Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, recently retired from Congress, became media-famous for his loud and proud opposition to President Donald Trump, and then later for serving as a Republican member of the House’s January 6 Committee — handpicked by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He’s the liberal media’s ideal “Republican,” one who votes Democrat and urges you too as well.
Now he’s making those familiar, friendly media rounds promoting his book Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country. The latest outlet to access his anti-Republican talking points is tax-funded PBS. On Wednesday’s edition of the PBS NewsHour, host Geoff Bennett’s questions to Kinzinger betrayed no journalistic skepticism that the former Republican congressmen is indeed a brave “renegade” and Trump supporters are dangerous extremists.
The host asked him point blank if he was still a Republican.
Bennett painted the GOP not just as corrupt but ideologically extreme.
They talked about Kinzinger’s initial reluctance to serve on the January 6 Committee, then had a chuckle over an anecdote about she-who-must-be-obeyed, Nancy Pelosi, complete with still shots of a powerful Pelosi at the podium.
Bennett then segued into more personal sympathy, recalling a story from the book in which a cousin accused Kinzinger of treason.
These anti-Republican talking points were brought to you in part by BNSF Railway.
7:24:59 p.m. (ET)
Geoff Bennett: Former Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger was first elected to Congress back in 2010.
And in the 12 years he served in the House, he had a front-row seat to the changes within the Republican Party. His personal evolution, as well as the GOP’s, is the focus of his new book, “Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country.”
And Adam Kinzinger joins us now. Thank you for being with us.
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL): You bet. Good to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Geoff Bennett: And you are now one of the most prominent Republican critics of Donald Trump and Trumpism.
But what strikes me is that, in the book, you write that you felt some responsibility for January 6 and the rise of extremism within the Republican Party. In what ways?
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Yes, I mean, look, I think it’s important.
If you just walk out and write something and you’re trying to kind of use it as a warning, which is what I wanted this book to be, kind of a road map and a warning of what’s wrong with America, I don’t think it serves any point to say, like, and I didn’t — and I played a perfect role in all of this.
It’s important to acknowledge your own mistakes. And I look at, maybe not with Donald Trump himself, in terms of enabling him, although I voted against the first impeachment, which I shouldn’t have. And I recognize those things.
But there have been times when the Republican Party, in its kind of early phases of this, like, nationalism or populism, played with fire and let that fire get out of control. And I was more than happy to take the benefits of it sometimes, which is good fund-raising numbers, and keep my head down when I think it was getting out of control.
So it’s important to recognize that, not as a — but so that people can also have a way out if they find themselves as somebody that kind of helped enable Trump or enable where we are at some point as well.
Geoff Bennett: You also concede that there was a bit of political calculation in being the first to come out so forcefully against Donald Trump.
And you write:
“In the beginning, I thought there’s no way this is going to last, no way it’s just going to be just me.”
And yet this, for you, has been a lonely fight. Why?
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Because I think there’s a lot of cowardice. And I guess I don’t mean that as just a pejorative attack for no reason, just to be mean.
It’s like, it’s truly people, I think, fear — more than they fear death, they fear being kicked out of a tribe, and they fear losing an identity. And if you stand up against somebody like Donald Trump, and you violate this, like, intense feeling of a party, you’re going to lose both. You’re going to lose your identity as a member of Congress.
Some people just love carrying that around. And you’re going to be kicked out of a Republican tribe. And, as we know, that tribal alliance, so that affiliation, carries now not just into your political job, but the friends you have, the church you go to and everything else.
And I think there are people that were hoping I would succeed and hoping Liz Cheney would succeed, but they just didn’t want to be on the front lines of that. And, unfortunately — you know, I’m happy to have done it. I have no regrets in standing up, and that’s why I continue to do it.
But it needed to be more than just me and Liz Cheney, because, unfortunately, there’s too many people that just continue to say that Donald Trump did nothing wrong.
Geoff Bennett: You said that you would vote for Joe Biden in 2024 if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. Do you still consider yourself to be a Republican?
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: I do, because I’m not willing to give up the title yet, because I haven’t changed.
I mean, look, I’m kind of generally, with the exception of how some things change with age and you mature a little bit, generally the — have the same belief system I always have. And I think somebody’s got to fight for the GOP.
This country has two political parties. One is very sick right now. We can have — one healthy party can keep democracy going for a little bit, but you ultimately have to get back to two. And we need people to stay in and fight for the Republican Party. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to hold my nose and vote for people that I know are anti-constitutional, like the GOP.
I voted Democratic last election cycle, and I consider there to be one issue on the ballot in 2024, is, do you believe in democracy or not? Because, without a democracy, none of these issues matter, because we’re not going to be able to even have a different discussion about things.
Geoff Bennett: Well, at the moment, Donald Trump is polling higher than all of his rivals combined, even with the impeachments and indictments, and, in the House, after a protracted and bitter battle elevated an ultra-conservative, Trump-aligned member to serve as House speaker.
Is there a path back to moderation for the GOP? And is that something the party even wants?
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Well, I don’t know if the party wants it.
There is a path. That path is either going to be through a bunch of lost elections, or it’s going to be through an awakening of some sort. But I don’t necessarily see how an awakening would happen, but they do. It has happened before in history.
So, yes, I think there’s a possibility, but it’s just we’re not at that moment now.
Geoff Bennett: Let’s talk about your service on the January 6 Committee, because you were reluctant, I think it’s fair to say, resistant initially to serve on that committee. Why?
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: I didn’t want to do it, because I knew it would be life-changing. I knew that it would put my family at risk. It would put my life at risk, because I knew how angry everybody was, and how serious, life and death, they see politics at this moment.
But I knew I couldn’t say no, because I have a young son. He’s 2 years old now. And I knew that, someday, when I’m sitting him down, talking to him about morals, and telling him to do the right thing, even when it’s hard, if I didn’t do the right thing when it’s hard, I would have no moral authority to tell him that.
Geoff Bennett: I know, from having spoken with you previously, about how you learned of your committee assignment. I wonder if you can share that story.
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Yes, so I kind of had a suspicion once Kevin McCarthy pulled all the Republican — other Republican members from the committee that I might be asked.
And so I talked to Jamie Raskin, who asked me, and others, if I would be willing to serve on the committee. And I said: “Look, I don’t want to do it, but I can’t say no. I mean, I — that’s where I’m at.”And I wake up one morning and I found out on a Sunday show that Nancy Pelosi had announced me as a new member of the committee, and then proceeded to call me and ask me. So I didn’t have much of a choice.
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Thankfully, I’d made the decision to do it anyway, but you kind of see how Nancy Pelosi works after a time like that.
Geoff Bennett: Well, on a serious note, though, you write about the criticism that you received after serving on that committee, including a letter you got from a cousin of yours, who accused you of treason, a word which, for you, has deeper resonance, given your military experience and your public service.
How did that criticism affect you?
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: So, it’s funny.
In the last 10 months, when I got out of Congress, I really started to understand the impact that things like that had on me, because, when you’re in the middle of it, you’re just operating, right? You’re just acting. But I think to pretend like it didn’t have an impact would be dishonest.
And my whole goal in this book and everything else is to give people an honest look at my public service, the kind of sacrifice that public service generally has, and the impact that people’s words have.
Geoff Bennett: The book is “Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country.” Its author is Adam Kinzinger. Thanks so much for your time.
Fmr. Rep. Adam Kinzinger: You bet. Thank you.