House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) holds a news conference in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2021. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy is putting loyalty to former president Donald Trump above his loyalty to rank-and-file members of Congress, and that embrace of Trump could be disastrous for the country, Representative Adam Kinzinger said in a live interview with Politico on Tuesday.
At one point during the interview, Kinzinger, (R., Ill.), one of the most outspoken Trump critics in Congress, called the former president “this loser living in Mar-a-Lago.” Kinzinger also called for Republican leaders to tell their constituents the truth about the 2020 presidential election, and about what led up to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
And he said Republicans are putting their opportunity to retake the House in 2022 at risk by focusing too much on raising money and appeasing Trump, instead of offering a new direction.
“The bottom line is, you have to, as a majority, come forward with ideas,” Kinzinger said. “You have to come forward with an outlook for the future.”
Much of the roughly 25-minute interview focused on Kinzinger’s concerns about McCarthy’s leadership. He said he thought it was great when McCarthy came out after the January 6 riot and clearly stated that Trump bears responsibility. But, he said, it was “nuts” to see McCarthy then visit Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and fully embrace the “Trump train.”
When he was asked if he believed McCarthy was putting loyalty to Trump above his rank-and-file members, Kinzinger said yes. It’s been that way since at least last summer, he said.
“It was right around last summer, I started to notice that any time Trump attacked a Republican or said something berserk – which was basically every day – but the second he did that, Kevin would defend him,” Kinzinger said.
He said one of the jobs of a leader is to be out in front, and to “take the arrows” for members. But when it comes to Trump, McCarthy hasn’t done that.
“When the former president would attack Liz (Cheney) and whatever the issue du jour was, Kevin would defend the president,” Kinzinger said. “I think that was a backwards role.”
Kinzinger said that on a conference call before January 6, McCarthy dismissed his concerns that there could be violence if Republican leaders didn’t clearly acknowledge that the presidential election was not stolen. He believes January 6, 2021, ranks alongside September 11, 2001, in terms of its impact on the U.S. democracy, because it directly threatened the top three people in line of succession to the presidency. Kinzinger is a supporter of a bi-partisan commission to investigate the riot at the Capitol.
“For fellow Republicans watching, history has a way of judging things accurately,” Kinzinger said. “We’re not going to be able to pretend January 6 was not what it was.”
Kinzinger said he thinks McCarthy, in his heart, thinks the best thing to do to win back power is to go along with Trump for now. Kinzinger disagrees. Long term, he said, appeasing Trump “is very detrimental to the party, even if we win.” He thinks McCarthy doesn’t want the fight.
“Taking on Donald Trump is hard,” he said. “You get a lot of Tweets. You get a lot of anger.”
If things don’t change, Kinzinger said, he wouldn’t support McCarthy as speaker if Republicans win the House next year. “I think this country deserves people that are going to do tough things and tell the truth,” he said. His Politico interviewers laughed when he suggested that he’d love to see Cheney in that position, but he said there are others he could support for the job.
“There’s a lot of people that are able to really tell the truth, and at the same time understand that there are multiple parts of the Republican Party that we have to keep together,” he said.
Kinzinger said “there’s no doubt” that Trump is winning the civil war in the Republican Party. But, he said, he sees evidence that many people in the party are waking up and realizing their Republican loyalties are stronger than their loyalties to Trump.
“It may look like I’m grasping at straws, and maybe I am, grasping for hope, but truthfully, I think as time goes by, America just moves on,” he said.
Kinzinger said that if Trump starts holding political rallies again, as he has said he plans to do, it could backfire by being fatiguing to anyone who’s not a die-hard Trump supporter. He credited former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama for bowing out gracefully, and for treating the office of the presidency with respect after their terms were over.
“Now this guy, this loser living in Mar-a-Lago is going to go out and try to rally, what, some more losses?” Kinzinger said. “My hope is that actually in those rallies people realize, this is starting to get nuts.”
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