Home » Adam Kinzinger: second Trump term could be ‘devastating for world order’ | Donald Trump

Adam Kinzinger: second Trump term could be ‘devastating for world order’ | Donald Trump

by John Jefferson
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A second Donald Trump presidency could spell the end of democracy in America and prove “devastating for the world order”, Adam Kinzinger, a Republican former congressman, has warned in an interview with the Guardian.

Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is vowing retribution against his political enemies in a second-term agenda more radical than his first, including mass deportations and a purge of the justice department. Kinzinger, one of the most prominent Trump critics in America, is sounding the alarm.

“The best-case scenario is a completely inept, ineffective government,” he said by phone. “The worst-case scenario is look, in his four-year term, he did not understand what he was doing. He was just trying to survive and he actually listened to people around him until the end. Now he’s going to put people around him that share his views, that will only reaffirm his views and, frankly, some of these people are pretty smart and they know how to work around the constitution or around the law to bring these authoritarian measures in.”

He added: “Is it going to be the end of the United States of America? I don’t think so but I’m going to stress: think. But it certainly will set us way back in the progress that we’ve made.”

An air force veteran first elected to Congress in 2010, Kinzinger broke from his party after the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. He denounced the then president for inciting “an angry mob” with false claims of voter fraud and was among 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him.

He was later one of two Republicans, along with Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who joined the House of Representatives committee to investigate the January 6 attack. He also formed a political organisation, Country First, to support candidates who oppose Trump and see him as a threat to the constitution.

Kinzinger, left, and Bennie Thompson, chairman, during a House January 6 committee hearing in Washington DC in June 2022. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

He announced he would not seek re-election after the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature approved new congressional maps that would have forced Kinzinger and a fellow Republican incumbent – Darin LaHood, a strong supporter of Trump – into a primary matchup.

Since his departure House Republicans have become ever more dysfunctional, unproductive and wedded to Trump, who continues to sow distrust in institutions and lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Kinzinger, 45, fears that the ex-president’s return to Washington may signal the beginning of the end of American democracy.

“Are we going to have an election four years after Trump? Probably. Is the person who gets the most votes going to win? Probably. But the only thing self-governance needs to surviveyou don’t have to agree on jack squat except that you can vote, your vote counts and whoever gets the most votes wins – that’s the only contract you need among Americans.

“He’s already convinced 30 to 40% of Americans that the system is rigged and so there’s nothing that makes me think for his four years in office he’s not going to continue to undermine faith in that system. And when that is permanently undermined, democracy’s over. It literally cannot survive that way.”

On Sunday Kinzinger is due to speak at the Principles First Summit in Washington, billed as a gathering of more than 700 pro-democracy, anti-Trump conservatives and centrists. It will be taking place at the same time as – and in opposition to – the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), now an annual festival of far-right “Make America great again” (Maga) populism.

Kinzinger has never been to CPAC. “It’s like the clown show of ‘conservatism’,” he said. “At the CPAC of old, there would always be some weird people there and now those weird people are the entire Republican party. So maybe I should put on a fake moustache and wander in and see where the party goes.”

This year’s lineup of speakers at CPAC includes Trump, the Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik, former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, ex-housing secretary Ben Carson, former British prime minister Liz Truss and ex-Brexit party leader Nigel Farage.

Stefanik is the highest-ranking woman in the Republican congressional conference, one of the first members to endorse Trump for president and a strong contender to be his running mate in the presidential election. Yet the New York congresswoman used to be seen as a moderate.

Kinzinger speaks with members of the Ukrainian parliament at the US Capitol in April 2022. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Kinzinger said: “Elise Stefanik is still a huge surprise and disappointment to me. I knew her prior. I think she legitimately opposed the first impeachment of Trump and she made some speech and Trump praised her and all of a sudden, man, it’s like a hit of heroin. It feels great. I’ve been there, I’ve been where Trump has complimented me and said nice things and it feels great.

“She just made the decision at that point to grab on and go and it’s paid off for her. She keeps getting re-elected, she’s being considered for vice-president. I just couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I was her. But from raw political manoeuvring, she’s done a good job.”

Another potential running mate – and case study in capitulation – is Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who abandoned his own presidential campaign last year and, in an act that many observers found humiliating, recently told Trump: “I just love you.”

Kinzinger reflected: Tim Scott, of all the people, is the one that really hurts me. I don’t mean that to sound like a gentle feud but I know Tim. I know his heart. He and I were close friends. I know he knows better.

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“This is what kind of breaks my faith a little bit in humanity and, frankly, people that go into politics. I always thought that no matter how much people played the game – and I was good at playing the game – there was always a red line they couldn’t cross. When I saw Tim Scott cross that red line, it really was devastating to me personally.

Scott has downplayed Trump’s myriad legal troubles, which include 91 criminal charges across four jurisdictions, and refused to condemn the former president’s part in the January 6 riot. Stefanik has described the House January 6 panel as “illegitimate and unconstitutional” and echoed Trump’s rhetoric describing people convicted of crimes in the insurrection as “hostages”.

Kinzinger is appalled.

“I’m convinced that there’s not a single Trump supporter who in 10 years will ever admit they supported Donald Trump. He’s going to be seen eventually as a stain on this country. I don’t think there’s a single one of their kids that will ever be Trump supporters in 10 years. But that said, it means we have to win because if they win and they write the history books, they write the rules, then my prediction will be wrong.”

When those history books are written, an important chapter will concern how the party of George HW Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney became the party of Trump, Steve Bannon and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Kinzinger – author of Renegade: My Life in Faith, the Military, and Defending America from Trump’s Attack on Democracy – has thoughts.

Liz Cheney, left, and Kinzinger listen as Elaine Luria speaks during a House January 6 committee hearing in July 2021. Photograph: Getty Images

“When I got out I could look and say I think this stuff was under the surface. I felt a bit of it but the assumption in my mind was this authoritarian movement, a touch of racism, was the extreme. I always thought it was just in a part of the movement, a part of the party. But Donald Trump’s superpower is he taught people to not have shame and not be embarrassed and not worry about pushback.

“That shame layer is what kept the party under wraps. When that was ripped off, you have among the base some of the worst instincts that come out. Leaders, instead of doing what they should do, which is lead people to a better place, are just harvesting that anger and that craziness for money and Donald Trump is the biggest part of that.”

“Owning the libs” has become an article of faith for Donald Trump Jr and others in the Maga movement. Kinzinger said: “Now there’s this idea that if you can piss off the liberals and the left – it is a culture war in the depth of it. The left does a lot of stuff that drives me nuts too but, if they can drive the left nuts, that’s what they do.

“So why do they love Vladimir Putin? Well, some people truly do but some people just love him because he pisses off the left. That’s no way to govern but it’s a hell of a good way to raise a bunch of money.”

Trump’s admiration for Putin, the autocratic ruler of Russia, continues to dismay and disturb. He recently encouraged Russia to attack Nato allies who do not pay their bills, despite Nato’s common defence clause, known as Article 5. He reed silent for days after the death in prison of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

What would another Trump presidency mean for the western alliance? Kinzinger, who flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, commented: “Sadly for Ukraine it could easily be the end of Nato. Nato will still exist but the idea that a ‘border incursion’ into Estonia, for instance, would trigger Article 5 – I don’t think you’d see Donald Trump stand up for Estonia at that time and that would be the effective end of Nato because Article 5 is the only thing that holds it together.

“Ukraine will continue to fight and Europe has stepped up quite a bit but I don’t foresee a Ukrainian victory, at least under Donald Trump. Now, it’s possible that if Ukraine is facing a loss under Donald Trump’s watch that maybe he turns around; I’m not gonna say that could never happen. But it would be very devastating for the world order as we know it.”

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