Mr. Kinzinger Leaves Washington

Republican Adam Kinzinger's last day as a member of Congress was Thursday, and he delivered a final House floor speech where he denounced his party's madcap descent into fascism. Republicans have "embraced lies and deceit," he said. "Where Republicans once believed that limited government meant lower taxes and more autonomy, today limited government means inciting violence against government officials."

(You can and should watch Kinzinger's full speech below.)


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"The Republican Party used to believe in a big tent which welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free," he said. "Now, we shelter the ignorant, the racist, who only stoke anger and hatred to those who are different than us."

Kinzinger's vision of the Republican Party is Aaron Sorkin-scripted and likely never existed. Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 campaign with a "states' rights" speech just seven miles from where three Civil Rights activists were kidnapped and murdered in 1964. He promoted racist tropes about "welfare queens" to justify gutting social programs. Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene very much existed in the Reagan era, but old Ronnie never gave them a reason to complain.

Although former Republicans Bill Kristol and David Frum were never-Trumpers from the word "go," even supporting Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden against Donald Trump, Kinzinger is a newer recruit. In 2017, he said he liked what he was seeing from the administration and was happy with Trump's "actions" if not his "words." The Trump administration's actions were always a horror show, but Republicans like Kinzinger hoped Trump would maintain the superficially benign Reagan/Bush/Bush-era facade.

Then came January 6.

Yes, Kinzinger is a newer recruit to the anti-MAGA movement, but complaining that he didn't wear a "I'm With Her" button in 2016 misses the larger point. Few never-Trumpers were actual elected Republicans who had to face their Frankenstein's monster base. When Trump sicced his MAGA mob on the Capitol, Kinzinger and Liz Cheney were among a shocking minority of Republicans who dared hold the insurrectionist-in-chief accountable. A whopping 139 Republicans voted in the House to reject Joe Biden's Electoral College victory (on zero legal grounds), while just 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Trump for inciting an attack against a co-equal branch of government.

Not all those Republicans were overtly awful like Greene, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, or Lauren Boebert. Many of them still present themselves as reasonable legislators, but they all sold out democracy when it mattered most, either out of cowardice or craven opportunism.

Kinzinger and Cheney both paid a high price for (finally) doing the right thing, but I disagree with Kinzinger when he suggests that Democrats share the blame for government's dysfunction.

"To my Democratic colleagues, you must too bear the burden of our failures. Many of you have asked me: where are all the good Republicans?" he said. "Over the past two years, Democratic leadership had the opportunity to stand above the fray. Instead, they poured millions of dollars into the campaigns of MAGA Republicans, the same candidates [President Joe] Biden called a national security threat, to ensure these good Republicans did not make it out of their respective primaries. This is no longer politics as usual. This is not a game."

I'd questioned this strategy during the primaries, especially when I feared a Red Wave that would sweep into office even the most extreme candidates. However, Democrats' gambit worked. Those candidates lost. Democrats also aren't why Liz Cheney lost her primary or Kinzinger retired rather than face certain defeat in his. The Republican base is hungry for extremists. It's what those voters want.

There's also zero evidence that if these "good" Republicans had won their primaries and prevailed in the general election they would have actually stood up to the QAnon sedition caucus. Rep-elect Mike Lawler, who toppled Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Sean Patrick Maloney, and Anthony D'Esposito from New York, for example, claim they'll work across the aisle, even with prominent progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yet, they haven't refused to support Kevin McCarthy's speakership bid, even though McCarthy is openly in the pocket of Trump and Greene.

As Reagan once said (or at least read out loud), "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave." If Democrats hadn't gone hard against Kinzinger's "good" Republicans, Shadow Speaker Greene would have an even larger majority. When 139 out of 213 Republicans vote to overturn a presidential election, the few so-called "good" Republicans are merely a rounding error, not a viable coalition.

[Chicago Sun Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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