In order for Donald Trump to continue his rule of the GOP, he has to not just stop the opposition to him among Republicans, has has to burn it to the ground and salt the ashes. The top targets are the handful of House Republicans who voted for his impeachment, apparently starting with Ohio GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.
The crowd crammed into an indoor-outdoor bar at a sprawling mall in this teeming suburb south of Cleveland. The head of the local Republican club took to the mic on a small stage—and pledged vengeance.
“Sign the petition to ask Congressman Anthony Gonzalez to resign,” Shannon Burns said to a burst of cheers. “If you’re looking at your neighbor right now and saying, ‘What’s he talking about?’ … get with it!”
The second-term representative “betrayed his constituents,” in Burns’ assessment, when he voted in January with nine other House Republicans and every Democrat to impeach Donald Trump.
“He thinks a year from now when it’s election time for the primary you’re all going to forget and he’s going to get reelected,” Burns went on, eliciting snickers and jeers. “And I’m telling you right now: We’re going to make sure you don’t forget.”
In a normal political world and in a normal political time, a second-generation Cuban-American former NFL player from the Rust Belt with an MBA from Stanford would be considered practically by definition a rising GOP star. But Gonzalez’s impeachment decision made him a traitor in the eyes of the man who is manifestly the unofficial leader of the party. It’s the reason Trump wasted no time endorsing Max Miller—a former aide with next to no name ID plus an arrest record—to try to take out Gonzalez. And it’s why the 16th District of Ohio is now a singular early battlefield in the former president’s intensifying intraparty war.
“Anthony Gonzalez should not be representing the people of the 16th District because he does not represent their interest or their heart,” Trump said in a statement barely more than a month after he left office. “Max Miller has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
A 32-year-old Cleveland native, Miller has been endorsed, too, by the Club for Growth, which commissioned a poll that suggests he has a wide lead at this early stage. “If the election was today, Anthony Gonzalez would lose,” Jim Renacci, the pre-Gonzalez Republican congressman here, told me last month. “He’s done,” said Harlan Hill, a Trump-aligned consultant who’s done work in the district. “Max is going to beat the hell out of Anthony.”
I'm actually looking forward to this fight on one level, but at this point it's clear that Gonzales is going to be obliterated. There's not going to be a lot of soul-searching either for Ohio Republicans, who are most likely going to eliminate three of the four remaining Democratic House members in the state through gerrymandering and the loss of a House seat through the Census.
By the time 2023 rolls around, Ohio will be as red as Indiana or Kentucky, and it will be as Trumpy. No dissent will be tolerated in red states.
It's not going to be a fun time around here.