WASHINGTON-He called former President Donald J. Trump “a cancer for the country,” Representative Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican in Ohio, said in an interview Thursday that he would not run for re-election in 2022 and leave his seat after just two election periods in Congress rather than competing against a Trump-backed primary opponent.
Mr. Gonzalez is the first, but perhaps not the last, of the 10 House Republicans who voted to accuse Mr. Trump of the January 6 riots in the Capitol for retiring instead of facing violent primary elections next year in a party that is still in bondage to the former president.
A congressman who has two young children stressed that he left in large part due to family considerations and the difficulties that come with living between two cities. But he made it clear that the strain had only gotten worse since his vote on rejection, after which he was inundated with threats and feared for the safety of his wife and children.
Gonzalez said quality of life issues had been paramount in his decision. He told of an “eye-opening” moment this year: when he and his family were met at Cleveland airport by two uniformed police officers, part of extra security measures taken after the vote on deportation.
“It’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to get my wife and kids accompanied through the airport?'” He said.
Mr. Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday, was the kind of Republican recruitment of the party that was once appreciated. A Cuban American who starred as a receiver in Ohio State was selected in the first round of the NFL draft and then earned an MBA at Stanford after his football career was cut short by injuries. He took his northeastern Ohio seat in his first bid for political office.
Gonzalez, a Conservative, largely supported the former president’s agenda. Still, he began breaking with Trump and House Republican leaders as they tried to block the certification of last year’s presidential vote, and he was appalled by January 6 and its consequences.
Still, he insisted he could have won in what he acknowledged would have been a “brutally tough primary award” against Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was approved by the former president in February.
But as Mr. Gonzalez sat on a couch in his home office, most of his colleagues still at home during the extended summer vacation, he acknowledged he could not bear the prospect of winning if it meant returning to a Trump-dominated Republican House meeting in the House.
“Politically, the environment is so toxic, especially in our own party right now,” he said. “You can fight your butt off and win this thing, but do you really want to be happy? And the answer is probably no. ”
For the Ohioan, January 6 was “a line-in-the-sand moment,” and Mr. Trump represents nothing less than a threat to American democracy.
“I do not believe he can ever be president again,” Gonzalez said. “Most of my political energy will be spent working on the exact goal.”
Gonzalez said there had been some uncertainty following the attack on the Capitol as to whether Republican leaders would continue to bow to Mr. Trump.
But the expulsion of Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership position; the continued respect for Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader; and the recent decision to invite Mr. Trump to be the keynote speaker at a major Republican fundraiser in the House was clarification. At least in Washington, this is still Mr. Trumps party.
“That’s the direction we need to go in the next two years and potentially four, and that will make Trump the center of fundraising and political outreach,” 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 congressional wing of the party only gets more thoroughly Trumpified. And that will raise questions about whether other Trump critics in Parliament will follow him to the exits. Top of this watch list: Mrs. Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, who both serve on the otherwise democratically dominated panel investigating Capitol riots.
Asked how he could hope to clean up Mr Trump’s party if he himself was not willing to confront the former president in a proxy race next year against Mr Miller, Gonzalez insisted there were still Republicans in office. , which would defend “the fundamentals of democracy.”
With more fervor, he argued that Mr. Trump has a smaller supporter among Republicans at the grassroots than party leaders think, especially when it comes to who wants to lead their 2024 ticket.
“Where I see a big gap, most people I talk to at home agree on the policy, but they also want us to move on from the person” and “the kind of anger policy that has taken over the party,” he said. Mr. Said Gonzalez.
The congress card is to be drawn this year, and it is unclear how Mr. Gonzalez’s district, on the 16th, will look afterward. But he said he would probably not take part in the primary election to succeed him, which will now likely include additional candidates.
He said he would stay in the house by the end of his term unless something changed with his family.
Mr. Gonzalez was emphatic that the threats were not why he left — the commuter tried harder, he said — but in a matter-of-fact way, he told people online who said things like, “We’re coming to your house.”
In accordance with the advice given by House officials to all members, Gonzalez had a security consultant walk through his home to make sure it was well protected.
“It is a reflection of where our policy seemed to be heading after Jan. 6, ”he said.
Neither Mr. Trump or any of his intermediaries have tried to push him out of the race, Gonzalez said.
Asked about Mr Trump’s inevitable yell over his departure from the primary, Gonzalez fired the former president.
“I have not cared what he says or thinks since January 6, outside of when he continues to lie about the election, which I have a problem with,” he said.
What clearly bothers him, though, is the Republicans, who continue to cling to Trump’s election error, satisfaction that he said was morally wrong and politically foolhardy after the party lost both chambers of Congress and the White House under the former president’s leadership.
“We have learned the wrong lesson as a party,” Gonzalez said, “but beyond that, and more importantly, it is terribly irresponsible and destructive to the country.”