Former U.S. President Donald Trump addresses supporters during a "Save America" rally at York Family Farms on August 21, 2021 in Cullman, Alabama. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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President Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party got a little bit tighter on Thursday night.
Ohio Republican congressman Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 riots, made the surprise announcement that he’ll retire early rather than face a Trump-backed primary challenger.
Gonzalez said Trump is “a cancer for the country” in his interview with the New York Times announcing his decision. And while he insisted he could have won his contest against a Trump-backed challenger, he admitted it would have been a “brutally hard primary.”
Gonzalez is 37 and in just his second term in Congress, and until recently was viewed as a rising star in the GOP. He was a star wide receiver on the Ohio State football team and a first-round National Football League pick who went on to get his MBA at Stanford University, and as a Cuban-American offered diversity to a party struggling to show it’s not just a party of old white men.
He’d largely backed Trump—until the former president began lying that the 2020 election was stolen from him. He said his final “line-in-the-sand moment” was January 6, when Trump riled up a crowd of loyalists and encouraged them to march on the Capitol to protest Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s victory. The crowd rioted, attacking Congress and overrunning the building while injuring hundreds of police officers.
Gonzalez told the Times that even if he managed to win his 2022 primary against former Trump White House official Max Miller, who already has hosted Trump for one rally, he had no desire to spend two more years in a House Republican Conference that’s dominated by Trump loyalists.
One of his congressional allies, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, has already been forced from House GOP leadership for standing up to Trump, and she and almost all of the eight other House Republicans who backed impeachment are now facing tough primary challenges.
“Politically the environment is so toxic, especially in our own party right now,” he told the Times. “You can fight your butt off and win this thing, but are you really going to be happy? And the answer is, probably not.”
Gonzalez insisted that his decision to retire had as much to do with family considerations and how unpleasant the job had become as his looming primary fight. And he said he’ll continue to fight to wrest the GOP from Trump’s grip.
“I don’t believe he can ever be president again,” Gonzalez said. “Most of my political energy will be spent working on that exact goal.”
But his decision is the latest sign that the handful of Republicans left in the House willing to stand up to Trump won’t be there for much longer—and that the future GOP might be getting even Trumpier.