Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was the first lawmaker to vote against Speaker John Boehner on the House floor in January 2013. Now the GOP Establishment, and especially allies of Boehner, are looking to take him out.
Top GOP power brokers in Michigan are putting resources into the August primary race in which Amash faces businessman Brian Ellis. But as evidenced by Rep. Walter Jones victory in North Carolina Tuesday, defeating an incumbent can be a difficult enterprise. Jones has a similar libertarian ideology to Amash and narrowly bested a well-financed opponent who attacked him on foreign policy.
Amash has raised an impressive $1.2 million this election cycle and has $840,000 cash on hand. Ellis, has raised $829,000 over the same period, but $400,000 of that amount has come from a personal loan he made to his own campaign. It is that personal loan which provides the bulk of the $413,000 cash on hand the campaign reported on March 31.
As Breitbart News reported back in November, several local Michigan business leaders endorsed Ellis. They’ve been working hard to recruit additional local business support for Ellis ever since.
First elected in 2010, Amash, 34, has been a thorn in the side of the Republican House leadership since he was sworn in. In 2012, Speaker Boehner and the GOP Steering Committee removed Amash from his position on the Budget Committee as part of a “purge” of four conservatives from plum committee assignments.
Amash blamed the purge on his willingness to consider cuts to the defense budget. “I think they’re [the GOP leadership] willing to take really bad deals to avoid any defense cuts,” he told the Washington Post at the time.
In a statement issued after the purge, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said “This is establishment thinking, circling the wagons around yes-men and punishing anyone that dares to take a stand for good public policy.”
Though Boehner and the House leadership have not officially weighed in on Ellis’s challenge to Amash, key Boehner allies have donated to Ellis.
Fellow Michigan Rep. and Boehner ally Mike Rogers (R-MI) took a shot at Amash recently. “Once you get to know [Amash], and I know that district from being around Michigan for long enough, he’s completely out of line with these people. He votes more with the Democrats than with the Republicans, and that’s not out of principle, that’s out of him branding himself as something different.” Rogers donated to Ellis.
California Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a key Boehner confidant, had harsh words for Amash, saying he wasn’t a “serious member” of Congress.
Nunes launched a laundry list of complaints against his colleague. “He’s been leading the charge and not telling the truth about [NSA surveillance policies] . . . fanning the flames . . . this is a guy willing to work with San Francisco Democrats to protect bait fish, and at the same time he’s Al Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress.” Nunes also donated to Ellis.
Amash frequently votes the opposite way as the majority of his GOP colleagues, often citing constitutional objections on his Facebook page, where he explains every vote.
Amash has been a strong critic of the National Security Agency, and pushed an amendment that would limit its authority to extract data from private phones. This has made him a hero among Rand Paul oriented libertarians, but has greatly upset many of his Republican colleagues.
The Amash camp disputes Rogers’ characterization of his voting record as inaccurate hyperbole. “I vote less often with Nancy Pelosi, the real San Francisco Democrat, than any member of Congress,” Amash said.
He added that he’s upset some fellow Republicans in Congress “who are used to operating in the dark. . . They don’t like having their votes exposed as fringe and outside the mainstream.”
Former Rep. Steve LaTourette, another top Boehner ally now who heads up the Mainstream Partnership, told Politico his group is “unlikely [to] . . . enter the Amash race because it is focusing on defending Republican incumbents against conservative challenges.”
Some powerful business interests are also backing Ellis. “Members of the Meijers family, owners of the massive Midwest supermarket chain, are all in behind [Ellis] . . . [a]s are the political arms of Home Depot, Dow Chemical and the International Franchise Association,” as Politico reported recently.
But Amash has strong financial support from the Koch Brothers and conservative powerhouse Club for Growth.
While Amash is preparing for battle, he remains confident he will win the August primary against Ellis.
“It’s not a close race,” he told Politico. “Brian Ellis has little support from ordinary folks in West Michigan, and he’s racking up hundreds of thousands in debt.”
Amash contrasted his own views that consistently support the principles of limited government with those of Ellis, who he said “is running on more corporate welfare, unconstitutional spying and support for Common Core. Wishful thinking can’t save a guy this out of touch.”