A major victory for the effort to purge any Republican from the House caucus who’s unwilling to condone Trump’s most repulsive tendencies. Anthony Gonzalez threw in the towel last month. Now Kinzinger, a fellow pro-impeachment Republican but one far more visible in media than Gonzalez, is calling it quits. I doubt all 10 who voted to impeach in January will be gone by 2023 but there’s at least a chance that the next caucus will consist entirely of Trump sycophants, whether of the sincere or pretend variety.
Most are pretend. For instance:
Republican Reps. Ann Wagner (Mo.) and Michael McCaul (Texas) were at an event at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Capitol Hill last Thursday. Standing by the bar, a person in their group asked about redistricting in Missouri and said he hoped Wagner gets a more conservative district to help her win reelection.
Wagner, a center-right Republican, responded skeptically: “Then you get those wacko birds,” she said.
To which McCaul, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “That’s why we had to vote the way we did today!” That day, House Democrats and nine Republicans voted to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for ignoring a Jan. 6 committee subpoena. Wagner and McCaul voted against the contempt effort.
Kinzinger voted for the Bannon contempt resolution, one of just nine Republicans to do so. The courage caucus is shrinking by the day even before anyone has left Congress.
Trump and MAGA got an assist from Illinois Democrats in squeezing Kinzinger into retirement. A few weeks ago it appeared that redistricting in the state would force him into the same district as Democratic freshman Marie Newman. That race was theoretically winnable for him since he has high recognition as an incumbent congressman and the new district would have included many voters who supported ex-Rep. Dan Lipinski, a centrist Dem who was ousted by Newman in a primary last year. If you squinted, you could imagine Kinzinger narrowly winning a GOP primary on grounds that he was the most electable option for the party in the general election and then knocking off Newman with help from Lipinski voters who admired his independence in standing up to Trump.
But surviving a primary would have been unlikely. And after news broke last night that Democrats in the state legislature had revised their redistricting map, it was all but impossible. Instead of landing in Newman’s district, Kinzinger was mapped into one with another Republican congressman, Darin LaHood. The LaHood name is famous in that part of Illinois: LaHood’s father Ray was a congressman for seven terms before serving as Secretary of Transportation. And LaHood has been warmer to Trump than Kinzinger has (a low bar to clear) while keeping a respectful distance. He voted to certify Biden’s victory in January and called for Trump to release his tax returns but he also voted twice against impeachment and supported Texas’s lawsuit to overturn the results in swing states last fall.
Running against LaHood in a primary wouldn’t have been Kinzinger’s first contest against a fellow House Republican. He was redistricted in 2011 and ended up beating colleague Don Manzullo in a primary in 2012. But he’d have little chance this time against a well-known, well-funded incumbent like LaHood now that Republican primaries are little more than litmus tests of loyalty to Trump. I doubt it’s a coincidence that his retirement is being announced just hours after he got the news about his new district.
I wonder if the Democrats who redrew Illinois’s map had Kinzinger’s vulnerability in a primary in mind in deciding where to put him. Some righties laughed when he was initially placed in Newman’s district instead of being given a safe seat: “After all Kinzinger’s done for Democrats, they’re still pushing him out of Congress!” But there was no “safe seat” option for an anti-Trump Republican. If they had drawn a district for him where it’d be easy for a Republican to win, they would have ended up with a hardcore MAGA Republican beating him in the primary and then easily winning the general election. By putting him in a red district with LaHood, they ensured that the worst-case scenario in Kinzinger’s district is LaHood returning to Congress.
Here’s Kinzinger’s farewell video, which he insists isn’t farewell. He’ll go on to do things with his PAC and doubtless will be a mainstay on cable news, which is always hungry for Trump critics on the right. He’s mused about running for statewide office in Illinois in the past but I can’t figure out how he’d win a primary or a general election there. And so now we wait and wonder: Will Liz Cheney follow his and Gonzalez’s lead by giving up on reelection in Wyoming? She has big pre-Trump establishment names in her corner and, I sense, would rather lose than give Trump the satisfaction of seeing her concede that her race is unwinnable. I think she’ll fight on.
Looking forward to the next chapter! pic.twitter.com/SvdFCVtrlE
— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) October 29, 2021