Adam Kinzinger’s lonely mission

WASHINGTON – As the Republican Party censors, condemns and seeks to purge leaders who are not locked in with Donald J. Trump, Adam Kinzinger, the six-member congressman in Illinois, stands as the No. 1 enemy – unwelcome not only in his party but also in his own family, some of whom recently rejected him.

Two days after Kinzinger called for the removal of Mr. Trump from office after the January 6 uprising at the Capitol, 11 members of his family sent him a handwritten letter on two pages saying he was in cahoots with the “devil’s army” in making a public break with the president.

“Oh, what a disappointment you are to us and to God!” they wrote. “You have the embarrassing Kinzinger family name!”

The author of the letter was Karen Otto, Mr. Kinzinger’s cousin, who paid $ 7 to send it by certified mail to Mr. Kinzinger’s father – 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 congressional delegation.

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

A 42-year-old Air National Guard pilot representing a crescent-shaped district along the Chicago suburbs, Mr. Kinzinger is at the forefront of efforts to navigate Trump policy. He is betting on his political career, professional relationship and kinship with a wing of his scattered family that his party’s future lies in rejecting Mr. Trump and the conspiracy theories the former president stoked.

Mr. Kinzinger was one of only three House Republicans who both voted to accuse Mr. Trump and strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia from her committee posts. During the House’s persecution debate, he asked Democrats if he could speak for seven minutes instead of his allotted so he could make a more authoritative and bipartisan argument against the president. the request was denied.

He has taken his case to the national media and has become a ubiquitous figure on cable television, late night HBO programming and podcasts. He started a new political action committee with a six-minute video declaring the need to reformat the Republican Party into something resembling an idealized version of George W. Bush’s party – with an emphasis on lower taxes, Hawkish defense and social conservatism – without the complaints and conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump and his allies have made central to the identity of the party.

To do so, Kinzinger said in an interview, requires that he expose the fear-based tactics he hopes to eradicate 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 in an election cycle or two. The problem is that it really hurts this democracy. ”

Sir. Kinzinger said he was not deterred by the Senate’s failure on Saturday to convict Mr Trump in the prosecution.

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

Sir. Kinzinger now faces the classic challenge of political mavericks aiming to prove their independence: His stubborn and uncompromising nature ranks precisely the Republicans he is trying to recruit for his mission to turn the party around.

His stance on Trump has angered Republican voters in his district, some comparing him to a Democrat, and frustrated Republican officials in Illinois who say he cares more about his own national exposure than his relationship with them.

“There does not appear to be a camera or microphone that he is not running to,” said Larry Smith, president of the La Salle County GOP, who criticized Mr. Kinzinger last month. “He used to talk to us back in the good old days.”

Mr. Kinzinger is unapologetic about his priorities.

“Central and northern Illinois deserve an explanation and deserve my full attention, and they get it,” he said. “But to the extent I can, I also want to focus on the national message because I can turn any heart in central and northern Illinois, and that would not do anything at the whole party. And that’s what I think the huge fight is. ”

Mr. Kinzinger has received praise from Democrats, but he is no idea of ​​a progressive. His campaign page trumpets his longtime opposition to the law on affordable care, and that is him an opponent of abortion rights and increased taxes. He first won his seat in Congress with the support of Sarah Palin.

Raised in a large central Illinois family – his father, who has 32 first cousins, ran food banks and shelter for the homeless in Peoria and Bloomington – Mr. Kinzinger was interested in politics from an early age. Before he turned 10, he predicted he would one day be governor or president, Ms. Otto said, and he won the election to the McLean County Board when he was a 20-year-old sophomore at Illinois State University.

He joined the Air Force after the 9/11 attacks and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After his discharge, he joined the Air National Guard, where he remains lieutenant colonel. In the Republican wave in 2010, Mr. Kinzinger, then 32, a democratically established with almost 15 percentage points and two years later with the support of Eric Cantor, then the House majority, fired another incumbent, 10-year-old Republican Don Manzullo, in a primary subsequent redistribution.

But Mr Kinzinger soon grew tired of a Republican party that he believed was centered around opposition to what President Barack Obama proposed without offering new ideas.

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

Mens Mr. Kinzinger never presented himself as a Trump loyalist, he rarely broke up with the former president for political reasons, but he was critical of him going back to the 2016 campaign when he was a surrogate for Jeb Bush.

Sir. Trump was aware of Kinzinger’s lack of fidelity. At a fundraiser in the Chicago suburbs before the 2016 election, Mr. Trump asked Richard Porter, a member of the Republican National Committee from Illinois, how Mr. Kinzinger would do in his re-election offer. He did not have an opponent, Mr Porter recalled, telling the future president.

Sir. Trump, Mr Porter said, stuck his finger in his chest and asked him to deliver a vulgar message to Mr Kinzinger about what to do with himself. When Mr. Porter forwarded the comment to Mr. Kinzinger during a conversation on election day, Kinzinger laughed and urged Mr. Trump to do the same.

In Illinois, Republicans have struggled to guess what Mr. Kinzinger’s next move may be. In the interview, Mr. Kinzinger that he is unlikely to pursue the nomination of governor or senate in 2022. Right now, he is leaning toward running for re-election, but with redistribution looming this fall, it is unclear how the state’s democratically controlled legislature will reorganize its district. .

What is clear is that Mr. Kinzinger has found himself on the wrong side of popular Republicans at home. John McGlasson, a committee member for Kinzinger’s district, said the congressman had been “insulting with his comments” since Jan. 6.

Republican voters interviewed in the district last week slammed Mr. Kinzinger to turn on Mr. Trump.

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

Mr. Kinzinger predicted that “hangovers” by Mr. Trump’s popularity after accusation “will wear off.”

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner, the last Republican to win a state office in Illinois in 2014, said Mr. Kinzinger could find himself a loss of the bitter schism that divided the party. “The only winners in the war between Trump and Republicans will be Democrats,” Rauner said. “For some voters, character matters. For most, it is not. ”

Sir. Kinzinger said he has no desire to reach out to the top critics of his district’s Republican organizations, with whom he has not spoken for years, saying they have little to do with voters. The letter writers in his family suffer from “brainwashing” from conservative churches that have led them astray.

“I have nothing against them,” he said, “but I have no desire or feel the need to reach out and repair it. It’s 100 percent for them to reach out and repair, and honestly I do not care if they do or not. ”

As for his own future in the party, Mr Kinzinger said that by the end of the summer he will know whether he can remain a Republican in the long run or whether he will be motivated to change his party affiliation if it becomes clear to him, that Hr. Trump’s allies have become a permanent majority.

“The party is sick right now,” he said. “It is one thing if the party accepted different views, but it has become this massive litmus test of everything. So it’s an option down there, but it’s definitely not my intention and I’ll fight like hell to save it first. ”

Ellen Almer Durston contributed reporting from Rockford, Ill. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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