Acknowledging his potential career options and timeline for the first time since announcing his retirement from the House last week, Kinzinger told CNN he is considering at least a statewide run if not a presidential one, and that he’ll “probably” make his decision on whether to launch a bid for governor or senator by January.
“The key is, how do we restore the honor of the party in the country?” Kinzinger told CNN, adding that he “definitely” wouldn’t rule out a White House run in 2024.
A presidential bid would be a long shot for the Illinois Republican, who voted to impeach Trump and has become one of the most vociferous critics of the former President and his own party.
But a statewide race in Illinois could be just as much of an uphill climb. In either primary, Kinzinger would have to win over a base that is still very much beholden to Trump. In a general election, he’d be running in a fairly blue state, where few Republicans have won statewide races in the past decade or so, including former Gov. Bruce Rauner and former Sen. Mark Kirk.
“It would be very hard. If you’re a Republican here in our state, it’s not easy unless you embrace Trump. So that’s question number one,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat. “And question number two is, do you embrace a lot of the policies that are popular in Illinois?”
“So I’m not sure what the path is,” he added.
Still, Kinzinger is keeping his options open as he contemplates his next move. Most immediately, he has the opportunity to run statewide in 2022, with Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats, up for reelection.
Kinzinger said one of those paths is more appealing to him than the other, though he declined to name which one. But his retirement announcement offers one potential clue, with Kinzinger saying in the video that he feels like now is the time to move on from “Congress.”
The 43-year-old former Air Force pilot is also keeping the door open to a presidential bid, telling CNN: “I never rule anything out.”
At odds with leaders in his own party
While Kinzinger has earned accolades from across the Democratic party for his willingness to stand up to Trump, he’s made his fair share of enemies inside the House GOP conference — especially after agreeing to serve on the select committee investigating January 6 and remaining an outspoken voice on Twitter and in media.
And with Kinzinger positioning himself as a prominent Trump foil as he eyes a bid for higher office, some of his Republican colleagues couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Kinzinger on his way out of the House.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, when pressed for his reaction to Kinzinger’s retirement, revealed to CNN that Kinzinger was lobbying to serve as Trump’s Air Force secretary in 2019 and even asked McCarthy to “put a word in for him” with the then-President.
“During the Trump administration, no one called me more for a job,” McCarthy, a top Trump ally, told CNN.
Kinzinger, who came to Congress amid the 2010 tea party wave, was once a member of the House GOP’s “Young Guns” class of promising new recruits, a program that is now helmed by McCarthy — the original Young Gun.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York — who took over as House GOP conference chair after Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was kicked out of Republican leadership for calling out Trump’s election falsehoods — was more circumspect when asked about Kinzinger’s political prospects in the party.
“That’s Adam’s decision,” Stefanik said. “Ultimately, we’re held accountable by the voters we represent in our district.”
McCarthy and GOP leaders have resisted calls from their right flank to remove Kinzinger and Cheney from the House GOP conference. Both defied their party’s leadership by not only validating and participating in the select committee, but also in calling for a complete investigation into the January 6 insurrection.
But the thinking among Republican leadership was that Cheney and Kinzinger did enough political damage on their own, and would ultimately be forced out of Congress through a primary challenge or just decide to call it quits.
Following Kinzinger’s retirement announcement last week, Trump — who has embarked on a revenge campaign to unseat the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him — was quick to take a victory lap.
“2 down, 8 to go!” Trump said in a statement from his leadership PAC.
‘This isn’t the end of my political future’
Kinzinger became the second Republican to announce his retirement after voting to impeach Trump for inciting a deadly attack on the Capitol. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio was the first, which prompted Kinzinger to lament at the time that the Trump wing of the party was winning the battle for the soul of the party.
But unlike Gonzalez, Kinzinger had made clear he’s not running away from the political arena: “This isn’t the end of my political future, but the beginning,” he said in his retirement announcement video.
Kinzinger has said that his decision to leave the House, at least in part, was based on the reshaping of congressional districts. Because of Illinois redistricting after the 2020 census, GOP Rep. Darin LaHood and Kinzinger’s districts would get combined, according to an updated map released last week. If that were the case, LaHood and Kinzinger would have had to run in the same June 2022 Republican primary.
Veteran Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, another Republican who voted to remove Trump from office, is similarly waiting to see his new district lines before making a decision about his future.
Upton heaped praise on Kinzinger and told CNN he sent Kinzinger a nice text message upon hearing the retirement news. But he also acknowledged the tough political reality for Kinzinger, noting that Illinois — which neighbors Upton’s home state — “is so Democratic.”
However, Rep. Tom Rice, a conservative from South Carolina and another member of the impeachment 10, said there was still room in the party for someone like Kinzinger, whom he called a “brave soul.”
“He and Donald Trump are never going to be on the same page,” Rice said, “but it’s a big tent.”
Even if Kinzinger opts not to seek higher office in the immediate future, he has plans to stay politically involved in the next election. Kinzinger launched a PAC earlier this year, dubbed “Country First,” to challenge the GOP’s embrace of Trump’s election lies and root out what Kinzinger has described as a “cancer” inside the party.
“The one thing I know about Adam: he puts his mind to something, he’s gonna do it — whether I agree with 100%, whether I disagree with him,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, a fellow Illinois Republican. “So if he decided to run for another office, I know he would give it his all.”