As U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger prepares to leave Congress after 12 years, just days after casting a historic committee vote recommending criminal charges against former President Donald Trump, the Republican politician from Illinois finds himself literally a man without a home.
Shunned by Republican organizations nationally and in his home state, his district evaporated by Democrats to make him politically unelectable, Kinzinger has sold his family’s Channahon home, though he said he’s inclined to stay in Illinois.
But ask the 44-year-old once-rising star in the GOP about what the future holds for himself and his view of the country, it yields more questions than answers.
Instead Kinzinger — who along with U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was the most outspoken House GOP critic of Trumpian Republicanism — said he intends to stay involved in politics “but I think definitely there needs to be a little bit of a moment and a break and a reset right now.”
Delivering his final speech from the floor of the U.S. House last week, Kinzinger imparted a less-than-optimistic view of the nation’s polarized politics, a pox on both houses with a warning for the future.
He castigated Republicans for bowing to Trump, his “big lie” of a stolen 2020 reelection and his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. He also criticized Democrats for helping Trump-backed candidates in the midterms to make them easier to defeat in a general election.
Such was the case in Illinois, where Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Democratic Governors Association he helps fund pumped tens of millions of dollars into ads in the GOP primary that helped Trump-backed state Sen. Darren Bailey get nominated to run for governor. Pritzker defeated Bailey by more than 12% in the November general election.
“I am optimistic in the long term. But I think part of getting us to a place where you can succeed is to quit friggin’ sugarcoating what we’re doing wrong,” Kinzinger said in an interview with the Tribune.
“There’s always been a kind of sense that America will succeed just kind of automatically, no matter what. It’s not true. If it gets bad, somebody will ride in on a white horse and save it. Well, I’m in the business where people in white horses come from, and there’s nobody in the wings. And I think the American people have to hear that,” he said.
Noting many Republicans demonstrated unyielding loyalty to Trump even after he spearheaded efforts to overturn the 2020 election to stay in office, Kinzinger said, “what the Republicans have done has been way more of a threat to democracy. But I also think, to be clear, that (Democrats) supporting candidates that don’t believe in democracy, even as a political tactic, it’s really dangerous.”
As for the country’s political future, Kinzinger said, “Is there room for a Republican that still believes in sanity? Or not. Do the Democrats eventually reach out and welcome conservative Democrats again? Does, eventually in five or 10 years, there end up being a new party? I don’t know the answer,” he said. “But I know it’s got to be one of those, because right now, there’s just too many people that feel unrepresented and that can’t last forever.”
Kinzinger said the key to democracy is to recognize the vast majority of people are in the nuanced middle when it comes to public policy and are not being represented by the extreme sides often displayed by both parties.
“And I think if it just goes on long enough, maybe they drag back the GOP or the Democrats or both. Maybe it is a whole new party or an independent candidate,” he said. “People fight revolutions over not being represented. I think the idea that there would be a political sea change in this country isn’t so crazy on that. I’d love to be part of helping to represent those folks. I just don’t necessarily know what that looks like at the moment.”
First elected in 2010 after defeating single-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, Kinzinger has held a congressional seat for six terms. In 2016, he announced he wouldn’t support Trump for president, though he also said he wouldn’t vote for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
In October of 2021, Kinzinger announced he would not seek reelection only hours after Illinois Democrats remapped him into a staunch Trump-supporting rural downstate district with Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of Peoria.
Kinzinger was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and he and Cheney were the lone GOP members on the House select committee investigating the insurrection that on Monday recommended the Department of Justice file criminal charges against Trump.
Following the insurrection, Kinzinger formed Country First, an organization and political action committee to “take back our party” and to “unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage.” He maintained that as a result of its allegiance to Trump, “the Republican Party has lost its moral authority in a lot of areas.”
Country First was active in the midterm elections at the state and federal level with mixed successes, endorsing Republicans and Democrats who took on Trump-aligned candidates. Country First backed Democrat Katie Hobbs in her successful bid for Arizona governor against election denier Kari Lake. It supported Republican Brad Raffensperger, who won reelection as Georgia’s secretary of state. Raffensperger in early 2021 rebuffed Trump’s entreaties to “find 11,780 votes” to overturn his loss in the state.
But the group also had several losses among challengers to Republican congressional incumbents who embraced Trump.
Kinzinger said his stewardship of the organization is a reflection of his optimism, “because if I wasn’t, honestly, there’s no reason to do any of this.” He said the group plans to roll out a “rebranding, relaunch” of Country First in the new year.
A U.S. Air Force veteran with missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, Kinzinger said he still expects to be involved “in the media side” as a political commentator, though he hasn’t negotiated a contract. He acknowledged “that the second I’m no longer a member of Congress, the people’s interest in me goes down pretty significantly.”
“I’m OK with that, honestly,” Kinzinger said.
“I guess there’s always the question of if you had stayed and tried to fight and tried to keep your seat and tried to whatever, maybe you could have had more of an impact. I don’t know the answer to that. I know that after 12 years in the House, I feel like it’s time to move on anyway, no matter what had happened,” he said.
Kinzinger has been sharply critical of the leadership of House Republicans under U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who is poised to become the next House speaker. Kinzinger said he was “burned out” on the gamesmanship of the chamber — such as using the threat of staying in session during the Christmas holidays to pass a government funding bill.
“I don’t know how anybody can stay in much longer than 12 years and truly not get sick of that. You gotta be like a special kind of crazy,” he said.
But, he said, he hasn’t lost his “passion for the country.”
“There’s part of me that says, ‘Hey, stay involved, there’s a moment to actually run again, yourself.’ Part of me says, ‘Hey, you know, now’s the time, whether it’s Country First or whatever, to try to help new people rise up. And I think that’s something that remains to be determined,” he said.
Kinzinger married Sofia Boza-Holman in February 2020 and the couple welcomed a son, Christian, in January of 2022. He said the family is “trying to figure out what’s best” in whether to stay in Illinois.
“The intention now is not to go anywhere. But, I mean, Illinois’ not a very friendly place for Republicans,” he said.
“But you know, I love the state. I love the people. So we’ll see how that all works out. But I think the big thing right now is just, let’s clear our head and figure out what we want to do,” he said.