Washington Examiner: Conservative Rep. Kinzinger, abandoned by GOP, still has much to offer

Republicans should start listening more closely to GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. If they get beyond their fury about his admirable insistence on investigating the Capitol riot, they might gain some real wisdom from him.

Kinzinger and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming have been infamously disowned by the Republican National Committee for the sin of serving on the committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol incursion. Still, Kinzinger’s long-term focus is much broader and more constructive than just that.

A year ago, Kinzinger launched an organization called Country First, a member organization and political action committee dedicated to unified, bipartisan reform. Granted, Country First is quite openly heavier on “dialogue,” “collaboration,” and “compromise” than it is on “specific policy prescriptions.” It aims to slay the “toxic tribalism” of so much of modern-day politics in support of a broad center against the “extremes.”

In truth, some subjects aren’t inherently ideological, and Country First identifies some of them. For instance: mental health. Just by focusing on “seeking proven solutions to help Americans talk more openly about mental health, access services, and identify effective programs,” the organization can do some good.

Kinzinger, who turns 44 later this month and whose wife had a newborn son in January, will be stepping down from Congress at the end of this year. But, in a Feb. 17 interview with me, he said he is far from done with engagement in public life.

“I am interested in truly reforming the federal government,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to do and a lot of focus. It needs to be less inefficient, closer to people, more impactful.”

As an example, he said he wonders why the Department of Agriculture needs to be headquartered in Washington, D.C.

“Why can’t it be, for instance, in Iowa?” he asked.

There’s also too much redundancy, he said, with a “mismatch between skills and jobs.” Sounding very much like the late vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, he said: “I think we have to look as the party and as a conservative movement at making sure the kid born in the inner city has the same opportunities as a kid born in the suburbs.”

This is all what one would expect from a thoughtful, issues-oriented Republican. After all, Kinzinger began his congressional career as a conservative darling. He was elected as a county board member when he was a 20-year-old college student; resigned to join the U.S. Air Force; flew missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and did Mexican border security as a member of the Air National Guard.

He also had been credited as a bystander for saving a woman from a knife-wielding assailant whose weapon he wrestled away at risk to his own life. When he ran for Congress in 2010 at age 32, he did so with strong backing from then-Rep. Mike Pence and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“I haven’t changed,” he said. “With rare exception around the edges as I’ve worked on issues in Congress and matured, I believe the same stuff I did the day I first ran.”

While Kinzinger said he is “quite honestly pretty excited to take a break when this term is over” and that no matter what comes next, “I do think history will judge truth-telling very well,” I bet the end of 2022 will mean anything but the end of Kinzinger’s effective public career. Republicans who abandon solid public servants such as Kinzinger do so to their own and the country’s detriment.

The original article and video coverage can be found on the Washington Examiner website here.