Moving the Liberty Movement
A young GOP congressman appeals to young libertarian voters.

Rep. Justin Amash


Betsy Woodruff

Most attendees tend to view the Republican and Democratic parties with equal contempt. “I think the Republican party still represents the best opportunity for bringing liberty to the political system,” Amash says, and they’re listening. His talk is punctuated with applause — when he praises the sequester, when he mentions his fight with Carney — and after laying out a simple criticism of the president and a defense of his membership in the GOP, he announces that he’d rather take questions than ramble on. A line forms instantly, and the first question is about asset restructuring — this isn’t CPAC. Why didn’t he endorse a presidential candidate? Why did he vote for the Defense of Marriage Act? Is the GOP brand fixable? Where is the Republican party moving on social issues?

Amash is eminently unflappable. He explains that though he supported Romney, he wanted his endorsement “to mean something.” He says that he’s received “implied threats” because of his willingness to break ranks with his colleagues and that he doesn’t get invited to fancy dinners. He explains that he supported funding the court case to defend DOMA but doesn’t support a federal definition of marriage. He argues that the rest of the GOP — the establishment, old-guard types — are the extremists and that he’s the commonsensical moderate. And he says that the party’s libertarian wing is its future.

The most interesting question comes from a young man who starts off by thanking the congressman for posting about his votes on Facebook. The comment elicits immediate applause and whoops. After that dies down, the questioner continues:

“There’s a strain of libertarianism — people believe that the state is completely immoral and that we shouldn’t have any involvement in it,” he says. “I disagree with that, and as a congressman you probably disagree with that as well. What would you say — ”

Amash cuts him off: “Or I’m really sneaky.”

The crowd laughs, whoops, and applauds. A few leap to their feet.

“Touché,” says the questioner. More laughter. “What would you say to the people who believe in that, and that we should not work within the system to try and fix it?”

“Well, I don’t know how to convince the people who don’t want to work within the system,” says Amash. “We have a system here. The Founders of the country certainly believed in working through a political system. That’s why they put it in place.” He defends the American system as the best protector of liberty. And he concludes by arguing that anarchy would eventually end in some sort of government anyway.

Nobody whistles or jumps up and down, but there’s a smattering of applause.

The last question is the kicker. It’s from Peter McCaffrey, a Kiwi living in Canada who’s been involved in libertarian politics since he was 18 and ran for New Zealand’s parliament twice.

“In the short or medium term, the strategic approach seems to be to try and get a bloc of 20, 25 senators, who will basically will be able to block anything from either side of the House,” he says. “So I guess the implied question would be, do you agree, and when are you going to run for the Senate?”

There’s applause — lots of applause — and even though Amash’s answer is very political (he’s keeping his options open, and winning a Senate seat is hard), one thing is clear: These kids seem to love him just as much as leadership wishes he would go away, and that means that an Amash-for-Senate bid could be very interesting. It also means that, thanks to Amash’s courtship of a bunch of libertarian college kids with long hair who have bowties and old Ron Paul T-shirts stuffed in their closets, this weekend might have made the GOP tent a little bit bigger.

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.