Republican Trump Critic Quits Congress As Cult of January 6 Grows

Once a prize recruit for his party, Anthony Gonzalez is leaving Congress. Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Another Republican congressional supporter of Donald Trump’s second impeachment has succumbed to the 45th president’s vengeance, as Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez has announced he is giving up his 2022 reelection bid in the face of a primary challenge and widespread intraparty condemnation. It capped a red-letter week for Trump’s efforts to make his Big Lie about a stolen 2020 election Holy Writ for the Republican Party he still dominates, up to and including a revisionist take on the January 6 Capitol Riot. Yesterday Trump issued a statement expressing solidarity with the insurrectionists he had lathered up into a hate frenzy that fateful day, as the Washington Post reported:

“Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in a statement. “In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”

The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway helpfully explained the “two-tiered system” reference:

Moreover, given the timing, the former president’s capitalized demand for “JUSTICE” with respect to those being “persecuted” for the January 6 “protest” had to be a big shout-out to this weekend’s “Justice for J6” rally in Washington. Organized by far-right firebug Matt Braynard on behalf of the “political prisoners” who have been prosecuted for the insurrection, this event has put Capitol Police on high alert and is so controversial that MAGA notables like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde have given it a wide berth. In conjunction with Trump’s earlier praise for those who attacked the Capitol and his efforts to turn Ashli Babbitt — the insurrectionist shot and killed by a Capitol policeman as she breached the last line of defense between the mob and members of Congress — into a martyr, it’s clear that he is trying to change the narrative of his own conduct on January 6.

The chief argument of impeachment opponents (and, to a considerable extent, Trump’s own lawyers in the Senate trial) was that the Capitol Riot was a terrible event in which Trump was an innocent bystander who begged the mob to protest peacefully. Perhaps because he is trying to make the Big Lie a myth central to Republican identity and, quite possibly, the fulcrum by which he will launch a 2024 comeback effort, this implausible and defensive treatment of the day’s events could not stand. Nothing less than a whitewashing of the riot seems to be in the works.

Getting the GOP to buy into this new look at January 6 won’t be easy, but it will help to get rid of those like Gonzalez (a young Cuban American football star who was once a prize recruit for the Republican Party) who insist not only that the riot was a lethal assault on the rule of law but that Trump’s complicity was indefensible (Gonzalez now calls the 45th president “a cancer on the country”). The nine other pro-impeachment Republicans are all facing 2022 primary challengers, and one of them, of course, Liz Cheney, lost her House GOP leadership position. It’s probably just a matter of time until congressional Republicans formally pivot to the idea that the assault on the Capitol that outraged and terrified so many of them at the time was actually a high act of patriotism seeking to reverse what Trump has called “the crime of the century”: the recognition of his electoral defeat.

As the Bulwark’s Tim Miller put it, Gonzalez’s premature retirement “is a deeply ominous sign for our politics … The Republican party is a pro-insurrection Trump cult, and anyone who is not onboard is cast aside.”

GOP Trump Critic Quits Congress As Cult of January 6 Grows