As we go forward into what is becoming an increasingly bleak political future under the unsteady hand of President Joe Biden, conservatives have had two saving dates to cling to:
• November 2022, when they will have the opportunity to take a step toward correcting Biden’s missteps and disassociating the country from his increasingly far-left agenda by reinstituting a Republican majority in the U.S. House and Senate.
• And November 2024, when they would seem to have an excellent chance of appealing to Americans to replace Biden/Kamala Harris with leadership more in tune with their values, traditions and view of the role government should play.
Both depend on one thing:
The Republican Party’s willingness to free itself from the toxic, bullying, narcissistic presence of Donald J. Trump, who through the sheer force of his vile personality in the last year succeeded in losing an unlosable presidential election, then single-handedly fumbling both Senate seats in Georgia into Democrat hands, ceding them control of both houses of Congress.
But it is more evident every day that the GOP is bent on self-destruction. Incredibly, Trump’s influence in the party seems as strong as ever, and the price for Republican fealty to his whims is likely to be another four years of leftist rule.
That unhappy prospect was never more clear than in the disheartening announcement from U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez that he will not seek a third term representing Ohio’s 16th congressional district.
The Rocky River Republican, son and grandson of Cuban immigrants who fled the Castro regime, has been exactly the kind of smart and focused politician the party needs if it wants to re-establish itself in a post-Trump era.
He has been a shining star in his scant one-and-a-half terms in Congress: Thoughtful and forthright, he staked out clear, sensible positions whether or not they hewed to the party line, and established a leadership role in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, proposing innovative solutions on divisive issues such as health care and the stimulus act.
He remained true to his conservative instincts, however. Even though he decried Trump’s demeanor, he supported most of the former president’s policies, voting with him 85.7% of the time.
But the tipping point came on Jan. 6, when a crowd egged on by Trump’s accusations of a stolen election trashed and took over the Capitol building while Congress was in session trying to affirm the election results.
Gonzalez powerfully denounced Trump for organizing and inciting the mob, and ultimately became one of 10 GOP House members who voted for impeachment as a result.
One would have hoped that courageous and principled move would have generated admiration and support. Instead, the Ohio Republican Party voted in May to censure him and called on him to resign.
I hoped the cowardice of his fellow Republicans would strengthen his resolve to stand and fight, rather than to go seek a profession where principle is honored rather than shunned. His decision was beyond disappointing, but understandable. Who am I to tell someone else to put himself and his family at risk?
Gonzalez’s announced reason was that he and his wife had decided it was in the best interests of his family for him to resign at the end of his current term.
We will take him at his word, but his thoughts about what’s best for his family likely were rooted in what he said later about his time in Congress:
“While my desire to build a fuller family life is at the heart of my decision,” he wrote, “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.”
In other words, he was happy to oppose and attempt to persuade Democrats, but not at the cost of aligning himself with members of his own party who do not share his sense of integrity.
In an interview with The New York Times prior to his announcement, he called Trump “a cancer for the country,” and said that the former president’s accusations that the presidential election was stolen by the Democrats were morally wrong and politically foolhardy.
“We’ve learned the wrong lesson as a party (in following Trump),” he told Times reporter Jonathan Martin, “but beyond that, and more importantly, it’s horribly irresponsible and destructive for the country.”
So now the Republican voters of the 16th District are left with former White House aide Max Miller, whom Trump recruited to oppose Gonzalez in the Republican primary, with Trump calling Gonzalez ” a grandstanding RINO, not respected in D.C., who voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional impeachment.”
“I haven’t cared what he says or thinks since Jan. 6,” said Gonzalez of Trump.
Neither should anyone else. But for reasons beyond my understanding, too many Republicans do.
That includes Miller, who chimed in with a shot of his own, saying “Gonzalez dishonored the office by betraying his constituents and he has finally realized what we already knew, that there was no path to re-election.”
It is a dark day for the Republic when party leaders decide to spurn somebody like Anthony Gonzalez, replace him with somebody like Max Miller, and follow somebody like Donald Trump.
Miller’s campaign released a statement calling Gonzalez’s “forced retirement” “great news for the voters of our district.”
Great news for Democratic voters, maybe. But terrible news for those of us who value integrity, maturity and a clear-headed approach to government and leadership.
Ted Diadiun is a member of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. Reach him at email@example.com