Two words were so closely associated with Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzales that I started to think they were part of his name: "rising star." The Ohio congressman was a young former football star with an MBA from Stanford whose political career appeared to have limitless potential.
That is, until January. After Donald Trump helped incite an insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, the House voted to impeach the then-president, and 10 Republicans in the chamber joined with their Democratic colleagues to hold Trump accountable. Gonzales was one of the 10.
It marked the beginning of the end of his career in GOP politics. The Ohio Republican Party, who previously celebrated Gonzales, called for his resignation from Congress, as if he'd committed some kind of horrible crime. Max Miller, a former staffer in Donald Trump's White House, announced a primary campaign against the incumbent, and the former president soon after traveled to Ohio to rally support for Miller's candidacy.
Last night, in a bit of a surprise, the congressman announced that he'd seen enough: Gonzales will not seek re-election in Ohio next year. NBC News reported:
"Since entering politics, I have always said that I will do this job for as long as the voters will have me and it still works for my family," Gonzalez said in a statement he tweeted late Thursday. "As Elizabeth and I consider the realities of continuing in public service while juggling the increasing responsibilities of being parents to our two beautiful children, it is clear that the best path for our family is to not seek re-election next fall."
The Ohioan added that while family was at the heart of his decision, and the commute didn't help, "it is also true that the current state of our politics, especially many of the toxic dynamics inside our own party, is a significant factor in my decision."
Gonzales went a little further in an interview with The New York Times, which was first to report his retirement, telling the newspaper that Trump is "a cancer for the country."
Explaining his decision to walk away, Gonzales said that after voting to hold Trump accountable, he had reason to fear for the safety of his wife and children. From the Times' report:
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 article added that Gonzales, on the advice of congressional officials, has relied on "a security consultant" who walked through his home "to ensure it was well protected."
It's disheartening to realize this is what Republican politics has become in 2021. Those who find themselves at odds with Trump and his followers face threats of violence – despite their conservative voting records – until finding it easier to simply walk away.
And while I certainly don't blame Gonzales for his understandable decision, his departure will help ensure that the GOP in the near future will become even more Trumpified, intensifying the problem that's causing the congressman to call it quits.