The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Shame of Adam Kinzinger

Posted on | December 23, 2022 | 1 Comment

Last week, Tucker Carlson bid a mocking farewell to Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger who, like Liz Cheney and many others, wrecked his career by succumbing to Trump Derangement Syndrome. As much as I enjoyed Carlson’s mockery — and as much as Kinzinger deserved to be mocked as a “male menopause” sufferer — it does not fully explain what happened to Kinzinger, and mockery will not prevent others from emulating such errors in the future. A “teachable moment” was missed.

Begin with this: You and I are different from those who harbor political ambitions. For most of us, political parties are a matter of choosing between two different policy agendas; we may not like everything that our party does, but in general we think our party represents our interests and ideals better than the other party does. In point of fact, most conservatives are more or less permanently exasperated with Republican politicians, who seem like a gang of bumbling clowns, cowards and knaves. But then we look at the Democrats, who are even worse, and figure we’ve got no other choice. Republican voters are like fans of a lousy NFL franchise — the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions, for example — who suffer endless disappointment, but nevertheless continue showing up at the stadium and rooting for the home team.

Most of my readers have been voting Republican all your adult lives, and don’t ever expect to stop voting Republican, no matter how futile and frustrating your experience may be. You are a loyalist, and consider it a duty to vote for the GOP, and that’s why people like Adam Kinzinger piss you off so much. If you can be loyal to the team, despite so many years of disappointment and frustration, why can’t Republicans like Kinzinger reciprocate your loyalty? Why can’t they be “team players”?

Ah, but politicians are different from you and me. For them, a political party is a machine by which to advance their own ambitions. And while they speak with apparent sincerity of their “principles,” it should be observed that these are difficult to distinguish from their career interests. Once upon a time, in the earliest era of our Republic, political careers were not particularly lucrative, and our legislatures were not occupied by careerists without any other employment opportunities. Being a state legislator or even a congressman or U.S. Senator, was not a full-time job, and these seats tended to be filled by wealthy landowners or prosperous lawyers, for whom serving a few years as a legislator was a sort of social obligation, as leading citizens of their communities.

As politics has become a full-time career, however, the character of our legislative representatives has changed, and thus we have such personalities as Adam Kinzinger, a former wunderkind who first got elected to Congress during the Tea Party year of 2010 and thus instantly became part of the governing GOP majority in the House of Representatives, when he was still just 32 years old. Republicans won a landslide in 2010, gaining a net 63 seats for a 242-193 majority, with John Boehner replacing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Kinzinger had first won office as a county commissioner while a 20-year-old college student and then amid the patriotic fervor of the “War on Terror” in 2003, joined the Air Force, becoming a pilot flying aerial refueling planes. Endorsed by Tea Party darling Sarah Palin, Kinzinger easily won the 2010 GOP primary in the 11th District of Illinois, then won the general election by a 15-point margin. He was a young superstar.

Alas, things immediately started going downhill for the GOP, as Mitt Romney won the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and thus helped reelect Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Kinzinger got redistricted. As recently as 1990, Illinois had 22 House seats, but they lost two seats after the 1990 Census, and have lost one seat in every subsequent census, so that when Congress convenes next January, Illinois will have only 17 representatives in the House. When Kinzinger was first elected in 2010, Illinois had 19 congressional districts, but in the next election, that number shrunk to 18 and, in the ensuing game of “musical chairs,” Kinzinger ran in the 16th District, defeating fellow Republican Rep. Don Mazullo in the 2012 primary, then cruising to a 62%-38% win in November. So far, so good for Kinzinger, but in the aftermath of Obama’s reelection, Boehner went sideways in budget negotiations with the White House, pissing off the fiscal conservative Club for Growth.

Kinzinger had supported Boehner’s deal with Obama and, subsequently was faced with a Club for Growth-backed challenger in the 2014 GOP primary. Kinzinger had no trouble fighting off that challenge and was reelected, but this seems to have been the pivotal episode that turned Kinzinger — originally elected amid a populist Tea Party surge — into an enemy of conservatives. After all, self-declared conservatives had tried to prevent his reelection and this threat to his personal ambition was intolerable to Kinzinger: How dare they oppose him?

Things then went bad to worse. As the Republican field began assembling for the 2016 presidential campaign, Adam Kinzinger endorsed . . .

Go ahead, take a wild guess.

Betcha can’t guess, but give it a try.

I’ll wait.

If you guessed Jeb Bush, you’re a winner!

Was there ever any campaign more obviously doomed from the outset than the 2016 Jeb Bush campaign? America had gotten thoroughly sick of Bushism, and Jeb’s performance in the GOP primary campaign was a sort of asterisk in the final result. Jeb got less than 3% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses, getting exactly one delegate of the 30 chosen. In New Hampshire, Jeb got a whopping 11% and three delegates out of 23. Then came South Carolina, a winner-take-all primary where Jeb got less than 8% of the vote and then quit the race, at which point Kinzinger jumped ship to endorse Marco Rubio, but it was already too late to stop the Trump juggernaut. With the benefit of hindsight, everyone has since realized what I foresaw from the beginning: There were too many candidates vying to be the anti-Trump in that crowded primary field. If you go back to the New Hampshire primary, you see that the combined votes of the three “moderates” — Jeb (11%), John Kasich (16%) and Chris Christie (7%) — were nearly equal to the 35% that Trump got in New Hampshire. If the RINO Caucus had been able to coalesce behind one candidate, they might have stopped Trump, but the selfish ambition of these three candidates prevented that from happening. Likewise with the two “Conservative But Not Trump” candidates, Rubio and Ted Cruz. If one or the other had been willing to drop out early, perhaps their combined support would have exceeded Trump’s, but individual ambition prevented that, too. And, in that crisis of the Republican Party, you see, Kinzinger was always endorsing the wrong candidates.

Me, I’m a team player.

From the moment Trump came down that escalator, I realized he was going to be hard to beat and, a few weeks later, I got a call from my buddy Pete the Tech Guy, who was covering Trump’s first big rally in New Hampshire: “Stacy, this Trump thing is for real.” It was a genuine grassroots phenomenon, and when National Review subsequently published its “Never Trump” issue, I became concerned about a potential nightmare scenario: If the GOP Establishment somehow contrived a way to prevent Trump from getting the nomination, Trump might go third-party, and thus ensure Hillary’s election. We were, in a way, caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Trump was able to energize a segment of the electorate that had long felt neglected, and with this energized grassroots base, he ultimately overcame every obstacle, including the opposition of GOP Establishment types like Kinzinger, and thus saved America from the worst of all evils, President Hillary Clinton.

Being a team player, it was easy to see it this way, and the problem for Kinzinger and so many others is that they let their own ambitions blind them to the reality of what this choice meant. Whatever you think of Trump, there could be nothing worse for America than putting Hillary Clinton in the White House. We just barely avoided that apocalyptic catastrophe and, as bad as the subsequent imposition of Joe Biden has been, I’m sure it would have been much worse if Hillary had won in 2016 — but Kinzinger doesn’t seem to grasp this.

Something else Kinzinger doesn’t get: Congressmen are supposed to represent their constituents. In 2016, Donald Trump won the 16th District of Illinois by 17 points, with 55% to Hillary Clinton’s 38%. In 2020, the voters of the 16th District chose Trump by a 16-point margin, 56% to Biden’s 40%. In other words, the district that sent Adam Kinzinger to Congress voted for Donald Trump twice, by overwhelming margins, and you might think this would oblige Kinzinger to defend the man his constituents embraced, rather than to constantly attack Trump.

Who is it, really, that is the threat to democracy?

Why do Republicans like Kinzinger hate their own constituents?

This is what’s really wrong with the Republican Party, that so many politicians elected by the party apparently don’t feel any obligation to reciprocate the loyalty of GOP voters. If you are elected as a Republican, you ought to be enough of a team player that you don’t do what Adam Kinzinger has done, directly insulting his own party’s voters.

Fortunately for Republicans — not just in Illinois, but everywhere — the Census took care of our Adam Kinzinger problem. After the 2020 Census, Illinois again lost another House seat, and after the subsequent redistricting, Kinzinger would have had to face off against another Republican, Rep. Darin LaHood, in a very conservative district. Kinzinger decided to retire instead, and nobody — absolutely nobody — in the Republican Party will miss that selfish bastard. Good riddance.

Let this be a warning to all Republican politicians. Never forget that you are a representative of the people who elected you. If you had not first won a Republican primary, you never would have been a candidate in the general election, so that party loyalty is a prerequisite to success in politics. While philosophers may speculate on the existence and nature of a generalized public interest in political affairs, no speculative theory is necessary to understand the symbiotic connection between a politician’s success and the strength of his party in the community that elects him. That is to say, while a congressman or senator indeed is elected to represent all his constituents, he must always keep in mind what his own party’s grassroots voters want, in terms of his policy agenda. You may be able to fool voters to some extent for a while, but in the long run, politicians who don’t understand the reciprocal nature of party loyalty are doomed to destruction. If you cannot in good conscience represent your own party’s grassroots voters, honor requires you either to quit your office or to switch parties. What Adam Kinzinger has done is dishonorable, and he can posture all he wants as a Courageous Man of Principle, but he’ll have to do so somewhere else besides Congress, because the voters of his district rightly hate him.

Kinzinger betrayed the people who elected him, and ought to be ashamed of himself, but if he had any capacity for shame, I guess he never would have endorsed that loser Jeb Bush, would he?



One Response to “The Shame of Adam Kinzinger”

  1. Weekend Politics/News/Opinion links - The DaleyGator
    December 23rd, 2022 @ 5:54 pm

    […] The Other McCain leads off by mocking serial weeper Adam Kinzinger […]