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Kinzinger on political fundraising: 'We have fed a steady diet of fear'

(CNN) —  

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a vocal critic of Donald Trump who wants to save his party from the former President, thinks politicians have learned that “fear is the most compelling emotion.”

“Fear will make you do anything,” the Illinois Republican said Thursday in a conversation geared toward students and young Americans, noting that politicians have successfully incorporated fear into their campaigns, even fundraising off the emotion.

“Both parties have to come to grips with the fundraising issue. We do need real financial campaign finance reform here,” Kinzinger said, although he voted against passage of HR 1, a sweeping government, ethics and election bill that would require so-called dark money nonprofit groups that engage in politics to disclose their larger donors and would give federal candidates as much as a 6-to-1 match of public funds for small donations to spur more grassroots giving.

“If you send out an email that says, ‘Please give me money so I can, you know, make the roads better, or your life better,’ you’ll raise a little money. If I send out an email that says, ‘If you don’t send me five or $10, Nancy Pelosi’s going to destroy your family,’ I’ll raise a lot more,” Kinzinger said, describing the fear tactics that party operatives and candidates use, with Republicans often invoking the House speaker as a boogeyman.

“We have learned that and we have fed a steady diet of fear,” he added.

Kinzinger made a name for himself by speaking out against Trump and was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January for “incitement of insurrection” in light of his role encouraging the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

The six-term Republican has faced blowback, including from his own family, who sent him a vitriolic letter accusing him of being a member of the “devil’s army” because of his criticism of Trump. Kinzinger is already drawing a handful of potential GOP primary rivals.

The conversation Thursday, hosted by A Starting Point – the civic engagement organization founded by actors Chris Evans and Mark Kassen and entrepreneur Joe Kiani – and Bridge USA – a civic education organization that hosts political discussions and events on college campuses – also featured Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut and focused on Gen Z and civic engagement.

When asked by Kassen about the “residual effects” of the riot at the Capitol, Kinzinger said, “There is some real tension right now between both sides.”

“This is something that, you know, a year ago if you’d ask me, you know, ‘Do Republicans and Democrats get along behind the scenes?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, you know we actually, it’s just when the cameras come on, we just kind of preform,’ ” Kinzinger told Kassen.

“But the reality is lately it’s gotten worse,” he said.

“Part of that, when the Capitol was attacked and you have people out there defending the attackers or calling them something that they weren’t, you know, there’s going to be a lot of kind of anger and angst,” he added.

But almost two months out from the insurrection, Kinzinger said, “It’s getting better.”

He added that politics is about having arguments with people you disagree with.

“With President (Joe) Biden, there will be issues I disagree with him on, but we’re going to do that professionally. That’s what this job is about, is having those arguments. So I think it’s getting better. I’m optimistic,” Kinzinger said.

Both Kinzinger and Himes noted their satisfaction with the high youth voter turnout demonstrated in the 2020 election and said they are hopeful about the next generation’s commitment to political engagement.

“Quite honestly, I think it’s frankly the millennials, the Gen Zers, that are going to have to come and save this country in the long run,” Kinzinger added.

Kinzinger stressed the importance of engaging young people, who he said “are hungry for information,” in conversation to incorporate them into the legislative process.

“I think just having those intellectual debates will save this place,” Kinzinger said.

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