he has left.
Amash has already drawn a primary challenge from a local lawmaker, Rep. Jim Lower. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which Amash helped found in 2015, were surprised by Amash’s condemnation of Trump, and could vote to kick him out of the group when they meet Monday evening.
Worse yet, Trump himself is on the warpath. He’s almost certain to attack Amash at a Monday rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, after already tweeting on Sunday that the Michigan congressman is a “loser” and a “lightweight.”
All that leaves the very real possibility that a man with already few friends in the Republican establishment has alienated the only supporters he has left: his fellow conservative outcasts.
“I think a lot of them will walk away,” said Doug Heye, a former top GOP aide. “Given how the party has moved just in the past few years — that it’s Donald Trump’s party through and through — do they support what Amash is doing?”
Amash’s outspokenness and willingness to vote against the party line resulted in him being stripped of his seat on the House Budget committee in 2012. He also notably drew a challenger backed by the GOP establishment in 2014 — businessman Brian Ellis.
Amash defeated Ellis by 15 points, with the Club for Growth by far his biggest individual donor. The group was one of the few GOP-aligned groups to oppose Trump for president, but recently, they’ve been coming back in from the cold.
“Congressman Amash is absolutely wrong on the standard for impeachment. In spite of his excellent voting record on economic issues, we completely disagree with him on this,” said David McIntosh, Club for Growth’s president.
Amash, who did not return a request for comment, must have known the consequences of speaking out going in. Already, questions have surfaced about whether he’ll spin this attention into a third-party run for president on the Libertarian ticket.
That would fit a pattern: The five-term congressman came to a degree of prominence early in his career by aligning himself with the uber-conservative wing of the party against then-Speaker John Boehner.
“He’s been through this before, he was kicked off a committee before,” said ex-Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who was alienated by the party alongside Amash, and later lost a primary in his Kansas district to an establishment-backed Republican.
Being attacked by their his own leaders made Amash somewhat of a cult hero on the far right, and it was part of what led him to be a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus in early 2015. Yet attacking Boehner was one thing. Attacking Trump is quite another.
Today, Amash’s former allies in the Freedom Caucus, Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, are among Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress.
Amash has already distanced himself from the group, but a weekly Monday night meeting might seal his fate. Jordan is also the top Republican on Amash’s sole committee, Oversight. Jordan and Meadows did not respond to requests for comment about whether they will boot him from either the Freedom Caucus or the Oversight Committee.
Most Republican voters — 9 in 10 — don’t want Trump to be impeached, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
It’s a given that the party establishment won’t come to Amash’s rescue if his primary challenger starts catching on. National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Carly Atchison wrote in an email that, “The NRCC does not get involved in primaries.”
As a result, support from outside groups will be crucial. Outside money has allowed conservatives create their own fundraising apparatus so they could openly defy leaders without worrying about who would finance their campaigns.
At least one group may stay in his corner, however. FreedomWorks, the influential conservative advocacy group, is more concerned about issues they promote than Amash’s interplay with the president, said group spokesman Peter Vicenzi.
“Were going to work with anyone who is going to remain principled on our issue set,” he said. “The party doesn’t matter. It’s how they vote on the issues, and so far Justin Amash has been pretty good.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib, also of Michigan, invited Amash to co-sponsor her impeachment resolution.
Cover: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., walks up the House steps for a vote in the Capitol on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)