Adam Kinzinger's new book chock full of McLean County cameos
Former U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s new book “Renegade” chronicles his break from the Republican Party and Donald Trump, though it’s the long list of McLean County cameos and name-drops that will jump off the page for local readers.
Kinzinger, a Republican, is a Bloomington-Normal native who attended Illinois State University and still returns to the community for regular visits. He did not seek re-election in 2022 and is now living in Texas.
Kinzinger’s book begins — literally the Introduction — with his characterization of U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood as a “former moderate” who “raced to the unreasonable Right” and tied himself to “the most unethical and least transparent president in history.” LaHood still represents parts of Bloomington-Normal, and his father, Ray LaHood, was a famously moderate Republican figure.
“Darin LaHood is your quintessential average Republican congressman. And I don’t mean that pejoratively. He’s somebody whose goal is to get re-elected, to represent his district, and to climb that political ladder,” Kinzinger said.
During the post-2020 redistricting, Illinois Democrats drew LaHood and Kinzinger into the same deep-red congressional district. But that GOP primary never materialized because Kinzinger opted not to seek re-election as he broke from his party in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Kinzinger said he likely would not have run for re-election in 2022 anyway, even had the Jan. 6 attack not happened. Twelve years in Congress is a long time, he said.
“The reality is, [LaHood] made a decision to survive,” Kinzinger said. “I made a decision to — what I think — was to tell the truth and do the right thing. He’s just kind of the best example of both somebody that directly replaced me, but also somebody whose goal is to keep the title and stay in office. He’s smart enough to know better. He knows the election wasn’t stolen. But get him to say that directly, and get him to admit the Jan. 6 committee was actually a good thing, and you’d be working at that for awhile. You’ll never get him to say it.”
McLean County politics
Early parts of Kinzinger’s book trace his upbringing in Bloomington-Normal, with his parents Rus and Betty Jo Kinzinger, and his two siblings. Faith was a big part of their lives, and politics blended in. He writes about his father’s politically active friends, John Parrott and Lee Newcom, who led the state branch of the Christian Coalition.
“They were ahead of their time,” Kinzinger writes.
The book covers Kinzinger’s election to the McLean County Board when he was 20 and still an ISU student. [He wasn’t a very good student at first. His freshman GPA was 0.8 and he was asked to leave ISU. He later earned re-admission and kept his grades up.]
The county board was a “great place to learn how daily life works for most people who pay little attention to politics,” Kinzinger writes. He tried to keep his head down, though he did unsuccessfully push to move the board meeting times from mornings to evenings when more people could attend. [That finally happened in 2018.]
“The thing I think was really good in preparing me was, that was a lot of retail politics. It was a lot of going door-to-door, talking to people you represent. Dealing with issues that weren’t partisan,” Kinzinger said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.
The book also covers Kinzinger’s work on his father’s GOP primary campaign for Illinois Senate in 2002, against Bill Brady. They attacked Brady’s record as a real estate developer, but Brady won handily.
“This happened in large part because my father was unable to stomach asking friends, neighbors and politically engaged strangers alike for cash,” Kinzinger says in the book.
Kinzinger enlisted in the military, a process he began nine months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He writes about his deployments overseas in a chapter titled “Defend Your Country, See The World.” He seemed to enjoy visiting historical sites in all these new places, and learning “how people who don’t understand each other can fall into tragic conflict.”
As the war in Iraq dragged on, Kinzinger felt a “disconnect between the people and their leaders,” even “pro-military people expressing skepticism every time I went home.” In response, he ran for the U.S. House in 2010 and defeated a Democratic incumbent, Debbie Halvorson.
Gaining a higher profile
Kinzinger didn’t really become a national political figure until late in the Trump administration, emerging as one of a small number of Republicans willing to criticize the president. He was one of only two Republicans to serve on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack. He also was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021.
The book — filled with wins, losses, and regrets — suggests Kinzinger had an independent streak from a young age. He questioned the basic assumptions of his faith as an adolescent. His parents “recall me as a child who, when faced with a tough choice, sought their advice and then almost always chose my own path,” he writes.
Even with that “well-developed conscience,” Kinzinger said he doesn’t have a simple answer as to why him — why he’s one of so few prominent Republicans to criticize Trump’s behavior.
“I’ve thought about this a lot. The easy thing to say is, my parents always taught me to do what’s right,” Kinzinger said. “I was one of the most outspoken Republicans against Trump the whole time. I always just despised his complete lack of care about anybody in the country. He literally cares about one person. When I came back from Iraq and decided to run … I said, if I’m going to vote to send people to war, to outfit them for war, to buy war equipment, and I’m gonna ask young people to be willing to die for this country, I have to be willing to give up my job for this country. I think that always stuck with me. And Jan. 6 … the lies about the election system were quite obviously a real danger to the country. That’s probably the big thing that kept me stuck to this focus.”
Kinzinger now lives in Texas with his wife and child, in part because his home address in Illinois was being circulated as he faced death threats after his break with Trump, he said.
“There could easily be a day when I come back to Illinois. But right now, we’re just focusing on raising the kid and taking a deep breath and getting away from the death threats for a little bit,” Kinzinger said.
As for whether he’ll run for office in the future, he said the question is, “Is there gonna be a point at which the Republican Party breaks from this cult? I don’t know. Is there gonna be a point in which Democrats can accept somebody like me, who’s kind of a former moderate Republican? Maybe, maybe not. Is there ever going to be an environment for independents to run? Illinois has literally prohibitive requirements to get on the ballot as an independent, which is something — by the way — that should change.
“And so [I’m] looking for an environment that either I can win in — which is obviously an important reason to run — or at least if I can run I can make a difference in the tone,” Kinzinger said.