Rep. Anthony Gonzales was a rising star in the Republican firmament until a vengeful Trump helped snuff out the re-election campaign of the intelligent, charismatic two-term Ohioan as a warning to others of what awaits infidels in his party.
In 2018, Gonzales was the party’s prize recruit for an Ohio seat, a Cuban American football star out of Ohio State, a first-round draft pick of the Colts with an MBA from Stanford. All was fine—Trump loves athletes and took Gonzales on Air Force One—until Gonzales voted to impeach the president over Jan. 6. That day, Gonzales was present during a phone call in which the president could have called off his mob but didn’t.
Gonzales says that although he could have beaten the crony Trump chose to challenge him, he decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort it would take only to return to a caucus in thrall to a flawed man he called a “cancer” on the party and who forced him to get security to protect his family. His retirement comes two days before his 37th birthday.
Gonzales is a sterling example of who the Republican Party is sacrificing on the altar of The Donald. Trump’s only animating force for interfering in the 2022 primaries is punishing apostates—any party member who suggests that he didn’t leave the White House for the warm waters of Mar a Lago voluntarily, or upheld the results of the election he lost or, worst of all, voted for impeachment. Already, Trump has supported challengers to three secretaries of state who didn’t declare the election stolen, including Brad Raffensperger who refused to “find” the 11,570 votes needed to steal Georgia from Biden.
Trump is also supporting a challenge to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and endorsing Mo Brooks, who’s running to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby. Brooks stood on the Mall on Jan. 6 in a camouflage hat crying out that, “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” So far Trump has endorsed close to 40 candidates in 23 states who have little in common save for their abject fealty to him.
In response to Gonzales retiring, Trump sent out a statement that sounded like something out of the Politburo, noting the congressman’s “tremendous loss of popularity, of which he had little, since his ill-informed and very stupid impeachment vote against the sitting president of the United States, me.”
He went on to praise Gonzales’ challenger, “who I have given my Complete and Total Endorsement.” That’s 31-year-old bro Max Miller, a campaign and then White House advance man who scratched the boss’s itch for rallies that make him look good. Miller also served briefly in the notorious personnel office known for giving unqualified relatives cushy administration jobs and approving appointees after little vetting. It was also famous for its nightly office parties with frat-boy drinking games. Before hooking up with Trump, the grandson of a Cleveland real estate mogul was a résumé-inflator, an undistinguished Marine reservist (not a recruiter as he claimed) with a rap sheet confirmed by both the Washington Post and Politico that includes arrests for assault, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, and fleeing an officer.
While working in the White House, Miller shoved Melania Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, with whom he was romantically involved, and then slapped her after she accused him of cheating on her, according to Politico, which cited “three people familiar with the incident.” Miller has denied that claim, while Grisham hasn’t commented on it though perhaps she might now that she has a book coming about her four years in the White House.
The best people! How hard would it have been to usher the man who lost the presidency, the House, and the Senate off stage to a life of golf and wedding-crashing?
Instead, once polls showed him holding on to his MAGA fans, although not the suburban and independent voters who former Attorney General Bill Barr informed Trump on his way out the door “think you’re a fucking asshole,” Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell decided to stay with Trump and a base so devoted some followers will die from a preventable virus to own the libs (the high deaths in blue states occurred when there was no vaccine; the high toll in red states despite a vaccine) while assaulting the random flight attendant, Walmart clerk, and restaurant hostess who dares to ask for proof of vaccination.
This is the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, and the pillow guy who missed last month’s deadline to move Trump back into the White House. But it’s not just fringe characters joining in Trump’s bonfire.
Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy have turned the party over to the ex- president as they watch his followers cling to him. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is afraid to make the traditional endorsement of an incumbent from his own state—even though that incumbent is his friend, Liz Cheney, whose only sin is to warn her party that to humor Trump in his lies is to risk our democracy.
Trump’s quest for revenge is at odds with the party’s desire to win back Congress which would be more likely with incumbents running for re-election than crackpots who appeal to the MAGAniacs and satisfy Trump’s hunger for retribution. But Trump, perpetually tan, rested in semi-retirement, and seething with anger, continues to remake the Grand old Party to his specs, one primary at a time, anointing sycophants and forcing officials like Gonzales out.
Maybe normal Republicans will find their spines if Trump takes them down to defeat in 2022 and they realize they defeated themselves by giving over their party to a madman who would have no power to destroy except that which they’ve ceded him.