Programming note: A new CNN documentary, “Trumping Democracy: An American Coup,” reported by Jake Tapper about former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election, premieres at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, November 5.
Gonzalez was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. In the face of relentless attacks and threats directed toward him and his family afterward, the Ohio Republican chose to retire from Congress at the end of his term and avoid facing off with a Trump-backed primary challenger next year.
With Trump appearing to prepare for another presidential run in 2024, Gonzalez told CNN he will try to stop Trump from running the same 2020 playbook to overturn another election, but he warned that Trump could have more help next time from those in charge of running — and certifying — elections.
“January 6 was an unconstitutional attempt led by the President of the United States to overturn an American election and reinstall himself in power illegitimately. That’s fallen nation territory, that’s third world country territory. My family left Cuba to avoid that fate. I will not let it happen here,” Gonzalez said.
“I think it’s all pushing towards one of two outcomes: He either wins legitimately, which he may do, or if he loses again, you just try to steal it,” he added.
Gonzalez was one of numerous Republicans targeted by Trump in the year since the 2020 election after they stood up to his attempts to subvert his election loss to Joe Biden. Many of the GOP officials who took the brunt of Trump’s wrath spoke to CNN for “Trumping Democracy: An American Coup,” warning about the danger Trump still poses to American democracy as he keeps spreading the lie that the election was stolen from him.
“I’m afraid that the kind of political violence, the kind of abandonment of the rule of law, the kind of abandonment of the constitution that we watched, does threaten the foundations of democracy, the foundations of our system,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who was kicked out of House GOP leadership over her criticism of Trump.
“And the fact that so many in my party are willing to be silent, are complicit, are enabling it, adds very much to the peril,” added Cheney, one of two Republicans serving on the House select committee investigating January 6.
“I have real concerns about the future of this democracy,” said Bill Gates, a Republican supervisor in Arizona’s Maricopa County who pushed back on claims that there was fraud in the 2020 election result. “I didn’t think we had this sort of pull towards authoritarianism in our in our democracy.”
Gonzalez pointed to election officials like Gates as a key reason Trump was unsuccessful in his attempts to subvert the election result in 2020.
“The institutions don’t hold themselves,” he said. “In the moments of truth, you need the right people to pass the most difficult tests. We had just enough people on January 6 pass the test. We have to make sure we have equal number of people to continue to pass the test going forward.”
But Gonzalez and other Republicans fear the officials who stopped Trump in 2020 may be replaced by those “more beholden to him than their oath,” thanks to the former President’s revenge campaign against those who opposed his election lies.
Trump has endorsed Republicans who have embraced his lies about the election in key battleground states for normally low-key secretary of state races, seeking to replace officials who rebuffed his pressure campaign such as Georgia Republican Brad Raffensperger.
“It looks to me that he has evaluated what went wrong on January 6: Why is it that he wasn’t able to steal the election? Who stood in his way?” Gonzalez said. “And he’s going methodically state by state at races from, you know, state Senate races all the way down to county commissioner races trying to get the people who — the Republicans, the RINOs, in his words — who stopped this, who stopped him from stealing the election.”
Besides Gonzalez, Trump has targeted the other nine House Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the January 6 riot, backing primary challengers to most of the lawmakers. Seven Senate Republicans voted to convict Trump, and the former President has endorsed a primary challenger to the sole GOP senator in the group up for reelection next year, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
In September, Gonzalez announced he was retiring from Congress rather than running for reelection, citing in part the “toxic” dynamics of the Republican Party.
“This lifestyle, the constant travel, the constant fundraising… It wasn’t working prior to impeachment,” he told CNN. “It was pretty clear that now is the time to get out of this.”
Last week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has been ostracized from the House GOP conference for joining the select committee investigating January 6 along with Cheney, announced he would also retire. So far, the other eight House Republicans who voted for impeachment are preparing to run to keep their seats next year.
Two-thirds of House Republicans voted to object to Biden’s wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania in the hours after the January 6 insurrection, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and now-House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, who replaced Cheney in GOP leadership earlier this year.
Kinzinger charged that none of them believe Trump’s lies that the election was stolen, but they go along with it to stay in Trump’s good graces.
“Not a word of it. I don’t think they believe any of it. But I think you can convince yourself, if you’re determined to, that I’ll just play the game a little longer so that I’ll be here to lead to a new direction,” Kinzinger told CNN. “Or I’ll play the game because I don’t have the power and influence to change the ship.”
While Gonzalez is retiring from Congress, he said he’s not leaving the political arena — especially if Trump runs again.
“Should he be the nominee, or should he run again, I’ll do everything I can to stop him,” he said. “Can I stop him? I have no idea. But I believe as a citizen of this country who loves this country and respects the Constitution, that’s my responsibility.”