Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Dark Omen in Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s Retirement

A slap in the face for delusional Republicans who want to pretend the GOP is anything but a pro-insurrection Trump cult.
September 16, 2021
Dark Omen in Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s Retirement
UNITED STATES - MARCH 11: Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, walks down the House steps after a vote on Thursday, March 11, 2021. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The retirement of Trump-impeachment-supporting Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), in part over fears for the safety of his young family, is a deeply ominous sign for our politics.

It might be a Trump era cliché to say that “this is not normal” but a 36-year-old congressman in his second term doesn’t just retire. That is the start of one’s career, not the finish. Moreover, a 36-year-old Republican congressman sure as shit doesn’t retire because he is scared Republican voters might hurt his family.

That is not normal. At all. It is a flashing siren about just how dangerous the Republican party has become.

Gonzalez had the perfect story for his district. He is a former Ohio State football star who decided to get a Stanford MBA after his playing career was cut short by injuries. He had an essentially down-the-line conservative voting record and no reason to be concerned about re-election until the former president began attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election following his defeat at the hands of “Sleepy” Joe Biden.

Unlike fellow Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, Gonzalez was not willing to go along with the phony election-certification charade. He eventually became one of ten Republican House members to vote for Trump’s impeachment over the actions that led to the January 6 insurrection.

The backlash from that vote is what led to the harassment and eventually tonight’s resignation.

It resulted in a primary from Max Miller, a douchey trust-fund baby who worked for Trump and allegedly assaulted his girlfriend and colleague, Stephanie Grisham. Unlike Gonzalez, Miller was no athletic hero. He had no record of accomplishment, though he does have a rap sheet. He had no coherent policy critique of Gonzalez. The primary was to be solely a referendum over whether voters of the district wanted their representative to be a Trump toady even if it means overthrowing American democracy.

Gonzalez’s primary race—not Liz Cheney’s or Adam Kinzinger’s—would have been the prime test of whether the Republican party was a cult in thrall to a wannabe authoritarian or a conservative political party. The answer was so clear that Gonzalez didn’t even wait around to find out. He barely made it out of the starter’s gate:

Gonzalez, a father of two, said the resignation was about living a “fuller family life.” But it wasn’t hard to read between the lines. He told the New York Times that he no longer wishes to live a life where he has to “have my wife and kids escorted through the airport” by security and where he receives ominous messages from people saying “we’re coming to your house.”

And Gonzalez is not the only Republican to pass on a race with the specter of MAGA violence looming overhead. Georgia Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, who stood his ground during Trump’s phony attempts to contest the Georgia election, recently told me that he also 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 announced back in May that he wouldn’t run again.

Geoff Duncan and Anthony Gonzalez are walking, talking avatars for what the “Waiting for the World to Change” Republicans want the party to be: They are both conservative, savvy, and early in promising careers. There is an entire class of professional ostriches who have spent a half-decade wishing Trump away, downplaying the danger, and imagining that there is hope for a responsible conservative party once he magically disappears. Duncan and Gonzalez are just the kind of Republican electeds that that crowd wished for.

But they are now walking off the field in part over the violent, credible threats they received for not going along with Trump’s coup attempt that led to the sacking of the Capitol. They are set to be replaced by the likes of Max Miller, avatars of deplorable Trumpism.

As for what’s next, Gonzalez told the Times, “I don’t believe [Trump] can ever be president again. . . . Most of my political energy will be spent working on that exact goal.”

Having seen the ugly face of the Trumpist GOP firsthand, Gonzalez understands the stakes and the peril.

I hope he understands the political implications of his statement. It’s long past time for those who want the GOP to be a party of Anthony Gonzalezes, not a party of Donald Trump Jr. fanboys, to take their heads out of the sand. The Republican party is a pro-insurrection Trump cult and anyone who is not on board is cast aside.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.