Trump kicks off ‘revenge’ tour with eyes on Ohio Republican

(CNN) – Donald Trump began his revenge tour on Saturday against the Republicans who challenged him after the 2020 elections and the January 6 insurrection, hoping to convince his supporters to fire the Ohio representative, Anthony Gonzalez.

The effort to topple the Republicans who antagonized him will be one of the greatest tests of Trump’s post-presidential power, assessing whether the former president still has dominance based on the Republican voters who supported him during his four years in the White House.

Trump’s trip to Northeast Ohio is expressly intended to remind voters in the area of ​​Gonzalez’s vote that they should impeach him earlier this year, and to boost Max Miller, a former Trump adviser who will challenge the congressman in the primaries. Republicans from the district next year.

Trump applauded when Republicans in Ohio’s congressional district erupted in anger after Gonzalez, a congressman who had largely followed the Republican line, voted in favor of impeachment. Some voters accused him of doing the “unthinkable,” while others were enraged by having to wait until 2022 to remove him.

But time has helped Gonzalez, and even his most passionate opponents admitted that the furor around his vote has since dissipated as voters go about their daily lives and, in part, forgot about early atrocities. of 2021.

“If the election was (months ago), I think Gonzalez would have lost,” said Jim Renacci, a Republican from Ohio who has long represented a challenge in the primaries against incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine. “If the election were today, he would probably still be in a danger zone … I think today would be a very tough race for him, but he has a year to prove his worth and the voters forget.”

Trump’s goal this weekend is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“President Trump will campaign aggressively against each and every one who does not represent the will of his voters,” said Liz Harrington, a spokeswoman for the former president, referring to “Republicans in name only.”

Supporters arrive for a rally with former President Donald Trump at the Lorain County Fairgrounds on June 26, 2021 in Wellington, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Gonzalez remains energetic

Gonzalez has stood his ground throughout the political fight, arguing that Trump’s rhetoric prior to the January 6 insurrection and the fact that Trump did little to stop those actions convinced him to back the impeachment charges. And he’s doubled down: to the dismay of local Republicans, Gonzalez also voted to establish a bipartisan commission on the insurrection.

In a statement to CNN, Gonzalez’s congressional campaign said the congressman was “focusing on issues that matter to the people of Northeast Ohio” such as “strengthening our economy, fighting the Chinese Communist Party and its unfair business practices. , serve our veterans and provide the highest level of constituent services.

“Max Miller is not qualified to represent our community in Congress, and the campaign, as it unfolds, will confirm this,” the campaign said.

The situation the congressman is in – who first made a name for himself as a prominent wide receiver at Ohio State University and later in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts – highlights the largest divisions within the Republican Party, facing the one who He was once a supporter of Trump, whose support for the former president has waned, against those who remain loyal to the Republican leader.

Max Miller is challenging incumbent Anthony Gonzalez in the Republican primary in the 16th Congressional District. This is Trump’s first rally since he left office. (Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Dave Handwerk, the mayor of Orrville, Ohio, a city in the Gonzalez district, has supported his congressman in the face of withering criticism, arguing that the setback his representative has received is a symbol of the “sad state of affairs” within the Republican Party.

“If the GOP means you have to be a Trump supporter, I don’t know what that means to me anymore,” said Handwerk, a 68-year-old mayor who has been a lifelong Republican. “For me, it just means that I no longer know where the Republican Party is going.”

Gonzalez also responded to the pushback by raising questions about his own party and warning members of heavy loyalty to Trump.

“The reality within our party is that people feel differently about President Trump. If we are going to win the elections in the future, retake the House, retake the Senate, retake the White House, there has to be room for both, “he said in a May interview with The City Club of Cleveland. “And if we are going to excommunicate people who feel different … I think it is a losing strategy for a match.”

Yet another sign that he’s staying loyal to his vote, Gonzalez recently started a joint fundraising committee with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, another Trump target who lost her leadership role in the House due to her outspokenness about the issues. Trump’s electoral lies. An aide to Gonzalez said the committee was created because “some donors wanted to write checks to both of them,” and the committee makes it easy.

But Gonzalez’s warnings have fallen on deaf ears among Republican activists in his district, many of whom are bent on overthrowing him. And his break with Trump cost him a serious challenge in the primaries over Miller, who announced his campaign in February expressly because Gonzalez “betrayed” his voters when he voted for impeachment.

I will not back down. And I will never betray you, ”Miller tweeted at the time.

Trump was quick to endorse his former assistant.

Miller, despite being directly linked to Trump, has issues that he will have to address during his campaign. Some Republicans, including another Gonzalez rival, have already pointed out that Miller faced multiple criminal charges against him between 2007 and 2010.

“We have no margin for error. Therefore, people’s backgrounds and character are important to voters, ”said Jonah Schulz, a Republican who also challenged Gonzalez in the primaries. De Miller added: “We see these kinds of people in America … individuals who play by a different set of rules and are not responsible like the rest of us.”

And Miller enters the primaries with a monetary disadvantage: He faces Gonzalez’s fund that is twice the size of his $ 438,554 in the bank.

The gulf could be easy for Miller to bridge. Trump showed his willingness to help him raise money when he spearheaded a fundraiser for Miller in March.

The two different strategies are clear: As Miller runs to Trump, Gonzalez has repeatedly painted a disturbing portrait of a Republican Party strictly loyal to its former leader.

“As a party, we must be honest about where we are. And we are completely out of power in the federal government. We don’t have the White House, we don’t have the House, and we don’t have the Senate. Sometimes when I hear us talk about the state of our party, we talk about how we somehow won an election. We lost them all when you look at the federal government, “Gonzalez said in the interview with The City Club of Cleveland. “My concern is that we are trying to excommunicate our own voters. And when you are completely out of power, you need to add voters, not subtract voters.

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Anger still simmers

The anger directed at Gonzalez, even if it has subsided, continues to simmer with the activists who helped get him elected.

“The number of people who contact the party and say this is terrible, terrible, horrible, we have to get rid of it, has definitely decreased,” said Doug Deeken, chairman of the Wayne County Republican Party. “But I don’t think anyone has changed their mind about their vote.”

And the problem for Gonzalez is that just when the average Ohioans start to forget about voting, something happens that reminds them. More recently, that reminder came when the Ohio GOP central committee censured Gonzalez in May for the vote, asking the congressman they had supported a few months before to resign.

Gonzalez’s “gamble is to just wait and wait for people to forget and his belief from the beginning was that people would turn against Trump and that he would be there,” said Shannon Burns, a Republican activist who leads the Republican Party of Strongsville, an organization that once supported Gonzalez. “But I think it’s up to all of us to inform Republican voters who said this person was and who he really is.”

Burns, who lobbied for the Ohio party to not only censor Gonzalez but also call for his resignation, added: Trump “being here will bring all the necessary attention to those people who don’t know that Anthony Gonzalez voted for impeachment. . We will find out after Saturday.

Trump is in Ohio to campaign for his former White House adviser, Max Miller. (Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Another issue for Gonzalez is how politically active Ohio will be in 2022, with a competitive Senate race, a likely contentious Republican primary for governor and multiple closely watched House races. Almost all Republicans in those races will likely use Gonzalez – and his antipathy for Trump – as a way to win Trump’s support.

And in no race is that clearer than in the Republican primaries for the open seat in the Ohio Senate, where candidates hope to tie themselves as closely as possible to Trump.

Josh Mandel, former treasurer from Ohio; Jane Timken, former president of the Ohio Republican Party; and former Senate candidate Mike Gibbons plan to attend Trump’s rally. Gibbons will also hold a pre-event meeting, while Timken has a pre-event radio ad saying that “no one is more committed to advancing their America First agenda than I am.”

The Republican Senate hopeful group has also repeatedly criticized Gonzalez. Mandel called him a “traitor” and while Timken was initially less hostile to him, he later said that the accusation Gonzalez supported was a “sham.”

But arguably the biggest problem for Gonzalez could be redistricting.

Ohio will lose a seat in Congress due to relatively slow population growth. While the new guidelines in the state will make the process more bipartisan, Republicans will have more control because they have dominated state politics for years and currently control all levels of state government.

And Republicans in northeastern Ohio believe it is quite possible that the Gonzalez district – which winds its way from suburban Cleveland to the shores of Lake Erie, down the Cuyahoga Valley into suburban communities like Strongsville and Medina and into more rural areas southwest of Akron like Wooster and Wayne County — could be eliminated entirely.

“They will have to eliminate a district,” said Renacci, who previously represented the Gonzalez district.

The Trump event venue also hints at this possibility. The former president will meet in Wellington, Ohio, a town in Lorain County that is currently outside the Gonzalez district. But some Ohio Republicans believe the new district could include more rural areas southwest of Cleveland.

“The big question is what the district is like because the only thing we know for sure is that there won’t be sixteen districts in Ohio,” Deeken said. Until we know, we are spitting in the wind here.

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