He’s just 36 years old and was a rising star on the right until his conscience wouldn’t allow him to give Trump a free pass for months of “stop the steal” incitement preceding the riot on January 6. Being young, conservative, and Cuban-American, he had a national future potentially as the GOP tries to break free of its image as a party of old white guys. Now he’s finished.
Was he afraid he was going to lose a primary to Trump’s handpicked flunky challenger? I doubt it. He might well have lost but Gonzalez isn’t averse to getting knocked around. He was a star football player for Ohio State, spent a few years in the NFL, and doubtless understood that he’d get harsh criticism from his own side when he voted to impeach.
What he might not have understood, and understandably fears, is that his wife and kids are at risk of getting knocked around too. And not metaphorically.
Gonzalez insisted to the NYT yesterday that his decision to retire wasn’t driven mainly by the threats to his family but I think that’s a case of a proud man not wanting to give his persecutors the satisfaction of knowing that their intimidation tactics worked. The opening lines of his statement last night stressed that he’s doing what’s best for his wife and children and that the “toxic dynamics inside our own party” influenced his decision. He got specific about the toxicity with the Times:
The congressman, who has two young children, emphasized that he was leaving in large part because of family considerations and the difficulties that come with living between two cities. But he made clear that the strain had only grown worse since his impeachment vote, after which he was deluged with threats and feared for the safety of his wife and children.
Mr. Gonzalez said that quality-of-life issues had been paramount in his decision. He recounted an “eye-opening” moment this year: when he and his family were greeted at the Cleveland airport by two uniformed police officers, part of extra security precautions taken after the impeachment vote.
“That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’” he said…
Mr. Gonzalez was emphatic that the threats were not why he was leaving — the commute was more trying, he said — but in a matter-of-fact fashion, he recounted people online saying things like, “We’re coming to your house.”
There’s nothing new about an anti-Trump Republican being threatened with violence from the right for displeasing the cult leader. Liz Cheney spent tens of thousands of dollars on personal security in the first three months of this year to protect herself and her family. God only knows how much she’s spent since. Geoff Duncan, the lieutenant governor of Georgia who refused to condone Trump’s election lies about his state, told Tim Miller recently that he had “a disturbing realization one day, as he looked out at the security protecting him, about how the threats targeting him and his family were coming from inside the GOP tent.” Duncan’s just 46 but he’s also headed for early retirement.
The fact that Gonzalez is framing his untimely exit from Congress as partly a reaction to potential violence against his children would, one might think, give his antagonists pause before spiking the football. But that would require some decency. And decency isn’t possible when you’re a vicious amoral narcissist, a “cancer for the country” in Gonzalez’s words:
As others have noted on social media, the key word in that statement is “me.” It always is.
It wasn’t just the threats, Gonzalez told the NYT, it was the fact that so many of his Republican colleagues palpably don’t care that Trump is creating a threatening culture within the party. They’ve hugged him tighter since the insurrection instead of leaving him behind. Fittingly, the Trump-backed primary challenger in Gonzalez’s district, Max Miller, has this accusation hanging around his neck: “[B]arely more than a year ago, according to three people familiar with the incident, Miller’s romantic relationship with former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham ended when he pushed her against a wall and slapped her in the face in his Washington apartment after she accused him of cheating on her.” Miller’s lawyer denies it, of course, but even if it’s true there’s no reason to think it would prevent Miller from winning the seat. He’s a devout Trumper, unquestioning in his loyalty. That’s all that matters.
The leader of the tiny anti-Trump wing of the GOP in Washington had some thoughts on Gonzalez overnight:
America needs serious principled leaders of character like my friend and colleague, Anthony Gonzalez. His courageous dedication to the Constitution has been an example for all Americans. He will be a major force in our nation’s politics and government for many years to come. https://t.co/fvu7OWJHf1
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) September 17, 2021
On Constitution Day, Donald Trump’s statement about Rep. Anthony Gonzalez reminds us all, once again, that Trump is at war with the Constitution.
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) September 17, 2021
I wouldn’t say that Trump is at war with the Constitution. I’d say that Trump wants what Trump wants and to the extent that the Constitution gets in his way, he expects members of his party to make the right choice between the two. To do otherwise is to be disloyal and the disloyal deserve everything they get, including needing to make sure their young kids have a security escort when walking through airports.
Gonzalez insists that he’s not done working to weaken Trump’s influence over the party. “I don’t believe he can ever be president again,” he told the Times. “Most of my political energy will be spent working on that exact goal.” It’s unclear what that means but I assume he’ll be doing it in a less visible role going forward. The threats won’t stop if he continues to criticize Trump just because he’s out of Congress.
I’ll leave you with this from a spokesman for the DCCC, the group charged with getting Democrats elected to the House.
Glad to see Team Trump continue to put its effort and focus into beating Republicans. https://t.co/BscxFuw4s3
— James Singer (@Jemsinger) September 17, 2021