Meet the Texas veteran who could blaze a trail for the anti-Trump GOP


Criticizing Donald Trump is considered a death sentence for Republican candidates. But Michael Wood’s betting that it will be his lifeline.

Wood is campaigning on an explicitly anti-Trump platform as he competes with 22 other candidates in a special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), who represented a rapidly diversifying district in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Wood’s risky strategy centers on a belief there is a healthy slice of the GOP ready to move on from Trump after Jan. 6 — a proposition that will be tested at the ballot box next month.

Wood, a combat veteran and small business owner, has embraced his political identity as a Trump antagonist. He has publicly needled the former president on Twitter, recently declaring that “I’d rather fight for my country and the Constitution on a shoestring budget than kiss that man’s ring at Mar-a-Lago.”

The 34-year-old has also collected some high-profile yet polarizing allies in Washington, including GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Liz Cheney (Wyo.). Both voted to impeach Trump and have faced calls to be excommunicated from their own party. And Wood’s race, conducted in a so-called jungle-style format where candidates from all parties compete on one ballot, could be the first real bellwether of anti-Trump Republicans’ future success.

Should Wood prevail with his long-shot bid, he would offer a road map for other Republican candidates who want to distance themselves — and the party — from Trump. But if Wood fails, it could deliver a major blow to the wing of the GOP that’s desperate to turn the page on Trump and hoping to show its strength in the burgeoning battle over who should guide Republicans into the midterms and 2024.

Even Wood’s campaign website frames the election as the “the first battle in this war to take back our party.”

“I had a whole lot of people who told me not to get into this race, and they said that I was ruining any sort of future that I might have. But I felt like it was something that I had to do,” Wood said in an interview. “It’s certainly a risk, and above all things, I’m a realist. But I thought that if somebody stood up and spoke plainly and spoke some hard truths, that they’d be able to gain traction.”

The May 1 contest is an all-party primary, boosting the odds of an anti-Trump Republican to break out in an electorate that includes conservative Democrats and independents, instead of just GOP base voters. Still, Wood is facing long odds: Wright’s widow, Susan, a longtime activist in the district, is the clear frontrunner, with several other credible Democrats and Republicans boasting higher name ID than Wood.

He’s not daunted: “I have a chance to change minds,” Wood said, “and I think that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Wood has the type of profile that would normally make him a prized recruit for the GOP: a young, square-jawed conservative with four small children and two Purple Hearts from Marine Corps service, which includes two tours of duty in Afghanistan. But his views on Trump could end his political career before it even begins, given the party’s hostility toward skeptics of the former commander-in-chief.

Wood voted for Trump in 2020 but said he turned on the former president after Trump started spreading lies about the election and encouraged a deadly mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Those factors inspired Wood to run for office as soon as the opportunity arose in early February, when Ron Wright died following a battle with Covid.

“I always thought that if I got into politics, it would be 15 or 20 years in the future,” Wood said, “but I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the direction of the country — and specifically, about the direction of the Republican Party.”

The district, which spans southeast from the suburbs of Fort Worth into the exurbs, was once reliably red but has trended purple in the Trump era — a shift Wood believes will continue. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the seat by 17 points. Trump won it by 12 points four years later, but his margin dipped to just 3 points in 2020.

Still, Wright won reelection by 9 points in 2020, signaling that a sizable group of the district’s voters are uneasy with Trump but still want a GOP congressman.


The conditions in next month’s special election, however, are probably more favorable for an anti-Trump Republican. “If this was just a straight Republican primary, then my calculus might have been a little bit different,” Wood acknowledged. “I think it makes it easier.”

Wood thinks his path to victory lies in consolidating the corner of the GOP that has soured on Trump. And with nearly two dozen hopefuls on the ballot, it’s unlikely that any candidate will secure the nomination outright on May 1, making this upcoming race essentially a battle for the top two spots. The race heads to a runoff if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.

Yet several other candidates are starting off with larger bases of support. Susan Wright has spent decades serving in public roles in Tarrant County, and internal polling from both parties shows her with a commanding lead.

The second spot in a potential runoff is most likely to go to a Democratic candidate. National Democrats have remained relatively quiet on the race, but three credible candidates have filed. There’s Jana Lynne Sanchez, who ran for the seat in 2018; Lydia Bean, who ran and lost a state House race in 2020; and Shawn Lassiter, an education nonprofit leader.

Among the other Republicans running are state Rep. Jake Ellzey; former Trump health official Brian Harrison; former pro wrestler Dan Rodimer, who recently moved from Nevada; and another former Trump administration aide, Sery Kim, who’s caused intense backlash for saying she doesn’t want Chinese immigrants in the country.

Ellzey is probably Wood’s most formidable rival after Wright; he ran in 2018, has a base in the Ellis County portion of the district and might also appeal to conservative voters looking to focus beyond Trump.

“This has nothing to do with President Trump. I’ve never mentioned it on the campaign trail, and have been very specific about that,” Ellzey said in an interview. “This is about the administration that we have now, the Congress that we have now, and nothing else.”

Importantly, Texas doesn’t typically see high turnout in special elections, and those who do vote tend to be party loyalists. That’s left some Republicans skeptical that Trump’s grip on the party has loosened enough for a candidate like Wood to succeed.

“There’s still an awful lot of Republican primary voters, as you know, that are just reflexively pro-Trump,” said Dallas businessperson George Seay, a major GOP donor. “And if you even give a whiff that you’re dissatisfied with some of the decisions and choices and behavioral aspects that the president’s put out there — they don’t take that so well.”

To help raise his profile, Wood worked to secure an endorsement from Kinzinger, who launched a new PAC this cycle designed to challenge the pro-Trump wing of the GOP. Kinzinger, now a friend and mentor to Wood, donated $7,000 to his campaign and helped him raise an additional $31,000.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who voted to impeach Trump, and Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, also cut checks to Wood. Cheney is not endorsing Wood and also donated money to Wright’s campaign, but her support for Wood’s candidacy and message could still boost his credentials with other anti-Trump conservatives.

“If I’m successful in this, then I can create a vocabulary to help out Republicans across the country move forward in 2022 and 2024,” Wood said. “So I hope that my race gives Republicans across the country a way to talk about Donald Trump and the events of the past few years, and hopefully move past it so that we can start winning again.”

,

Criticizing Donald Trump is considered a death sentence for Republican candidates. But Michael Wood’s betting that it will be his lifeline.

Wood is campaigning on an explicitly anti-Trump platform as he competes with 22 other candidates in a special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), who represented a rapidly diversifying district in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Wood’s risky strategy centers on a belief there is a healthy slice of the GOP ready to move on from Trump after Jan. 6 — a proposition that will be tested at the ballot box next month.

Wood, a combat veteran and small business owner, has embraced his political identity as a Trump antagonist. He has publicly needled the former president on Twitter, recently declaring that “I’d rather fight for my country and the Constitution on a shoestring budget than kiss that man’s ring at Mar-a-Lago.”

The 34-year-old has also collected some high-profile yet polarizing allies in Washington, including GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Liz Cheney (Wyo.). Both voted to impeach Trump and have faced calls to be excommunicated from their own party. And Wood’s race, conducted in a so-called jungle-style format where candidates from all parties compete on one ballot, could be the first real bellwether of anti-Trump Republicans’ future success.

Should Wood prevail with his long-shot bid, he would offer a road map for other Republican candidates who want to distance themselves — and the party — from Trump. But if Wood fails, it could deliver a major blow to the wing of the GOP that’s desperate to turn the page on Trump and hoping to show its strength in the burgeoning battle over who should guide Republicans into the midterms and 2024.

Even Wood’s campaign website frames the election as the “the first battle in this war to take back our party.”

“I had a whole lot of people who told me not to get into this race, and they said that I was ruining any sort of future that I might have. But I felt like it was something that I had to do,” Wood said in an interview. “It’s certainly a risk, and above all things, I’m a realist. But I thought that if somebody stood up and spoke plainly and spoke some hard truths, that they’d be able to gain traction.”

The May 1 contest is an all-party primary, boosting the odds of an anti-Trump Republican to break out in an electorate that includes conservative Democrats and independents, instead of just GOP base voters. Still, Wood is facing long odds: Wright’s widow, Susan, a longtime activist in the district, is the clear frontrunner, with several other credible Democrats and Republicans boasting higher name ID than Wood.

He’s not daunted: “I have a chance to change minds,” Wood said, “and I think that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Wood has the type of profile that would normally make him a prized recruit for the GOP: a young, square-jawed conservative with four small children and two Purple Hearts from Marine Corps service, which includes two tours of duty in Afghanistan. But his views on Trump could end his political career before it even begins, given the party’s hostility toward skeptics of the former commander-in-chief.

Wood voted for Trump in 2020 but said he turned on the former president after Trump started spreading lies about the election and encouraged a deadly mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Those factors inspired Wood to run for office as soon as the opportunity arose in early February, when Ron Wright died following a battle with Covid.

“I always thought that if I got into politics, it would be 15 or 20 years in the future,” Wood said, “but I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the direction of the country — and specifically, about the direction of the Republican Party.”

The district, which spans southeast from the suburbs of Fort Worth into the exurbs, was once reliably red but has trended purple in the Trump era — a shift Wood believes will continue. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the seat by 17 points. Trump won it by 12 points four years later, but his margin dipped to just 3 points in 2020.

Still, Wright won reelection by 9 points in 2020, signaling that a sizable group of the district’s voters are uneasy with Trump but still want a GOP congressman.


The conditions in next month’s special election, however, are probably more favorable for an anti-Trump Republican. “If this was just a straight Republican primary, then my calculus might have been a little bit different,” Wood acknowledged. “I think it makes it easier.”

Wood thinks his path to victory lies in consolidating the corner of the GOP that has soured on Trump. And with nearly two dozen hopefuls on the ballot, it’s unlikely that any candidate will secure the nomination outright on May 1, making this upcoming race essentially a battle for the top two spots. The race heads to a runoff if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.

Yet several other candidates are starting off with larger bases of support. Susan Wright has spent decades serving in public roles in Tarrant County, and internal polling from both parties shows her with a commanding lead.

The second spot in a potential runoff is most likely to go to a Democratic candidate. National Democrats have remained relatively quiet on the race, but three credible candidates have filed. There’s Jana Lynne Sanchez, who ran for the seat in 2018; Lydia Bean, who ran and lost a state House race in 2020; and Shawn Lassiter, an education nonprofit leader.

Among the other Republicans running are state Rep. Jake Ellzey; former Trump health official Brian Harrison; former pro wrestler Dan Rodimer, who recently moved from Nevada; and another former Trump administration aide, Sery Kim, who’s caused intense backlash for saying she doesn’t want Chinese immigrants in the country.

Ellzey is probably Wood’s most formidable rival after Wright; he ran in 2018, has a base in the Ellis County portion of the district and might also appeal to conservative voters looking to focus beyond Trump.

“This has nothing to do with President Trump. I’ve never mentioned it on the campaign trail, and have been very specific about that,” Ellzey said in an interview. “This is about the administration that we have now, the Congress that we have now, and nothing else.”

Importantly, Texas doesn’t typically see high turnout in special elections, and those who do vote tend to be party loyalists. That’s left some Republicans skeptical that Trump’s grip on the party has loosened enough for a candidate like Wood to succeed.

“There’s still an awful lot of Republican primary voters, as you know, that are just reflexively pro-Trump,” said Dallas businessperson George Seay, a major GOP donor. “And if you even give a whiff that you’re dissatisfied with some of the decisions and choices and behavioral aspects that the president’s put out there — they don’t take that so well.”

To help raise his profile, Wood worked to secure an endorsement from Kinzinger, who launched a new PAC this cycle designed to challenge the pro-Trump wing of the GOP. Kinzinger, now a friend and mentor to Wood, donated $7,000 to his campaign and helped him raise an additional $31,000.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who voted to impeach Trump, and Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, also cut checks to Wood. Cheney is not endorsing Wood and also donated money to Wright’s campaign, but her support for Wood’s candidacy and message could still boost his credentials with other anti-Trump conservatives.

“If I’m successful in this, then I can create a vocabulary to help out Republicans across the country move forward in 2022 and 2024,” Wood said. “So I hope that my race gives Republicans across the country a way to talk about Donald Trump and the events of the past few years, and hopefully move past it so that we can start winning again.”

Leave a Reply