CLEVELAND — Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, warned Friday that many in his party are engaged in a “losing strategy” by rallying around Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“I think as a party, frankly, we need to be on the side of truth, we need to be on the side of substance, and that’s how we’re going to win back majorities both in the House and the Senate and hopefully the White House in 2024,” Gonzalez said at a virtual forum hosted by the City Club of Cleveland.
“I think continuing to perpetuate falsehoods, especially ones that are dangerous that led to the violence on Jan. 6, is a recipe for disaster for the party, but it’s also horribly irresponsible,” he added.
Gonzalez, a former NFL player who represents Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, also was one of 35 House Republicans who voted with Democrats this week to pass a bill that would create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The House previously impeached Trump over his role in inciting the attack. Gonzalez already faces two primary challengers — including a former Trump White House aide endorsed by the former president — over his votes on both.
The Ohio Republican Party’s governing committee recently censured Gonzalez and called on him to resign. Other GOP officeholders who have not supported Trump’s erroneous claims about the last election also have been punished by their colleagues, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who last week was ousted from her caucus leadership position.
During Friday’s forum, City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop pressed Gonzalez with a question from a longtime Republican activist in the Cleveland area who wanted to know how the GOP could survive as a party beholden to Trump. Gonzalez responded with an extended critique.
“Sometimes when I hear us talk about the state of our party, we talk as if we somehow won an election,” Gonzalez said. “Right now, my concern is we’re trying to excommunicate our own voters. When you’re fully out of power, you need to be adding voters, not subtracting voters. So this position that we find ourselves in is sort of baffling from a party standpoint. My hope is that we can find a way to coexist, build the tent, expand the tent and move forward.”
Moulthrop pressed more, observing that Trump has expanded the party.
“The reality inside our party is people do feel differently about President Trump,” Gonzalez replied. “If we’re going to win elections going forward, there has to be room for both. If we’re going to excommunicate people who feel differently than we [do] on one side or the other of that debate, then I think it’s a losing strategy for our party.”
Gonzalez noted that he frequently voted for Trump’s policies as a congressman. But Gonzlez’s primary challengers have taken to branding him a RINO, or Republican In Name Only, for his pushback against Trump’s election lies.
“Anthony Gonzalez has abandoned our district, he’s not coming back,” Max Miller, the former Trump aide, tweeted Thursday. “I look forward to earning the support of this district and fighting to advance President Trump’s America First agenda.”
Asked by Moulthrop if all of the GOP friction could yield a new party, Gonzalez downplayed the suggestion.
“I’m always skeptical of third parties,” he said. “They typically don’t work and they can be a bit embarrassing at times.”