Calls to the congressman’s cellphone and to his press secretary went unanswered on Monday. But Mr. Amash politely parried his Republican critics on Twitter, writing that those who questioned his logic on impeachment were “resting their argument on several falsehoods.”
He has weathered controversies before — so often, in fact, that he has mainly used his Facebook page to defend positions and statements that have rankled, roused and puzzled.
There have been plenty. He dissented from Michigan’s congressional delegation in opposing federal aid to address the drinking water crisis in Flint. He came out against Mr. Trump’s increases in military spending and voiced opposition to House Republicans when they passed a symbolic resolution praising immigration enforcement officials, arguing that doing so would signify that all agents, regardless of their individual behavior, “were above reproach.”
But this fight is different. Mr. Amash, who serves in a safe Republican district in the Grand Rapids area, has gone from a marginal gadfly to an insurgent leader in the eyes of Mr. Trump and his supporters. On Monday, State Representative Jim Lower announced that he would oppose the five-term incumbent in 2020, the first of at least two, and possibly more, Trump-friendly Republicans who are considering challenging him in a primary next year.
“Justin has no fear,” said John Sellek, a veteran Michigan political operative who ran Mr. Romney’s campaign operation in the state when he was the Republican presidential candidate in 2012. “He’s been unafraid to be Mr. No on a lot of things, so generally he has been isolated and without a major accomplishment. To his credit, he’s also been unafraid to do repeated, relentless town halls — so he is both alone and out front at the same time. That puts you on an island, which is not a good place to be in a primary.”
Even if Mr. Trump actively opposes him, as he did successfully last year against another critic, former Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Mr. Amash still commands high name recognition in his district, has a strong fund-raising base and could survive if the pro-Trump vote is split between two or more challengers, according to Mr. Sellek.
If his statements on impeachment are off message to Mr. Trump, they are on brand for Mr. Amash.
His actions reflect his tenure as a Michigan state representative known for his proclivity for voting against many of the bills brought to the floor by the chamber’s Democratic majority, even bills that Republicans backed. His maverick streak resulted in unlikely alliances with Democrats, and he even teamed up with a left-leaning lawmaker from the Detroit area to ensure legal defense budgets for impoverished criminal defendants gave them a fair chance in court.