Rep. Anthony Gonzalez is a political lemon.
That’s the assessment of Max Miller, the Republican who launched a primary challenge against Mr. Gonzalez after former President Trump called for the scalps of GOP lawmakers that supported impeachment following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Miller says voters in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District were sold a bill of goods about Mr. Gonzalez being a fighter, but now they have buyer’s remorse after watching him turn his back on Mr. Trump and the MAGA movement.
“I have no other interest in doing this other than to serve the people of the 16th District and get an ‘America First’ conservative in Congress and get one who is a so-called Republican out,” Mr. Miller told The Washington Times.
The 32-year-old former Trump aide became more of a household name in February when Mr. Trump gave him his “Complete and Total Endorsement!” and warned that Mr. Gonzalez does not represent the “interest” or “heart” of voters in the district.
Mr. Trump is set to sing the challenger’s praises Saturday at Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, marking his first campaign-style rally of the 2022 election cycle.
A son of Cuban immigrants, Mr. Gonzalez starred as a wide receiver at Ohio State and played five years in the NFL before winning his seat in the 2018 election.
Mr. Gonzalez ran unopposed in the 2020 primary and cruised to reelection over his Democratic rival with 63% of the vote.
The Gonzalez campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
In previous interviews, the 36-year-old congressman said he was well aware of what he was getting into when he backed impeachment.
“I’m not an idiot,” Mr. Gonzalez told NBC News this year. “I understand what this vote means and what it could potentially mean for my political career.
“Over the long arc of history,” he said, “I believe that this is the right vote, and I believe it sends the right message to all future presidents and anybody who considers taking the Oval Office.”
The Ohio GOP censured Mr. Gonzalez and the nine other House Republicans who voted in favor of impeaching Mr. Trump for inciting the events of Jan. 6.
Mr. Miller told The Times that Mr. Gonzalez‘s betrayals go beyond that, pointing to his support for a nonbinding resolution condemning Mr. Trump‘s withdrawal of forces from Northern Syria, and Mr. Miller‘s support for a bill that opponents warn will grant amnesty to farm workers that entered the country illegally.
“It is not just his one vote in which he betrayed his own people,” Mr. Miller, a former Marine, said. “There’s several of them that he will need to acknowledge and people will go, ‘Wow, is this guy a true conservative?”
Still, it is no secret that without the impeachment vote, Mr. Gonzalez‘s political career would be in far less jeopardy.
“If he loses, it is because of that vote — there is no question,” said Doug Deeken, chair of the Wayne County Republican Party in Ohio. “Aside from that vote, he has been a very good congressman.”
Mr. Deeken said he likes Mr. Gonzalez, but “vigorously” disagrees with that vote.
“It is a self-inflicted injury on his part and potentially a career-ending self-inflicted injury,” he said.
Mr. Gonzalez also voted last week for a bill to award Congressional Gold Medals — one of the highest civilian honors — to the U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies that protected the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 from a “mob of insurrectionists.”
The proposal was opposed by 21 Republicans, including some of the most pro-Trump members of the lower chamber.
Mr. Miller said he‘d have to “brush up” on the bill before weighing in and said as a general rule he supports law enforcement.
He also made it clear he thinks “what happened on January 6 was not an insurrection.’”
The scope of the challenge Mr. Gonzalez faces will remain unclear until the state draws new congressional maps. The process has yet to start.
“It is really hard to say whether Max Miller can beat Anthony Gonzalez in a primary or not,” Mr. Deeken said. “It is possible.”
“It is also possible they will draw some sort of horseshoe-shaped suburban district around Cleveland that will help Anthony Gonzalez,” he said. “We are not even reading tea leaves. We don’t even know what sort of tea is in the box.”
Mr. Miller said he is optimistic the new congressional map will help him.
“Everything we are hearing from the bipartisan commission down in Columbus is that the district is going more red,” he said. “The way we in the campaign see that is it is more advantageous to us because people already have a predetermined judgment in their head about what they think of Anthony Gonzalez, which is somebody who betrays their voters and constituents and does their own thing.
“So I look at it as Anthony has to go ahead and court all of these red voters who are mostly Trump supporters and try to win back their faith, trust and confidence,” he said. “I think that is a very, very, tall task for Anthony Gonzalez to do.”
The Gonzalez campaign’s latest finance report showed he was sitting on more than $1 million after pulling in more than $600,000 million over the first quarter of the year.
Mr. Miller, meanwhile, had $438,000 cash on hand, showing he is no fundraising slouch.
Those campaign coffers are expected to get a boost from the Trump visit.
Shannon Burns, president of the Strongsville GOP, said Mr. Trump‘s return to the area is going to make it impossible for Mr. Gonzalez to hide from his impeachment vote.
“Anthony Gonzalez has one strategy to win his election and that is hoping that you forget and we are here to make sure people don’t forget what his vote was,” Mr. Burns said.
“The voters of this district have seen what they thought was a true Republican representing them and recognized too late that the person they thought they had standing up for them wasn’t really fighting for them,” he said.