WASHINGTON – Calling former President Donald J. Trump “a cancer for the country,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio, said in an interview on Thursday that he would not stand for re-election in 2022, relinquishing his seat after only two terms. in Congress rather than compete with a main opponent backed by Trump.
Mr Gonzalez is the first, but perhaps not the last, of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump after the Jan.6 Capitol riot to step down rather than face fierce primaries next year in a party still under the influence of the former President.
The congressman, who has two young children, said he was leaving largely because of family considerations and the difficulties of living between two cities. But he said the tension had only worsened since his impeachment vote, after which he was inundated with threats and feared for the safety of his wife and children.
Mr Gonzalez said quality of life issues were paramount in his decision. He recounted a “revealing” moment this year: when he and his family were greeted at Cleveland Airport by two uniformed police officers, as part of additional security measures taken after the impeachment vote.
“It’s one of those times where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, for my wife and kids to be escorted through the airport?’”, A- he declared.
Mr Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday, was the kind of Republican rookie the party once valued. A Cuban American who served as Ohio State wide receiver, he was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, then earned an MBA at Stanford after his football career was cut short by injuries. He claimed his seat in northeast Ohio when he first ran for political office.
Mr. Gonzalez, a conservative, broadly supported the former president’s agenda. Still, he began to break with Mr. Trump and the Republican House leaders when they sought to block certification of last year’s presidential vote, and he was horrified by January 6 and its implications.
Still, he insisted he could have won in what he admitted would have been a “brutally harsh primary” against Max Miller, a former Trump aide in the White House who was approved by the former president in February.
Yet as Mr Gonzalez sat on a couch in his House office, with most of his colleagues still at home for the extended summer vacation, he admitted he couldn’t stand the prospect of win if that meant returning to a Trump-dominated Republican House caucus. .
“Politically, the environment is so toxic, especially in our own party right now,” he said. “You can fight and win this thing, but are you really going to be happy?” And the answer is, probably not.
For Ohioan, January 6 was “a line in the sand moment” and Mr. Trump poses nothing less than a threat to American democracy.
“I don’t believe he can ever be president again,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Most of my political energy will be devoted to working on this specific goal. “
Mr Gonzalez said there had been some uncertainty following the assault on Capitol Hill as to whether Republican leaders would continue to bow to Mr Trump.
But the ousting of Representative Liz Cheney from her management position; the continued obedience of Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader; and the recent decision of invite Mr. Trump to be the keynote speaker during a major Republican fundraiser clarified. At least in Washington, it’s still Mr. Trump’s party.
“This is the direction we’re going to go for the next two years and potentially four, and it’s going to make Trump the center of fundraising and political awareness efforts,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “It’s not something I’m going to be a part of.”
His decision to leave rather than fight, however, ensures that the party wing in Congress will only become more fully Trumpified. And that will raise questions about whether other criticisms of Trump in the House will follow him to exits. At the top of that watchlist: Ms Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, both of whom sit on the otherwise Democrat-dominated panel investigating the Capitol Riot.
When asked how he could hope to clean up Mr. Trump’s party if he himself was unwilling to take on the former president in a proxy fight next year against Mr. Miller, Mr. Gonzalez insisted that there were still Republicans in office who would defend “the foundations of democracy.
More ardently, he argued that Mr. Trump had fewer followers among grassroots Republicans than party leaders believe, especially when it comes to who the grassroots want to lead to. his 2024 ticket.
“Where I see a big gap is that most of the people I talk to back home agree with the policies but they also want us to move on from the person” and “the kind of resentment politics that took over the party, ”said Gonzalez said.
The Congress maps are expected to be redesigned this year, and it’s unclear what Mr. Gonzalez’s 16th district will look like. But he said he probably won’t take sides in the primary to succeed him, which is now expected to include additional candidates.
He said he would stay in the House until the end of his term unless something changes with his family.
Mr Gonzalez insisted the threats weren’t the reason he was leaving – the ride was more taxing, he said – but in a pragmatic way, he told people online saying things like, “We’re coming to your place. “
In line with the advice House officials gave to all members, Mr Gonzalez gave a security consultant a tour of his home to make sure it was well protected.
“This is a reflection of the direction of our policy after January. 6 “, he said.
Neither Mr. Trump nor any of his intermediaries have sought to push him out of the race, Mr. Gonzalez said.
Asked about the inevitable blackmail of Mr. Trump on his exit from the primary, Mr. Gonzalez sacked the former president.
“I don’t care what he says or thinks since January 6, outside when he continues to lie about the election, which is a problem for me,” he said.
What clearly bothers him, however, are the Republicans who continue to encourage Mr. Trump’s election lies, acts of appeasement that he said were morally wrong and politically reckless after the party lost both houses. of Congress and the White House under the leadership of the former president. .
“We have learned the wrong lesson as a party,” Mr. Gonzalez said, “but beyond that, and more importantly, it is horribly irresponsible and destructive for the country.”