Rep. Anthony Gonzalez weighed the pros and cons of running for reelection and concluded he had no future in a party beholden to former President Donald Trump.
He won’t bother running for reelection in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, sparing himself a no-holds-barred primary fight that he would likely lose.
The nine other House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol also find themselves in a fight-or-flee situation.
Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois have the biggest targets on their backs.
The outspoken duo jumped at the chance to participate in a special committee investigating the Capitol attack. They have been unwavering in their criticism of Mr. Trump and say his claims of a stolen election threaten democracy and stain the Republican Party.
Ms. Cheney welcomed her Trump-backed primary challenger, Harriet Hageman, into the race this month in blunt fashion: “Bring it on.”
That’s risky business, say Republican strategists, who warn that “never Trumpers” no longer have a place in the party.
“What the Gonzalez decision really shows is that those members who voted to impeach Trump and were loud and obnoxious about it, they are not in a great position,” said Andrew Surabian, an adviser to Donald Trump Jr. and the Wyoming Values PAC, which is backing Ms. Hageman.
“What happened with Tony Gonzalez is a harbinger of death for Liz Cheney’s political career,” he said.
Ms. Cheney, however, can count on a helping hand from former President George W. Bush. Her father, Dick Cheney, served with Mr. Bush as vice president.
Mr. Bush will headline an Oct. 18 fundraiser for Ms. Cheney in Dallas, according to Politico.
Nine of the 10 pro-impeachment lawmakers have been admonished by their local or state Republican Party committees.
They all face primary challengers, though some are more serious than others. More twists could come as states finalize new congressional maps in the decennial redistricting process.
Mr. Trump upped the stakes in three races this month.
He endorsed Ms. Hageman, a former member of the Republican National Committee and a 2018 candidate for governor of Wyoming. The move scared off three of Ms. Cheney’s other primary opponents, opening the door for Ms. Hagemen to unify the anti-Cheney vote.
“I think that if Harriet wants to cast her lot with those folks, I would note that they’re the same people who were involved in misleading millions of Americans about the election in 2020,” Ms. Cheney told reporters in Wyoming.
Mr. Trump also endorsed Joe Kent’s challenge to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District and Steve Carra’s challenge to Rep. Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District.
Mr. Kent is a retired Army Special Forces chief warrant officer who has questioned the results of the 2020 election. Mr. Carra is a member of the Michigan House of Representatives who has pushed for an audit of the state’s presidential election results.
Mr. Trump has stayed out of the other races so far, though he made it clear after Mr. Gonzalez’s exit that he will become more involved.
“1 down, 9 to go!” Mr. Trump said in a statement.
In announcing his decision, Mr. Gonzalez told The New York Times that Mr. Trump has become a “cancer for the country.”
He said he was dismayed that Republican leaders refused to hold Mr. Trump accountable for Jan. 6 and then ostracized Republican lawmakers who criticized him.
Mr. Gonzalez recalled that he started rethinking a reelection bid after police met him, his wife and children at the Cleveland airport after his impeachment vote. He said he wants to make sure Mr. Trump never returns to the presidency.
The announcement was a big blow to the dwindling number of members in the House Republican caucus who have publicly lamented the negative influence Mr. Trump has had on the party.
“Yes, as of now, Trump is winning — not because Anthony decided not to run, but because so many in the Republican Party decided to stay silent,” Mr. Kinzinger said in a video posted on social media.
Mr. Kinzinger said the pro-impeachment lawmakers fulfilled their constitutional duty while the rest of the Republican conference shirked their responsibility.
“So many GOP colleagues watch from the sidelines, lacking the courage to speak out while privately hoping for change,” he said. “The future of the party and politics in this country doesn’t rest on the 10 of us; it rests on the courage of the 180 others who have been silent so far. To my GOP colleagues, the time is now to speak up.”
Mr. Kinzinger has yet to announce whether he is seeking reelection. He also faces the prospect of the Democratic-controlled legislature in Illinois redrawing district lines in a fashion that hurts his prospects.
Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Tom Rice of South Carolina, David G. Valadao of California and John Katko of New York are the other Republicans who backed impeachment.
Some of them could be affected by redistricting or crowded primary races. In South Carolina, Mr. Rice faces multiple challengers.
Political analysts say Mr. Newhouse and Ms. Herrera Beutler benefit from Washington’s top-two primary format, in which the top two candidates are sent to the general election regardless of their party affiliation.
Mr. Trump‘s influence, meanwhile, lingers in other races.
Incumbents are drawing challengers who are running under the Trump banner and casting votes for impeachment as the ultimate act of disloyalty.
They say the vote broke the public’s trust.