Adam Kinzinger: the ‘Rino’ leading the charge for a post-Trump GOP

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On Thursday night, Adam Kinzinger was the only Republican in the US House of Representatives to vote in favour of averting a government shutdown.

When asked the following morning why he broke with his party on the issue, the Illinois congressman replied with a smile: “Because I’m a Rino.”

Donald Trump and his supporters labelled Kinzinger, 43, a Republican In Name Only after the six-term congressman became one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach the ex-president over his involvement in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Since then, Kinzinger — an Air Force veteran who flies his own four-seat, single propeller plane between Washington and his home district south-west of Chicago — has charted an increasingly lonely course on Capitol Hill. He has joined Liz Cheney as one of just two Republicans on the congressional committee probing January 6, regularly defies his party whip and often appears on television to lambast Trump.

In an interview with the Financial Times in his congressional office on Friday, Kinzinger reflected on his isolation from a party establishment that once saw him as a rising star, saying: “Increasingly, I feel like kind of the last true Republican.

“Maybe I am the one that is the outlier now, but my values haven’t changed,” he added.

Kinzinger in late October revealed he would not seek re-election for his House seat, which is being redrawn as part of a once a decade redistricting process. Trump cheered the announcement, which came shortly after Anthony Gonzalez, another House Republican who voted to impeach, said he would also not seek re-election. The former president issued a statement saying: “2 down 8 to go!”

Kinzinger, a fiscal conservative and foreign policy hawk, said he still considered himself a Republican. But he did not dismiss a political future outside of the GOP, saying: “If the party continues down the road it is . . . at some point, you have got to look at it . . . as Reagan famously said, ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic party; it left me.’”

The congressman has publicly toyed with running for governor of Illinois, or challenging incumbent Democrat Tammy Duckworth for one of the state’s two US Senate seats — and says he is “not ruling out” a presidential run as soon as 2024. Either way, he says he will make a decision on his next steps in January, after Christmas and the expected arrival of his first child with his wife, Sofia Boza-Holman, a former aide to Trump’s vice-president Mike Pence.

Adam Kinzinger: ‘[Trump] looks more and more like the crazy guy sending out press releases at Mar-a-Lago’ © Stephen Voss

Kinzinger pointed to his political action committee, Country First, as a litmus test for his national ambitions. According to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, the PAC has raised just over $250,000 since its formation earlier this year. At the end of the third quarter, Kinzinger’s separate congressional campaign committee and leadership PAC had raised a combined $4m in the current campaign cycle, including transfers from Country First, according to data compiled by Open Secrets.

“Country First for me is a good opportunity to say this is the message we’re talking about: defeating toxic tribalism, actually bringing real solutions,” Kinzinger said. “Is there a constituency out there for that? What we’ve seen so far is yes.”

Trump has flirted with another run at the White House in 2024, and his perceived grip on the party has so far kept other Republicans — allies and critics alike — from openly campaigning for the presidency. The latest FEC filings showed Trump’s Save America PAC had more than $90m in cash on hand at the end of June, giving him a sizeable war chest should he launch another campaign.

But Kinzinger said he believes an anti-Trump Republican still has a chance of winning the party’s nomination.

“You look at where Trump is today versus a year ago. Yeah, he’s still got a real grip on the party. But he also looks more and more like the crazy guy sending out press releases at Mar-a-Lago,” the congressman said.

“I’m not sitting here saying that we have made real progress,” Kinzinger added. “But I also am looking at it going, man, I could see in two years people are just, like, over him.”

For now, Kinzinger says he is confident Republicans will take back control of both the House and the Senate in next year’s midterm elections. But he pulled no punches when he said Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, was “not fit” to be Speaker of the House in light of his support for Trump and polarising members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“When you all of the sudden are hostage to . . . somebody out there saying crazy stuff . . . you are not fit to lead,” Kinzinger said. “You are going to end up being basically the figurehead for Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert.”

Democrats have in recent days called for Boebert to be stripped of her committee assignments after the Colorado congresswoman made Islamophobic comments about Democrat Ilhan Omar. Taylor Greene lost her committee roles earlier this year over her endorsement of conspiracy theories.

“You can get along with people and do that kind of thing. But you have to be willing to take a strong stance because you are now the steward of the People’s House,” Kinzinger said. “When you start violating standards . . . that is a level of decency that we cannot allow to collapse.”

Kinzinger took his criticisms of McCarthy, who he described as a former friend, one step further, blaming the House minority leader for Republicans’ continued embrace of Trump.

“When you saw Kevin McCarthy go to Mar-a-Lago and take the political paddles and charge them and bring Donald Trump back to life, I personally think Kevin McCarthy himself is the reason Donald Trump is still a big political force,” Kinzinger said, in reference to a widely publicised trip the minority leader took to Florida weeks after the January 6 attack.

“That picture changed everything. It definitely changed everything here,” he said, gesturing towards the Capitol. “There was silence until he went there, and then everybody’s like, oh, yeah, we’re with Trump.”

When asked about last month’s off-year elections in Virginia, Kinzinger said former Carlyle chief executive Glenn Youngkin had given Trump-wary Republicans a blueprint for electoral success with his successful governor’s campaign.

“If you are a candidate . . . you can look at how Youngkin did it, and model that,” Kinzinger said. “He has shown and given an opportunity to those that truly don’t want to be all in on Trumpism.”

But the congressman was not without criticism for Youngkin, who despite keeping the former president at arm’s length on the campaign trail also made explicit appeals to his base, at one point saying Trump “represent[ed] so much” of why he was running for office.

“Maybe I am too at the point of we need to just be telling people the truth,” Kinzinger said. “But I am still uncomfortable with telling one group you love Trump and telling the other you want to move on, you know? Is that truly honest?”

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