On Politics: Another Split-Screen Endorsement

Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

President Trump met with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, with many conservative voters still wary of Trump’s candidacy, the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson shot to double digits in polls as late as mid-September.

Then he fizzled, winning just 3 percent of the vote as Republican voters came home to support their party’s nominee.

But what would happen in 2020, after a full term of Trump in the White House, if another credible Libertarian candidate ran against him? We may soon find out.

Justin Amash, a 40-year-old congressman from Michigan who switched his registration from Republican to independent last year out of unease with Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party, announced last night on Twitter that he had formed an exploratory committee toward a run for president as a Libertarian.

On a new website, “Amash for America,” his language was bold: “We’re ready” was emblazoned across the home page.

Amash, a five-term congressman, would need to win the Libertarian Party’s nomination at its convention, which is scheduled to take place next month in Austin, Texas — though those plans have been thrown into jeopardy by the pandemic. Nicholas Sarwark, the national chairman of the Libertarian Party, told our reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns that he thought Amash would be a formidable contender for the nod.

Trump has further consolidated his support among Republicans since taking office; he now enjoys a 93 percent nationwide approval rating among members of his party, according to Gallup.

But his approval rating among conservatives is noticeably lower — 77 percent — and among independents it is a dismal 39 percent. Those are key demographics from which Amash would be looking to pick up support.

Should a Libertarian candidate peel off a significant number of votes, it is not necessarily clear whether it would do more to help the president, by siphoning anti-Trump conservatives away from Biden, or if it would hurt Trump by absorbing voters who might otherwise have reluctantly supported him.

The results of the 2016 election do little to clear this up. In exit polls, Democrats and Republicans were about equally likely to say they had refrained from voting for either Clinton or Trump. Most third-party supporters identified as independents.

In Michigan, Amash’s home state, where Trump’s narrow victory helped send him to the White House, Johnson picked up 3.6 percent of the vote. If even one in 10 of Johnson’s supporters in Michigan had voted for Clinton instead, she would have won the state.

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