Republican who impeached Trump retires after Illinois legislature leaves him in tough new House seat

Republican who impeached Trump retires after Illinois legislature leaves him in tough new House seat

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger announced Friday that he would not seek a seventh term in the House, a development that came hours after Illinois’ Democratic legislature passed a new congressional map that would have placed him in the same seat as fellow GOP Rep. Darrin LaHood. That would have likely been an impossible primary for Kinzinger, who was one of just 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump in January. (One of his compatriots, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, announced his own retirement from Congress in September.)

We may not have seen the last of Kinzinger, though, as he said, “​​This isn’t the end of my political future, but the beginning.” The outgoing congressman didn’t rule out running for the Senate or governor earlier this year, but he’d still face a difficult task winning over a Trump-worshipping electorate before he could concentrate on trying to prevail in the general election in this very blue state.

It’s almost hard to believe, given the circumstances of his departure from the House, but Kinzinger was elected as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave and, with the backing of his party leadership, won a primary two years later against a fellow incumbent. Kinzinger first sought elected office in 1998 when, as a college sophomore, he unseated a Democratic member of the McLean County Board. (He would recount that he was inspired to run after someone initially suggested the idea as a joke.) Kinzinger later enlisted in the Air Force after the 9/11 attacks and went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kinzinger, who had left elected office in 2003, formed an exploratory committee in 2009 to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Halverson in what was then numbered the 11th District, though he couldn’t formally announce until his deployment ended in the summer. Halverson had flipped this historically Republican seat in the Chicago suburbs in a 58-34 landslide as Barack Obama was winning 53-45 here, and while she didn’t look vulnerable at first, Kinzinger released a poll showing him beating her as early as March of the next year.

Kinzinger, who made sure to cultivate Tea Party groups early, easily won the GOP nomination. Halverson went after the Republican for his support for free trade agreements and portrayed him as opposed to Social Security, but Kinzinger ended up winning 57-43 in a truly ugly year for Team Blue.

The new congressman couldn’t rest for long, though, as the Democratic legislature drew him into the same safely red north-central Illinois seat, now numbered the 16th District, as 10-term GOP Rep. Don Manzullo. Manzullo represented more of the new district than Kinzinger and had a more conservative reputation.

However, in an unusual turn of events, party leaders like Speaker John Boehner, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and especially Majority Leader Eric Cantor donated to or outright backed the more junior Kinzinger (the media reported during the campaign that Manzullo had said years before that Cantor, who is Jewish, could not be “saved,” a remark Manzullo’s team denied), while conservative outside groups stood by Manzullo.

The campaign turned into a generational battle between Manzullo and Kinzinger—who was all of 14 years old when his opponent was first elected to Congress—though they also spent plenty of time arguing the other was insufficiently conservative. And in a line that foreshadowed Kinzinger’s later career, one Tea Party leader declared, “Kinzinger jumped on the Tea Party wave but once he got elected he didn’t do a damn thing for us.” The usually laid-back Manzullo surprised many observers by running an aggressive campaign, but Kinzinger prevailed 54-46.

Kinzinger quickly became entrenched, but his willingness to criticize left him with a difficult relationship with the administration. Kinzinger voted against impeaching Trump in 2019, but he stood out the next year as one of the few Republicans willing to call out Trump’s lies about the election. Things escalated after the Jan. 6 attack, though, and this time, the congressman supported Trump’s removal. Several Republicans announced primary challenges soon after, but his fate wasn’t truly sealed until the legislature passed its new map late Thursday.

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