Former Rep. Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican who left his party in 2020 in protest of former President Donald Trump’s baseless election fraud claims, died Monday at the age of 64 after a fight with renal cancer, his family said in a statement.
“Paul was an American. He was the embodiment of what we can be if we choose to love and fight for what matters,” his wife Sherry wrote in a statement.
“When he remained the lone voice and ignored the threats from those claiming to be his friends,” she continued. “Paul stood up for what matters most. It had nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with keeping our humanity. For everyone.”
The one-time member of House Republican leadership and former businessman was known as a colorful and gregarious figure in Congress, though his former colleagues distanced themselves from him over his renouncement and increased criticisms of the GOP efforts to sow doubt about Joe Biden’s presidential win.
Those same remarks, however, won him praise from the other wing of the the party, which has condemned Trump as a danger to the Republican party.
Former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), a close friend of Mitchell’s and a fellow Trump critic, told POLITICO in a telephone interview Mitchell had become “isolated” from many people who had once been friends with him after he left the GOP, but he remembered the Michigander as a “true friend.”
“He’s been a friend through thick and thin, and his own courage in trying to confront some of the things in the party that had gone sideways … I think it just shows what kind of public servant he was,” Riggleman said.
Mitchell announced his retirement from Congress in July 2019 and disaffiliated from the Republican Party in December of last year.
“I have stated publicly numerous times that when entering the political arena, a person must be willing to accept winning and losing with grace and maturity,” he said in a letter to House Republican leadership on his decision. Mitchell said he had feared the “long-term harm to our democracy” from the rallies aimed at promoting election fraud claims.
Mitchell left his spot in leadership prior to his retirement, nominating Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) to take his spot as sophomore class president after announcing his plans for departure.
While Mitchell’s criticism of Trump grew as he neared retirement, his public condemnations increased in frequency — and started to include many of his former colleagues — after he left office. He often tweeted denunciations of Trump’s baseless fraud claims and harshly condemned Republican lawmakers’ rhetoric.
His family’s statement said they wanted others to respect their privacy at this time and they would not hold a public funeral. He leaves behind his wife, six children and six grandchildren.
Mitchell’s former colleagues on both sides of the aisle shared their condolences.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), said Mitchell had been one of her first friends in Congress, calling him “an incredibly decent and compassionate person.” And Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who leads House Republicans’ campaign arm, praised him as a “good friend and a great leader.”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the dean of Michigan’s congressional delegation, said Mitchell “was a trooper to the very end” who was “always ready to fight on principle and was never afraid of the politics.”
Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.