Adam Kinzinger was elected to Congress in 2010 to represent a an overwhelmingly white exurban district that encircles Chicago-- from a distance. It starts way up on the Wisconsin border and winds up way down at the Indiana border. Most of the voters live in Winnebago, La Salle, DeKalb (the big blue oasis in a sea of red), Grundy, Ogle and Boone counties, but also includes all or part of Bureau, Lee, Livingston, Will, Iroquis, Ford, Putnam and Stark counties. Except for a one-term interregnum (1991-'93) every congressman has been a Republican since 1917. Although Obama won the district by 2 points in 2008, that was the only time in the new century that it has gone for a Democrat. Last November, Trump beat Biden 56-40%. Kinzinger outpolled and beat his Democratic opponent 64.7-35.3%. Kinzinger has hard a straight conservative voting record, and almost never strays from the party on roll calls. Except now he is engaged in a full-scale, no holds barred war with Señor Donald Trumpanzee, former president.
Or, in the words of CNN's Jeff Zeleny this morning, "Kinzinger wants to save the Republican Party from Donald Trump. His first challenge: Convincing the party it needs to be saved." Kinzinger predicts that if the GOP doesn't move away from Trump it will shrink into a regional party with limited reach that will be unable to seriously "compete on the national stage."
Zeleny, calling him one of "Trump's fiercest critics," says Kinzinger is well-aware he could lose his own seat in the process. part of a bloody internal civil war beginning to shake the Republican Party. In Kinzinger's case, he not only has to worry about a contingent of Trumpist primary challengers-- so far all he's facing is a 27-year old lunatic-fringe crackpot named Catalina Lauf, who, briefly, held a make-work sinecure at the Department of Commerce before running and coming in third in a GOP primary last year in a neighboring district. But more serious opponents are likely.
The first step to rebuilding the Republican Party, he said, is extracting it from the grips of Trump and what he sees as an ideology not rooted in conservatism, but in relentless fear and divisiveness.
"Any time in the history of the party, there have been competing visions-- except for now," Kinzinger said in a hometown interview here at River Hawk Brewing, where patrons seem far more interested in happy hour than talking politics. "It's just been Donald Trump's vision and nobody else has said anything else. We have a right and a responsibility to offer competing visions to Republicans."
The Republican Party is at a crossroads, yet it's still Trump country in this stretch of Illinois, where flags are still spotted waving in support of the former President. More than four months after the election, the Trump signs still on display in some front yards make clear that not all Republicans are searching for a new vision for the party.
Elected to Congress a decade ago with the rise of the Tea Party, Kinzinger is now at odds-- and increasingly out of step-- with the driving movement of his party.
He backed Trump in November, he said, a vote that he began to regret after Trump intensified his false claims that the election was fraudulent. By January 6, when the US Capitol was attacked and Kinzinger was among the members of Congress whose life was threatened, his regret had immensely deepened.
"Knowing what I know now?" Kinsinger said. "If I could go back in time, I wouldn't vote for him."
Of the 17 Republicans who supported impeachment in the House and Senate, Kinzinger stands alone as trying to use that vote as a rallying cry to persuade others to join him in turning the page from the Trump era. He is the face of a new super PAC, Americans Keeping Country First, which his allies formed to help other Republicans stand against Trump in the midterm elections.
So far, his phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook. Yet he insists the journey is not as lonely as it may appear.
The Beltway media has given him and his new anti-Trump SuperPAC lots of ink but... nothing has really taken off in any significant way. Many anti-Trump Republicans and independents feel burned by the Lincoln Project and are keeping their powder dry, at least for now. As for the Democrats, who showered the Lincoln Project with money... Kinzinger's project isn't going to appeal to many of them to begin with.
The Illinois Democrats who control the state legislature will determine what IL-16 looks like-- or if it even exists going forward-- after the census results are final and, as expected, Illinois loses a seat. One thing they're not going to want to do is take Democratic voters out of neighboring IL-17 (Cheri Bustos' swing district) or IL-14 (Lauren Underwood's swing district) in the hope of replacing Kinzinger with a Democrat. IL-01 and IL-02 (respectively Bobby Rush's D+27 district and Robin Kelly's D+29 district) could easily shed Democrats and/or take in Republicans. The Democratic boundary drawers could also decide to dump some of Kinzinger's most rabid GOP voters into the already prohibitively red districts held by Trumpist sociopath Mary Miller (IL-15) or Darin LaHood (18th district). They're not competitive at all and by making them redder and taking some Democrats from IL-01 or IL-02, they could make it a lot harder for Kinzinger to win another term. Or... they could leave Kinzinger alone, a catalyst for very convenient-- at least to Illinois Democrats-- Republican Party civil war.