STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On Independence Day, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash declared his independence from the Republican Party. He wrote in The Washington Post of a, quote, "partisan death spiral." And he told a Michigan TV station, WOOD, that he hopes that other lawmakers drop out.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JUSTIN AMASH: I've been involved in party politics for a while, and I believe very strongly that it's hurting our country at this point.
INSKEEP: Amash has been sharply critical of President Trump. After the publication of Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference and obstruction of justice, Amash wrote that his colleagues were not reading the report but that he had, and he called for the president's impeachment. So what's his departure from the party mean?
Jonah Goldberg joins us to talk about that. He is a columnist for the LA Times and regular guest here. Good morning.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Good morning.
INSKEEP: How significant is it that he would leave the Republican Party?
GOLDBERG: I'm torn about this. Let's put it this way - it's hugely significant for him.
GOLDBERG: And I think it is a sign of many of the symptoms that he's talking about. I tend to think - the one thing that I think he gets a little wrong is - the reason why partisanship is as nasty as it is is, in fact, because the parties are weaker than they've ever been. So that's sort of his death spiral. It's sort of like two exhausted boxers who need to hold each other up so they can stand up on their own and...
INSKEEP: Because outside groups and wealthy individuals and so forth have so much more influence.
GOLDBERG: Right. And because of a series of laws and because of the primary system. You know, in 2016, two outsiders - Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump - basically hijacked their parties. Donald Trump was successful. Bernie Sanders was almost successful.
And so what props up the party system is the partisan intensity of the rank and file in a lot of ways. And Donald Trump is very popular, at least the polls say he is, among Republicans.
And so Amash finds himself caught in the switches because he actually thinks that the Mueller Report says disturbing things, and I think defensively so. And that puts him outside of the party line.
INSKEEP: What does - what do you make of the broader critique of the party that many people would have of the Republican Party - essentially that there are a lot of Republicans who privately are appalled by a lot of things that the president does, but they can only mildly criticize him from time to time and then quickly fall back into line?
GOLDBERG: Well, I think that is objectively true in my experience. There are lots of people - people of goodwill, people who are sincere, people who don't like the spectacle of the Trump presidency - who make the transactional case for the president. They say, look at the things that we're getting. He's the only president we got. You only got one president at a time. I wish he would stop tweeting like an escaped monkey from a cocaine study but everything else - you know, what are our alternatives? Elizabeth Warren - you know, that kind of thing.
The problem is you're not allowed to say that publicly because this president responds almost entirely to flattery and does not respond to constructive criticism. Everyone - it transforms the party, in many ways, to operationally like a cult of personality. And that leaves someone like Justin Amash, who has inconvenient observations or arguments, left on the wayside.
INSKEEP: Do you see anybody else following Justin Amash out of the Republican Party?
GOLDBERG: I see lots of voters who would vote for him, not enough to elect him president. I think Amash may be very much interested in running for president. But, you know, America needs a younger Ron Paul. And I think that may be his role. And...
INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK. He's born in 1980, I believe - not quite 40 years old.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. And I think the Libertarian Party would love to have him. He sat - he's long sounded like he wants to run for president. And the way to get his argument out there would be to do so.
That could have unintended consequences across the board when you look at how it would play out in various states. There's some analysis that was in The Detroit News recently that says he might actually cost Biden more votes than Trump. But on the whole, you could see how it would be a problem...
INSKEEP: Oh, so then he becomes a younger Jill Stein is what actually...
GOLDBERG: Yeah. That's what I'm saying. And, you know, he - I think he would like to run for president. And that may be one easy way to explain why he couldn't get the - you know, couldn't get reelected in the House. It's because he was going to run for president.
INSKEEP: That raises one last interesting question because we're talking generationally here as well as in terms of views. Are there a lot of younger Republicans who are impatient with a considerably older president who stands in the way of their own advancement?
GOLDBERG: I certainly think there are lots of politicians, including the 4,000 of them that ran in 2016, who are annoyed that, basically, the whole bench has been wiped out.
I think what's more interesting to me and why Amash might have more appeal than people think is that younger conservative voters - self-identified conservatives - are much more troubled by Trump, much more troubled by where the Republican Party is than older ones who have already sorted out - who already don't have any friends who aren't - who don't agree with them. And he could be a leader of that kind of movement.
INSKEEP: Jonah, it's always a pleasure talking with you.
Thank you so much.
GOLDBERG: It's great to be here. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg of the LA Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.