After Trump was elected, Kinzinger was one of the few Republicans who continued to call on him to release his income tax returns and who demanded a “transparent investigation” into Trump’s vengeful firing of FBI Director James Comey.
After the 2017 clash at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Kinzinger said Trump had “furthered the divide and downplayed the morally repugnant hate on display.”
In 2019, he went after Trump for his cozy remarks about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, tweeting, “It’s Memorial Day weekend and you’re taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator. This is just plain wrong.”
Despite Trump’s popularity in his district — he beat Biden by 16 points — Kinzinger cruised to winning his 6th term by getting 64 percent of the vote.
Kinzinger opposed most of Trump’s challenges to the election, telling the president “Stop. Full stop. The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose. And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue.” But, recently Kinzinger looked beyond Trump at what the Republican Party could be in opposing Joe Biden and the Democrats.
“We have two different directions to go as Republicans,” Kinzinger said in an interview. “And I’m on the direction of, let’s get back to our roots and explain what conservatism is, so we can actually win the generation we’re gonna need to stay relevant.”
Despite rumors of Kinzinger contemplating taking on Senator Tammy Duckworth or Governor J.B. Pritzker, he insists he has no designs on higher office.
Kinzinger also insists he has no motive other than feeling a genuine, moral obligation to counteract the rhetoric Trump and his allies are peddling — and Kinzinger wishes more of his fellow Republicans would stand up, too.
“I think the long term impact of this could be devastating … It’s important to be outspoken,” said Kinzinger, who acknowledged he is “concerned” about the direction of his party. “That’s why I decided to put this on the line. We’ve lost our moral authority to be outraged.”
The question for Kinzinger may not be whether his moderate image (he supports gun registration) will make him competitive statewide. He’s a genuine war hero, a solid family man, and talks mostly about policy, not ideology. But he’d have to win a GOP primary and his anti-Trump reputation would do him no good there.
“When you end up where principles don’t matter, beliefs don’t matter, it’s just about who can be the loudest and kind of maintain power through raw anger and aggression, you’re no different than a lot of Latin American countries at that point,” he added.
Referring to Trump’s stewardship of America as something akin to a Latin American Banana Republic is not the way to make friends and influence people in the Republican Party.
The GOP is Trump’s GOP and will be until he decides to retire from politics. He has captured the party and will dominate it in ways not seen in the recent past. Other GOP presidents, including Eisenhower, Reagan, and both Bushes chose to keep a low profile and stay out of interparty fights. Trump will be in the thick of things going forward, making and breaking politicians at will.
Kinzinger has largely stayed out of trouble with Trump by flying below the radar. If he looks to raise his profile to run for higher office, it very well maybe a different story. Trump doesn’t forget.
(Full disclosure: Kinzinger is the author’s congressional representative)
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