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Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., has been the most outspoken Republican critic of former President Trump over the past few months because he believes that in the modern political age, open confrontation is the primary way political parties are steered in one direction or another.
“I think if you put any leader today, with the exception of a few, on a lie detector and said, ‘Do you want Trump here or not?’ They'd all say, ‘No, we’re done with him.’ But the problem is they’re waiting for this organic movement to throw the president out,” Kinzinger said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.
“The problem is that’s not going to happen because nobody is presenting a counter-view,” he said. “So I am intentionally being more public and loud, not because I want to be known or anything like that, but because nobody else is.”
A few Republican officeholders have taken a public stand against Trump. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., joined Kinzinger and eight other House Republicans in voting to impeach Trump a week after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of the then president’s supporters. While Cheney has mostly kept a lower profile since that vote, she gave a fiery speech Tuesday in which she said that “we will right the unforgivable wrongs of Jan. 6.” And on Wednesday, to the great discomfort of the Trump-supporting Republican leaders she was standing next to, she said Trump should not be “playing a role in the future of the party or the country."
In the Senate, meanwhile, Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have all been openly critical of Trump. They and four other Senate Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting to convict him in the impeachment trial.
But Kinzinger has been relentless, especially since the election, in advocating that Republicans tell voters the truth rather than shield themselves from the anger that comes their way when they expose Trump’s lies about a stolen election.
Kinzinger’s media saturation strategy is based on his understanding of two main factors that shape the way power and influence are accumulated and exercised in modern politics. The first is that political parties have lost most of their power over the last two decades, and the second is that the vacuum has been filled by outside money and the attention economy that is driven by social media.
“Parties have no more influence and control,” Kinzinger said, pointing directly to the shift of political donations away from political parties and into the realm of dark money after the 2002 McCain-Feingold law and the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. “When people talk about the establishment, that doesn’t exist anymore. A party has become basically another venue for commercials, basically.”
Trump’s own march to the Republican nomination in 2016 showed this to be true, considering that almost no one in the party wanted him as their nominee and yet the party could not act collectively to unite behind an alternative who appealed to the 60 or 70 percent of GOP voters who voted against Trump in most of the primary elections.
And so in this Wild West environment, most elected officials don’t have the stomach for the kind of unceasing battle required to try to turn the party in a different direction. Kinzinger, by contrast, clearly does, even though the 42-year-old Air National Guard pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan said it has “not been fun.”
He has been censured by Republicans in his home state, been publicly maligned by members of his extended family and received death threats.
“But every day I’m committed to doubling down on it because somebody needs to hear the alternative message, which is [that] even Democrats want a healthy Republican Party, and we are very sick at the moment,” he said.
Kinzinger, who was first elected to Congress in 2010, said he is not backing off his plan to support primary challenges to Trumpist Republicans in Congress. “I think we have to be willing to say, if there's somebody peddling fear in the caucus, we’re going to go after him,” he said. “If you look at whether it's the America First PAC or the Trump people, they’re doing the same thing.”
“We’re getting all the structure set down and cemented because there’s a lot of legal structures to go forward on. We’re making real serious progress on that,” Kinzinger said of the strategy going forward. “I think we’re going to be in the next stage here fairly soon, which we’ll announce.”
Kinzinger has previously singled out Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., as two Republicans he might want to see defeated in a primary election, prompting Gaetz to issue a profanity-laced tweet in response.
Kinzinger’s most essential objection to Trumpism is that he believes the former president has fully immersed the Republican Party in a politics motivated by fear and self-preservation rather than optimism and selflessness.
That criticism, Kinzinger said, is grounded in his Christian faith. He referred to a passage of the Bible in which God’s followers have violated one of the fundamental commandments: to put no one or thing above him in their hearts.
“I love this country and I would die for this country, but the flag has become an idol. The country has become an idol,” Kinzinger said.
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