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