COLUMN: Don’t praise Kinzinger for wanting Trump out— his record says otherwise



In this image from video, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., speaks as the House debates the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Pennsylvania, at the U.S. Capitol early Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (House Television via AP)

Watching the events of January 6 play out, I kept reminding myself that none of this is normal. 

The President of the United States was blocked from Twitter because he was egging on insurrection all day Wednesday — not normal. There is a faction of the Republican party that attempted to object to the results of a free and fair election — not normal. The rioters at the capitol were treated with kid gloves in contrast to the abuse laid on BLM protesters by police over the summer — normal in this country even though it’s absolutely disgusting that this is our system. The fact that there was a mob of Trump supporters that vandalized and stormed the U.S. Capitol this past week — you get the picture.

The scene we saw on January 6 will be burned into the minds of everyone alive today, a reminder of the political culture all of us came of age in. A chilling memory we can bring up every time we see the rise of an extremist political faction that is so entrenched in its own sense of nationalism that they see anyone who opposes them as contrary to their definition of what it means to be an American, depriving their political adversary of any political legitimacy in their minds.

However, this isn’t about what happened on Wednesday, at least not entirely. This is about where we go from here and the praise given to a number of Republicans who have opposed the seditious and undemocratic activities of Trump and his faction of supporters over the last two months.

More specifically, this is about Representative Adam Kinzinger, who has represented Illinois’ 16th district since 2013. Every time I hear a report about how principled Representative Kinzinger is, how courageous it is that he is opposing his party’s efforts to overturn a free and fair election, I have to laugh just a little bit. It makes me laugh because I grew up in his district, I’ve heard him speak, I know his politics and I know his disregard for the wellbeing of his constituents. 


These are the death throes of the most despicable aspect of American politics, characterized by the most intense nationalism and hatred of any significant political movement in the U.S. since McCarthyism. At least at the surface level, the Republican party has started to strip this faction of their mainstream legitimacy. This abhorrent moment will be remembered as the point where Trumpism reached its inevitable end point, attacking one of the very symbols of the republic they claim to love and protect. The image of a rioter waving a confederate flag outside of the Senate chamber will not be forgotten by the people of the United States who understand the connection between arguably the two most notable episodes of seditious behavior in U.S. history.

The most important remarks made by Republicans on January 6 were not given by the Republican objectors on the House and Senate floors, but rather by members of the Republican party who outright condemned the riots at the Capitol as a “coup attempt” and rejected attempts by their own party to overturn the election. These remarks, given by Republican representatives and Senators, in private, on social media, and through phone calls to news organizations while they hid in secure locations in the Capitol complex, were a reminder of the resilience of this country and those who serve it. It was a reminder that, even in a deeply divided country, political loyalty can sometimes be pushed down in order to serve the greater good. While various Republican leaders shed their blind loyalty to Trump this past week, it is vital not to forget their past words and actions.

Kinzinger, who has gained notoriety for doing the bare minimum under his oath to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, is far from the principled politician he’s been lauded as in recent weeks.

 According to FiveThirtyEight, Kinzinger has voted with Trump 91.7 percent of the time. In the last four years, most of his constituents have only seen or heard from him when he has been on cable news defending Trump. He voted against restricting Trump’s ability to take action against Iran without congressional approval in January of 2020 and he voted against impeachment. Kinzinger has no claim to being a paragon of integrity and has done absolutely nothing, outside of this one action, to support the idea that he cares about the upkeep of American democracy beyond what suits his own self-interest. 

Representative Kinzinger is a man who admitted, in an open debate with his 2020 challenger, that he does not believe gender inequality still exists. This is a man who opposes support for refugees because he believes refugee children are going to become terrorists anyway. Kinzinger’s politics alone, the inhumanity he promotes, are enough for me to discount the idea that he is opposing Trump’s attempts to undermine democracy out of any sort of commitment to the ideals of this country. His lightning fast switch from Trump loyalist to the opposition within the party, held up as a paragon of democracy by a starved Democratic party desperate for support from the other side of the aisle, makes absolutely no sense without understanding the context of his own political challenges and ambitions.

In the last one hundred years, only one Democrat has won Illinois’ 16th district, and he only held the seat for one term. IL-16 is a reliably Republican district that voted for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. There is a very good reason, entirely explainable by examining his own reelection chances, that Kinzinger has spent the last four years defending almost every indefensible policy or decision that has come out of the Trump white house. Which makes it even more confounding that he would so quickly switch from one of the most loyal Trump supporters in congress to the most vocal opponent in the party.

 Senator Tammy Duckworth’s term in the senate ends in 2022. Her seat used to be occupied by Republican Senator Mark Kirk. Kinzinger did not have the name recognition to even hope for a chance at becoming the Republican candidate for that seat — before he came out in opposition to Trump’s actions, that is. Kinzinger is an Illinois Republican who probably understands that he could never run for that seat if he fell in line. It is impossibly easy to flesh out a selfish motivation for his actions.

Since the election, Kinzinger has been rejected and accepted by both sides. For Republicans, he’s either a RINO or the Mitt Romney of the house. For the Democrats, he’s either a great warrior for democracy or entirely ignored. 

Representative Kinzinger’s actions in recent weeks do deserve to be celebrated — to an extent.

Yes, he is breaking with his party and doing the right thing. He is supporting democracy and free and fair elections. That deserves to be celebrated. He is a veteran of the U.S. air force. He deserves to be held up and celebrated as someone who has served his country. 

However, his actions must be brought up alongside his history of supporting some of Trump’s most reprehensible actions, and openly defending them, and his political stances, which fall right in line with Trump and his loyalists. 

I agree with the basic premise of the arguments that he has made in the last few weeks, including his remarks on the 25th Amendment. I appreciate his efforts to protect the constitution that he has sworn to uphold. It is undeniably important that he came out in favor of invoking the 25th Amendment before any other Republican in congress did so. However, I refuse to glorify him for one action that seems to contradict his long history of supporting inhumane policies and defending the undemocratic actions of President Trump for the past few years. 

We all need to remember to question our elected officials and not to forget everything they’ve done contrary to what they’re saying in the moment. Going forward, we need to take a long hard look at our political system and decide if we want to continue down this path, where a culture of divisiveness has forced us to laud basic support of democratic principles as one of the most courageous actions a politician can take.