Republican Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger told a conference of conservatives turned off by former President Donald Trump on Sunday he would fight “to take back our political system” after he leaves the House at the end of this term. He hedged later when asked if that meant he was considering a run for president.
Speaking at the end of the two-day Principles First conference at the National Press Club, Kinzinger got several standing ovations, including when he talked about his work with fellow Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“If we as Republicans would have simply … taken responsibility, we could have moved on, we could have determined nothing like that would ever happen again in the United States. And instead, we tried to sweep it under the rug. Well, it’s not going to be swept under the rug. The truth is out there and it’s coming,” Kinzinger said.
Targeted by Trump for his vote for impeachment after the attack and censured, with Cheney, by the Republican National Committee earlier this month for serving on the select committee, Kinzinger decided in October not to run for another term this year.
In his speech, Kinzinger praised the bravery of Ukrainians fighting a Russian invasion and contrasted that to grievances that Trump’s wing of the party complains about. Like many other speakers at the conference, he noted several times that Trump had praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin as recently as a few days ago. Kinzinger also argued the former president had abused his supporters’ patriotism by trying to convince them of the lie that the election he lost had been stolen.
“When you have a leader of the free world that stands in front of America and convinces half the country that the system is broken, that your vote doesn’t count, listen, as patriotic Americans, we can understand why some would say that it is time to overthrow the government by force … Which is why leaders’ words matter so much,” Kinzinger said.
He then said that while he will be out of Congress in a year, “I’m not going anywhere,” and he’s excited he will have more time “to work with all of you to make sure that we take back our political system because we deserve that. Those generations of Americans deserve it. But they’ve been told that there’s no hope, they’re told that there’s no opportunity, they’ve been told that somebody that doesn’t think like you was the enemy. They’ve been told by a former president that Vladimir Putin is a good guy. I mean, I have no doubt that people feel confused. This is why leadership is so important at this moment.”
Asked outside the ballroom if he was hinting at a presidential race, he he has been building support for Country First — a leadership PAC he controls that was listed as one of the “event partners” of the Principles First conference — has been building support and he wants to “see where that goes.”
“I am excited about continuing the fight for the country. At some point you’ve got to look and say, ‘Is the House the best place to do it?’ I think 12 years in the House is a long time for me. But I don’t intend to give up on the fight for the country,” he said.
Asked if he was definitely not running for president, Kinzinger, who turned 44 on Sunday, replied: “I’m definitely not announcing I’m running for president.”
Trump has strongly hinted he plans to run in 2024, and he and several Republicans who may run if he doesn’t, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, spoke in the past few days at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida.
The Principles First conference where Kinzinger spoke was set up as a counterpoint to CPAC, and the insurrection and Trump’s dominance of the party were recurring themes. Retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified at hearings that led to Trump’s first impeachment for withholding aid to Ukraine, was a featured speaker and also got standing ovations.
So did Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who testified before the Jan. 6 committee, and was given an award at the conference for heroism. Former GOP Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Joe Walsh of Illinois were part of a debate over whether to form a third party on a panel called “Should We Stay or Should We Go?”
Two potential 2024 candidates who have begun to break from Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, were not at CPAC. But one of the Principles First programs included Alyssa Farah Griffin, Pence’s former press secretary, interviewing Bill Palatucci, a Christie ally and RNC member who voted against the resolution censuring Cheney and Kinzinger.
“I belong to the Republican National Committee, not the Trump National Committee,” Palatucci said to applause. He said some of his fellow committee members privately told him they agreed with his opposition to the resolution, which said Cheney and Kinzinger were helping Democrats carry out a political vendetta against people who engaged in “legitimate political discourse.” He urged the audience to talk to the committee members from their states and convince them to speak out.
“They know they’re wrong. They need more courage,” Palatucci said.