What follows is a quick note about a political story that is more significant than it might seem. Jonathan Martin of The New York Times last night reported the following:
Calling former President Donald J. Trump “a cancer for the country,” Representative Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio, said in an interview on Thursday that he would not run for re-election in 2022, ceding his seat after just two terms in Congress rather than compete against a Trump-backed primary opponent.
Mr. Gonzalez is the first, but perhaps not the last, of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to retire rather than face ferocious primaries next year in a party still in thrall to the former president.
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.
The story is significant because Rep. Gonzalez is not your standard issue GOP Congressman. He’s a a rare political talent; the kind of candidate that political operatives dream of. A former star Ohio State football player, Gonzalez was a first-round NFL draft pick and played for four years with the Indianapolis Colts (and did a brief stint with the New England Patriots) before injuries ended his pro career. He then went to Stanford Business School and began to build a successful business career. He switched paths and won election in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District with relative ease. He was seen by many as someone who would be (not could be) successful at the state level and perhaps the national level as well.
At this juncture, he was seen by many “establishment” Republicans as someone who would defeat a Trump-backed primary challenger and in so doing begin to loosen the former president’s “vise-like grip” over Republican elected officials at every level of governance. Vast amounts of money and “establishment” political support stood ready to help Gonzalez do just that.
Said support will now stand down and Mr. Trump and his allies will correctly interpret Rep. Gonzalez’s announcement as confirmation that the former president’s “grip” on the Republican Party remains as “vise-like” as ever.
Mr. Martin’s report continues:
Mr. Gonzalez said there had been some uncertainty after the assault on the Capitol over whether Republican leaders would continue to bow to Mr. Trump.
But the ouster of Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership post; the continued obeisance of Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader; and the recent decision to invite Mr. Trump to be the keynote speaker at a major House Republican fund-raiser were clarifying. At least in Washington, this is still Mr. Trump’s party.
“This is the direction that we’re going to go in for the next two years and potentially four, and it’s going to make Trump the center of fund-raising efforts and political outreach,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “That’s not something I’m going to be part of.”
His decision to leave rather than fight, however, ensures that the congressional wing of the party will become only more thoroughly Trumpified. And it will raise questions about whether other Trump critics in the House will follow him to the exits. At the top of that watch list: Ms. Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who are both serving on the otherwise Democratic-dominated panel investigating the Capitol riot.
The news of Gonzalez’s decision could not have come at a better time for Mr. Trump, whose political standing was at least partially “dinged” by the outcome of the California recall election. Had the recall election been held two months ago, the results certainly would have been much closer. In the event, the recall referendum was defeated by an overwhelming margin.
What changed was the California (and national) Democratic Party’s decision to recast the election as a referendum on “Trumpism” and to paint Larry Elder (the leading Republican) as “son of Trump.” It worked and in so doing affirmed that “running against Trump” drives up Democratic turnout and can make “swing” districts more competitive, perhaps decisively so.
We’ll have to wait until all the votes are counted in (for example) Orange County and then do a precinct by precinct comparison to the 2020 general election Congressional District vote there, but it appears at this writing that Democratic performance in those precincts did improve; not by much, but small margins in swing districts can result in a House seat switching hands.
The prospect of the former president being a “net negative” for GOP candidates in competitive districts (and states) is one that Republicans obsess over (and some pray is true). “Traditional” Republicans think he is a hindrance. Trump Republicans insist the opposite is true.
Gonzalez’s decision to retire rather than seek re-election changes the subject. Earlier in the week the question was: “did Trump hurt us in California (where we hope to hold onto the Congressional seats gained in 2020)?” Today’s answer to the question is: “get on board with Trump or go the way of Tony Gonzalez.”
Generally speaking, failed presidential campaigns result in the party faithful moving on and casting about for a new champion. The losing candidate isn’t cast out so much as slowly forgotten. The opposite has happened in 2021. Former President Trump remains the champion, stronger than ever. Rep. Tony Gonzalez, the very embodiment of a “traditional” conservative Ohio Republican, is out and will soon be forgotten.