Our View: Kinzinger’s effort to return to Republican principles deserves a chance

For nearly four decades, Republican candidates for president, congress or governor linked at least a portion of their campaign to Ronald Reagan, the two-term president who trounced his opponents Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Reagan was the “Great Communicator” and one of America’s most popular presidents. His influence on the Grand Old Party was deep and he fostered the party’s foundations for the next two generations. It was the party that inspired U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican.

The party has changed, and not for the better, Kinzinger said this week, and it isn’t the party he signed up for. He said the party has forgotten its principles and he wants to lead the GOP back to them.

The six-term congressman has been outspoken against former President Donald Trump’s rejection of the Nov. 3 election results and warned about the dangers of conspiracy theories, such as those spread by QAnon followers. Then he watched Trump incite an insurrectionist mob that marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. This led Kinzinger to announce on Sunday he is launching a campaign and new PAC to steer the Republican Party away from Trump politics. The congressman from Channahon was one of 10 Republicans to vote in favor of Trump’s second impeachment.

“Republicans must say, ‘enough is enough,’” Kinzinger said when introducing the website country1st.com “It’s time to unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality, and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage.”

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Let’s remind ourselves of the Republican Party’s principles:

  • Smaller government.
  • A strong national defense.
  • States should have the power to determine choices of programs and measures most appropriate for them.
  • Fiscal conservatism.
  • Individual liberties and responsibilities; government must act to preserve freedom, while individuals must exercise their responsibilities to preserve order.
  • Tolerance, inclusiveness and optimism, and being an open and inclusive party respectful of different points of view.

These principles are fundamentally sound and have been successful for the party in reaching out to American conservatives since 1854. Yet, Trump has flipped the party’s apple cart; how many Republicans have you heard quote Reagan in the past five years? Very few indeed.

Kinzinger said last weekend: “It’s time to turn back from the edge of darkness and return to the ideals that have long been the guiding light. The party of first principles must once again put principles first. … Will we feast on anger, or summon better angels? Will we join the left to take America backwards, or will this Republican Party lead America forward and upward?”

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We’d like to believe Kinzinger is motivated by conscience. Yet, we must also acknowledge he is just a year away from a potential run for U.S. Senate or Illinois governor.

Kinzinger is the type of Republican who can win in Illinois. He is not Jim Oberweis or Jeanne Ives, obstructionists and Trump loyalists who lost 2020 congressional races. Still, Kinzinger has his opponents in Illinois. Last Saturday, the La Salle County Republican Central Committee hosted a rally against him that drew 150 people to Washington Square in Ottawa. Then, on Wednesday, the La Salle County Central Republican Party voted to censure Kinzinger for voting to impeach Trump.

Kinzinger’s mission may be more of a challenge in the most conservative states, but could be successful in a more moderate Illinois. The first test will be campaign financing. If traditional Republican supporters favor his ambitions, money will follow. If not, his obstacles to change will be greater.

Another challenge is the primary system. Oberweis and Ives, for example, campaigned on Trump’s principles and values, which was enough to get on the GOP ticket, but they lost against their Democratic opponent. In Illinois, Republicans will need to rely on moderate candidates to defeat Democrats, who continue to struggle to address how to stop population loss, a budget crisis and a pension fiasco that are crippling our state and local governments.

A moderate Republican running on true Republican principles would be a viable candidate in any general election in Illinois. The Republican Party needs to return to its roots and Kinzinger’s ideals deserve an honest chance.