Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, a House Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment hearing earlier this year, lambasted Trump repeatedly in a lengthy interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“The cold hard truth is Donald Trump led us into a ditch on January 6. The former president lied to us. He lied to every one of us and in doing so he cost (Republicans) the House, the Senate and the White House,” Gonzalez said on “State of the Union.”
He added: “I see, fundamentally, a person who shouldn’t be able to hold office again because of what he did around January 6. But I also see somebody who’s an enormous political loser. And I don’t know why anybody who wants to win elections going forward would follow that. I simply, like, I don’t get it ethically. I certainly don’t get it politically. Neither of them makes sense.”
Gonzalez, one of ten Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump, stated in September that he will not compete for reelection in 2022.
Trump campaigned against Gonzalez in June, rallying for his primary opponent, former Trump associate Max Miller.
Gonzalez told Tapper that if Trump stands for president again in 2024, he would support a primary opponent or a third-party candidate rather than Trump or a Democrat.
“If he’s the nominee again in ’24, I will do everything I personally can to make sure he doesn’t win. Now I’m not voting for Democrats, but whether that’s finding a viable third party or whether that’s trying to defeat him in primaries, whatever it is, that’s going to be where I’ll spend my time,” he said. “January 6 was the line that can’t be crossed.”
Shannon Burns, a constituent of Gonzalez, compared the betrayal felt by local Republicans when Ohio State wide receiver Gonzalez voted to impeach then-President Trump to just one other act of disloyalty: suiting up for Michigan.
“This is like him playing for the Buckeyes again, getting down to the two-minute warning, running into the locker room, getting a Michigan jersey and running back out,” said Burns, who runs the Strongsville GOP, a grassroots organization that once backed Gonzalez. “It’s not that you turned your back or you did something that we didn’t like. You did the unthinkable.”
Gonzalez’s decision to join only nine other House Republicans and all House Democrats in impeaching Trump in January sparked deep resentment in his northeast Ohio district, igniting a localized battle over the future of the Republican Party that pits the two-term congressman against irate constituents eager to expel any Republican who crosses the former President.
Numerous county parties have either censured or publicly condemned him, grassroots groups formerly affiliated with the congressman have withdrawn their support, and other Republicans have started to line up to challenge him in a primary.
“He’s a traitor,” said Mike Ryan, a 50-year-old Republican who supported Gonzalez in 2020 but now wants him removed from office.
Gonzalez, who comfortably won reelection in 2020 after initially gaining the position in 2018, has remained stubborn in the face of criticism, telling local media that he does not regret the vote and is prepared to lose his seat as a result of it.
Ryan, for one, believes he will.
“I’m all about forgiveness,” said Ryan. “But when you sit there, and you say you didn’t make a mistake … that calls into question how you are going to represent me.”
The uproar is only the most recent evidence of a larger battle raging inside the Republican Party in the aftermath of Trump’s defeat in 2020. Some Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others, are ready to move on from Trump and his divisive tactics. Those initiatives are colliding with the party’s Trump-loyal grassroots, which feels that the only way ahead for Republicans is unconditional fealty to Trump.
On the ground in Gonzalez’s district, it’s evident that the Trump Republicans are winning this battle. Gonzalez may carry the majority of the blame.
Gonzalez has said that Trump’s statements at the “Stop the Steal” rally before to the January 6 insurgency at the US Capitol, as well as the reality that Trump did nothing to prevent those acts, led him to support the impeachment allegations.
Gonzalez, according to top party leaders, might lose his seat as a result of that decision, with a number of candidates seriously exploring a primary challenge. Jonah Schulz, a Republican contender, has already announced his candidacy.
“Every member has to make their own decisions for their own reasons,” said Jim Renacci, the Republican who previously held Gonzalez’s congressional seat. “One good thing is most people only have a 30 days memory when it comes to politics. … Does he have an issue today? Of course he does.”