Report: GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger nearly ran as an independent, "literally to save the union"

Here’s an insight, I guess, into whether conservatives who are trying to recruit an independent candidate on the right really are in it to win it or are just looking for a spoiler to damage Trump. Kinzinger’s a veteran but he’s all of 38 years old, with less than six years’ experience as a legislator. His national name recognition must be close to absolute zero. He was also a Jeb Bush supporter in the primary, an unusual fit given Kinzinger’s youth and the rap on Jeb as a Republican who was no longer in touch with his party. Running a Jeb surrogate in the general election in hopes of attracting a contingent of conservative ideologues who were anti-Bush in the primary is an … interesting strategy.

But if all you’re trying to do is sink Trump by giving anti-Trump righties a “mainstream” outlet for a protest vote, then yeah, Kinzinger — or pretty much any other Republican official at any level — will do. I can only assume that’s what CNN’s source had in mind with the bombastic reference here to saving the union. Maybe the #NeverTrump recruiters have concluded that Trump is an existential threat to American stability and that handing the election to the crooked yet predictable Democrat is a patriotic duty.

Their continued work to halt Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, comes as Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a prominent GOP congressman from Illinois and Iraq War veteran, has decided to pass on an independent bid.

Adam Kinzinger, 38 and in his third House term, would have considered mounting an independent bid had the barriers to an independent run not been so daunting…

Kinzinger, previously a prominent surrogate for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would have undertaken a third party run “literally to save the union,” according to a source familiar with his thinking, because both Clinton and Trump scare him. But Kinzinger does not think the infrastructure exists to get on the ballot in a number of states at this relatively late date.

Arguably, unless the recruiters for an independent challenger can get a truly big name on the order of Romney, Gary Johnson would be a better vehicle for damaging Trump than Kinzinger or some similar Republican backbencher would. The fact that Kinzinger’s a conventional GOP politician would turn some people off; the fact that he’s a centrist and a Bush fan would turn off anti-Trumpers who are in an anti-establishment mood; and he’d lack the media buzz Johnson currently enjoys as a true third-party candidate whose party might make a historically strong showing this fall. If all you’re looking for is a right-wing protest vehicle to draw votes from Trump, a libertarian preaching smaller government fills the niche just fine. The only big risk that Johnson presents which a partisan like Kinzinger might not is that he could draw votes from disgruntled anti-Hillary liberals too. That’s an upside for Johnson himself, of course, but if you’re a diehard anti-Trumper whose first task is keeping Trump out of the White House then Johnson, by taking Democratic votes too, arguably does less to achieve that than someone like Kinzinger would. It would all depend, of course, on how many more votes Johnson might end up with than a conventional Republican independent would and what the partisan split among those votes would be.

As for that “truly big name on the order of Romney,” Team Mitt continues to insist that it won’t be Romney himself. A source close to him told CNN when asked if he’s rethinking his decision not to run, “No, no, no, no, no. I promise you. No.” So, that’s that.

Exit question: What if Jeb Bush ran as an independent to spite Trump? All of the criticisms of Kinzinger’s candidacy would still apply, but Jeb is a much bigger name thanks to his national run this year and, as Trump’s chief antagonist in the primaries, he might get a sympathetic new look from anti-Trump Republicans who opposed him this past spring. If you’re going to run a Jeb guy, you might as well go all-in and run Jeb himself. Force conservatives who don’t like either of them (like me) to choose: When the alternative is a mercurial populist strongman with a bumper-sticker grasp of policy, is a wonky dynastic establishmentarian squish really the worst the GOP can do? Hmmmm.