In the space of a single three-and-a-half-minute video posted earlier this week, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger offered a complete – and compelling – vision of what the Republican Party (and politics more generally) could be.
Titled “Opportunity,” the video features Kinzinger, one of just 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his conduct before, during and after the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, making the case that while politics is broken – and many people believe the American Dream is dead (or dying) – that there is plenty of reason for optimism.
And that the path forward is centered around an honest conversation about inequality of opportunity in America and a politics that veers away from the performative and backward-looking politics of Trump.
“If we’re honest, do we really believe kids born in the inner city or rural town or well-off suburbs all have the same opportunity?” Kinzinger asks at the start of the video. “It sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes.”
His solution? Change politics from a zero-sum partisan war to a solutions-based effort in which party takes a backseat.
Here’s the most compelling bit from Kinzinger:
“Our politics doesn’t reward finding solutions. It rewards blaming the other side, … scoring political points and constant fundraising through fear and division. Our leaders have failed to solve problems that most reasonable Americans can agree on because party leaders on both sides care more about winning elections than solving problems.”
(As Kinzinger says that last line, video of Trump dancing during a campaign rally and Speaker Nancy Pelosi tearing up Trump’s State of the Union speech are shown on screen.)
While Kinzinger is careful to emphasize that both sides are to blame for our current political problems, it’s quite clear that he is more focused on what’s wrong with his party.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend the future isn’t coming,” Kinzinger says at one point, a clear shot at the backward-looking “vision” of Trump and his allies. At another, he emphasizes the need for “access to the Internet and factual information.” (Bolding is mine)
And the video itself was in support of Kinzinger’s “Country First” leadership PAC, itself a rebuke of Trump’s “America First” slogan.
Here’s the thing: There’s a 0% chance that the current version of the Republican Party sees Kinzinger’s video and pivots itself a way from nihilistic overtones of Trumpism to a more forward-looking focus on opportunity. Like, none.
In fact, Kinzinger’s willingness to speak out against Trump has already negatively affected his political future within the GOP. Catalina Lauf, who ran and lost a primary in a different district in 2020, has already announced her plan to challenge Kinzinger in next year’s primary. “Fake Republican Adam Kinzinger won’t put AMERICA FIRST— I will,” Lauf said in a tweet announcing her candidacy.
Kinzinger, in an interview with CNN’s Jeff Zeleny last month, was sanguine about his future. “Even if I don’t survive long in this job, the reality is, I will have been part of history,” Kinzinger said. “Like in warfare, until you’re willing to put your life on the line – when you’re willing to put your job on the line, then you’re free.” (Kinzinger was an Air Force pilot and still serves in the Air National Guard.)
Reading that quote and watching Kinzinger’s latest “Country First” video, I couldn’t help but think that he sounds like someone with his eye on a bigger prize than just reelection to the House. Like, say, a third-party bid for president in 2024?