Adam Kinzinger’s Lonely Mission – The New York Occasions

WASHINGTON – As the Republican Party rebukes, condemns, and tries to purge leaders who are out of step with Donald J. Trump, Adam Kinzinger, the six-time Illinois Congressman, stands as enemy # 1 – not only undesirable in his party, but also in his own family, some of whom recently cast him out.

Two days after Mr. Kinzinger called for Mr. Trump’s impeachment following the January 6 riot in the Capitol, eleven members of his family sent him a handwritten two-page letter saying he was at odds with the “Army of the Devil” take a public break with the president.

“Oh my God, what a disappointment you are for us and for God!” They write. “You embarrassed the family name Kinzinger!”

The letter was authored by Karen Otto, Mr. Kinzinger’s cousin, who paid $ 7 to mail it to Mr. Kinzinger’s father by registered mail – to make sure the Congressman would see it, which he did. She also sent copies to Republicans across Illinois, including other members of the state’s congressional delegation.

“I wanted Adam to be avoided,” she said in an interview.

Kinzinger, a 42-year-old Air National Guard pilot who represents a crescent-shaped district in the Chicago suburbs, is at the forefront of efforts to steer politics after Trump. He’s betting his political career, professional relationships, and kinship with a wing of his extended family that his party’s future will be to deny Mr. Trump and the conspiracy theories the former president fostered.

Mr. Kinzinger was one of only three House Republicans who voted both to indict Mr. Trump and to strip Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee positions. During the House impeachment debate, he asked Democrats if he could speak seven minutes in place of his allotted so that he could make a more authoritative and bipartisan argument against the President. The request was denied.

He has made his case in the national media and has become a ubiquitous figure on cable television, nightly HBO programming, and on podcasts. He started a new political action committee with a six-minute video explaining the need to reformulate the Republican Party into an idealized version of George W. Bush’s party – with an emphasis on lower taxes, Hawk defense, and social conservatism – without the grievances and Conspiracy theories that have made Mr Trump and his allies central to the party’s identity.

In order to do this, Mr Kinzinger said in an interview, it is necessary to expose the fear-based tactic he hopes to exterminate from the party and present an optimistic alternative.

“We’re just scared,” he said. “Fear the Democrats. Fear the future. Fear everything. And it works for a cycle or two. The problem is that it does real damage to this democracy. “

Mr Kinzinger said he was not put off by the fact that the Senate failed to convict Mr Trump on impeachment on Saturday.

“We have a lot to do to restore the Republican Party,” he said, “and to turn the tide on personality politics.”

Mr Kinzinger now faces the classic challenge for political outsiders who want to prove their independence: His persistent and uncompromising manner infuriates the Republicans he is trying to recruit for his mission to reshape the party.

His anti-Trump stance has angered Republican voters in his district, some of whom compare him to a Democrat, and has frustrated Republican officials in Illinois who say he cares more about his own national presence than his relationship with them .

“There doesn’t seem to be a camera or microphone that he’s not going to walk to,” said Larry Smith, the La Salle County’s GOP chairman, who censored Mr. Kinzinger last month. “He spoke to us earlier.”

Mr. Kinzinger does not apologize for his priorities.

“Central and northern Illinois deserve an explanation and my full attention and they will get it,” he said. “But I’ll also focus on the national message as much as I can because I can turn any heart in central and northern Illinois and it won’t affect the whole party. And that’s exactly what I think is the big battle. “

Mr Kinzinger has received Democratic praise, but he’s not everyone’s idea of ​​a progressive. His campaign website trumpets his longstanding opposition to the Affordable Care Act and he is an opponent of abortion rights and increased taxes. He first won his seat in Congress with Sarah Palin’s support.

Growing up in a large family in central Illinois – his father, who has 32 first cousins, ran grocery banks and homeless shelters in Peoria and Bloomington – Mr. Kinzinger took an early interest in politics. Before he was 10 years old, he predicted that one day he would be governor or president, Ms. Otto said, and he won election to the McLean County Board when he was 20 and graduated from Illinois State University .

After the 9/11 attacks, he joined the Air Force and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After his release, he joined the Air National Guard, where he remains a lieutenant colonel. In the 2010 republican wave, the then 32-year-old Kinzinger beat a Democratic incumbent by almost 15 percentage points and, with the support of Eric Cantor, then majority leader of the House of Representatives, ousted another ten-year-old Republican, Don Manzullo, two years later. in a primary subsequent redistribution.

But Mr. Kinzinger was soon discouraged by a Republican Party which he believed was focused on opposition to anything President Barack Obama proposed without offering any new ideas of its own.

“His frustration has increased since he came to Congress and I think it was difficult for him to understand and participate in the Trump era,” said former Kansas Representative Kevin Yoder, who is one of Mr.’s closest friends Kinzinger was in Congress before losing a re-election bid for 2018. When loyalty to Mr. Trump became a litmus test for Republican conservatism, Mr. Yoder said, “That became a bridge too far for him.”

While Mr Kinzinger never presented himself as a Trump loyalist, he rarely broke with the former president for political reasons, but criticized him from the 2016 campaign when he was a replacement for Jeb Bush.

Mr. Trump was aware of Mr. Kinzinger’s lack of loyalty. At a fundraiser in the Chicago suburbs ahead of the 2016 election, Trump asked Richard Porter, an Illinois Republican National Committee member, how Kinzinger would apply for re-election. He had no opponent, Mr Porter recalled when he told the future president.

Mr. Trump, said Mr. Porter, stuck his finger in his chest and told him to deliver a vulgar message to Mr. Kinzinger about what to do with himself. When Mr Porter conveyed the comment to Mr Kinzinger during an election day interview, Mr Kinzinger laughed and invited Mr Trump to do the same.

In Illinois, Republicans struggled to guess what Mr. Kinzinger’s next move might be. In the interview, Kinzinger said it was unlikely that he would continue the nomination for the governor or the Senate in 2022. At the moment he is inclined to run for re-election, but with redistribution imminent this fall, it is unclear how the democratically controlled state legislature will reorganize his district.

What is clear is that Mr Kinzinger is on the wrong side of ordinary Republicans at home. John McGlasson, the Kinzinger district committee member, said the congressman had been “insulting” with his comments since Jan. 6.

Republican voters interviewed in the district last week accused Mr Kinzinger of pitching on Mr Trump.

“If you want to vote as a Democrat, vote as a Democrat,” said Richard Reinhardt, a 63-year-old retired mechanical engineer, while having lunch at a Rockford Thai restaurant. “If you’re a Republican, support our President. Trump was the first president to represent me. The stuff he helped me. “

Mr. Kinzinger predicted that “the hangover” of Mr. Trump’s popularity “will somehow wear off” after his impeachment.

Former Governor Bruce Rauner, the last Republican to win nationwide office in Illinois in 2014, said Kinzinger could fall victim to the bitter schism that divides the party. “The only winners in the war between Trump and the Republicans will be Democrats,” said Rauner. “For some voters, character is important. For most, that’s not the case. “

Mr Kinzinger said he was reluctant to reach out to the loudest critics in his district’s republican organizations, whom he hadn’t spoken to in years, and said he had little influence over voters. The letter writers in his family have been “brainwashed” by conservative churches that have misled them.

“I’m not against them,” he said, “but I have no desire or need to achieve and fix it.” It’s 100 percent up to them to reach and fix them, and in all honesty, I don’t care if they do it or not. “

Regarding his own future in the party, Mr Kinzinger said he will know by the end of the summer if he can stay Republican long term or if he will be motivated to change his party affiliation if he realizes that Mr Trump’s allies are become a permanent majority.

“The party is sick right now,” he said. “It is one thing if the party accepts different views, but it has become a massive litmus test of everything. So it’s a possibility, but it’s certainly not my intention and I will fight like hell to save it first. “

Ellen Almer Durston contributed to Rockford coverage, Ill. Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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