When Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) stepped up to the podium Tuesday night to deliver a victory speech, it wasn’t all smiles and handshakes.
He publicly demanded an apology from his opponent in the primary, businessman Brian Ellis, for running TV ads in which a former Marine calls him “Al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress” and saying his votes “put America at risk.”
The ad, featuring dramatic music paired with black-and-white images of combat soldiers, specifically mentioned Amash’s votes on amendments to close the indefinite detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and curb the NSA’s domestic spying powers, efforts that were later blocked by party leaders. The libertarian-leaning Amash chairs the bipartisan House Liberty Caucus, and has made privacy protections one of the pillars of his time in Congress.
In his victory speech Tuesday, Amash earned enthusiastic applause when he addressed Ellis directly: “You had the audacity to try to call me today, after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country,” he said. “You owe my family and this community an apology.”
He later told Fox News that he believed the “Al Qaeda’s best friend” ad referred not to his voting record but to his Arab-American heritage, noting, “That’s pretty disgusting.”
Ellis tried calling to congratulate Amash, as is custom, but had to leave a voice-mail because the Congressman refused to take his call until he apologizes for the ads.
Amash also blasted former Congressman-turned-lobbyist Pete Hoekstra for endorsing Ellis, saying: “You’re a disgrace. I’m glad we can hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance.”
Hoekstra presided over the House Intelligence Committee as it signed off on several laws regarding surveillance that Amash has criticized and tried to overturn, such as the Patriot Act. Amash’s campaign responded to his endorsement for Ellis in July by remarking: “Since Brian Ellis supports unconstitutional spying on ordinary Americans, it’s not surprising that he garners support from key backers of the NSA’s domestic spying program.”
Though Ellis had financial and political backing from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Farm Bureau’s AgriPac and the national Chamber of Commerce, he still lost by a nearly 15 point margin.
The defeat, and the accusations of racism, are another blow for the GOP establishment as it struggles to recruit minority voters and candidates. After losing the 2012 presidential election, the party commissioned an “autopsy” report that concluded, among other findings that they “need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view.”
Amash said he hopes November’s general election against Bob Goodrich (D), in which he’s favored to win, “can be a clean and honest campaign where we can talk about the issues.”