Review: Big Regret by Adam Kinzinger

Gerrymanded out of his district by Democrats, excommunicated from his party by Republicans, the Air Force veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will leave Washington DC in January 2023 after a dozen years in Congress.
Still, it’s remarkable that anyone in public life can honestly admit a mistake — even “shame” — over a public action, as Kinzinger did in an interview this week on my podcast, “The Ax Files.” .

Kinzinger’s political journey from party stalwart to lone critic offers a parable about the powerful tribalism that has gripped Republicans, with dire consequences for the GOP and our democracy.

The cause of Kinzinger’s contrition was not the 2021 vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 uprising, a vote that made him and nine other renegade Republicans pariahs in the party’s congressional ranks.
He also does not regret House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to participate in the congressional committee set up to investigate the January 6 uprising and Trump’s ongoing effort to cancel the 2020 election.
What worries Kinzinger, he says, is that he didn’t vote to impeach the former president the first time he had the chance to impeach him in 2020, when the House impeached Trump for pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Trump’s rival. Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

“You can always look back 12 years and say there are different regrets, different votes. That’s my biggest one,” he says. “It’s hard to take your side. It’s hard to know you’re going to be kicked out of the tribe. And it’s hard to make a decision that will cost you your choice. reason.”

The issue arose as Kinzinger cataloged the damning findings of the Jan. 6 commission, including Trump’s campaign to pressure the Justice Department to report evidence of massive voter fraud, even though it found none.

Trump, he says, “was deeply involved in this. He knew what he was doing. . . . He knew it when he told DOJ officials, “Just say the election was rigged. Look, I don’t need … your DOJ’ to go out and prosecute this for me. All I need to do is put a stamp of corruption on it, and then I and the Republican congressmen will do the rest to undermine democracy.’

I noticed that this account was reminiscent of Trump’s infamous conversation with Zelensky in the summer of 2019, when Trump tried to pressure Zelensky to launch an investigation into Biden and his son over Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine. At the time, Biden was emerging as Trump’s main challenger in the 2020 election, but Zelensky did not accept Trump’s request.

However, Kinzinger voted against impeachment at the time – and accepted a vote to re-elect Trump in 2020.

“Looking back and seeing that pattern that’s there … yes if I could go back in time, I would have voted for it. And I probably wouldn’t have been re-elected for this term.”

So why did he refuse to hold Trump accountable? And why are so few of Kinzinger’s Republican colleagues now united in disowning Trump, even after all the harrowing revelations about his role before, during and after the January 6 uprising and the recent scandal surrounding highly classified documents kept by the former president? Mar-a-Lago?

The answer is fear. But we often make the mistake of thinking that it is just the fear of losing power. Kinzinger, who has spent a lot of time thinking about this since breaking with the House Republican Caucus over Trump, says it goes back to primal instincts around tribe and identity.

“Tribalism is deeply rooted,” he explained. “I think that’s part of the reason why some of the chiefs here…are so quiet. I think in many cases, people are afraid, more than they’re afraid of death, they’re afraid of being kicked out of their tribe… Suddenly the people you love come to you when they lose respect or basically divorce you over text messages or whatever, it’s a terrible feeling. I’ve been through it.”

But when fear-mongers remain silent, or tacitly embrace conspiracy theories, they only reinforce them, creating a vicious feedback loop of misinformation. That is the reality of today’s Republican Party.

“You know, if you watch Fox News and Fox News who say the election was stolen and every person who trusts Republican politics say the election was stolen,” the outsiders are the ones who are challenging the narrative. It’s one reason why a majority of Republicans still see Biden’s election as illegitimate, he says.

Kinzinger will soon be out of office, but his “recovery” from politics may not last.

Country First PAC, which he founded last year, has been active this first season, targeting Republicans who are denied re-election in contests across the country. He’s vowing to keep fighting this fall, even supporting Democrats in races against Republicans who have denied the results of the 2020 election.

Trump’s influence on the Republican Party is so great, Kinzinger says, that if the former president were to run, he would be the candidate in 2024 — “even if he’s impeached, for good.”

Some have urged Kinzinger to run for president as an independent, but he says — correctly, in my opinion — that running in 2024 would likely take away more Democratic votes. “I think it re-elects Donald Trump.”

But Kinzinger, who is only 44, hinted at his long-term project: to break the monopoly of the two major parties and create a third party that can unite voters from the center left and right.

“I think we’re so divided that another party would be beneficial,” he says.

“If you look at 28 or 32 and really start to do the process of how to lower the barriers to entry?… Those are the people who are interested in working outside of the two-party system that should be working now.”