WGLT: Kinzinger's Rising Star Burns A Bit Brighter in Trump Era

WGLT's Ryan Denham interviews Congressman Adam Kinzinger for this profile piece in ISU's NPR Station.

Twenty years ago, Adam Kinzinger was a college kid navigating the politics of the McLean County Board, pushing for fiscal discipline, evening meeting times, and merging the Bloomington Election Commission into the county clerk’s office.

Now, the 41-year-old congressman is everywhere. He’s a regular fixture on cable news and even NPR. His national profile has grown considerably in the past year.

“One day we’re all going to be campaigning for him in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. “He’s that good of a messenger, and he’s that good of a member of Congress.

“There’s nobody who really espouses the Republican, conservative message as well as my friend Adam does,” added Davis, who supported Kinzinger’s first congressional campaign in 2010, when he defeated one-term Democrat Debbie Halvorson.

Kinzinger’s been considered a rising star since he first entered politics, winning his County Board seat at age 20 while still an Illinois State University student.

Today, he’s a regular on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The media often turns to Kinzinger on foreign policy and military affairs, given his background. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is a veteran, and still serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard.

Republicans lost one of their top voices on national security and foreign policy when U.S. Sen. John McCain died last year, said Pat Brady, former chair of the Illinois Republican Party.

“Congressman Kinzinger kind of stepped into that void. They were looking for someone—the media and others—a leader who knows what he’s talking about, to speak on their big issues. He seems to have stepped into that role,” Brady said. 

Kinzinger has also been more willing to break with President Donald Trump—or even criticize him publicly—than other House Republicans. Kinzinger did not support Trump during the 2016 election

Here he is with S.E. Cupp on CNN after Trump said he’d take information that might help his campaign from a foreign government—even though that would be illegal:

Brady said Kinzinger's a good conservative Republican but also an independent thinker.

“That represents his district well. That’s what his district wants. People expect him to support the president on issues that are consistent with conservative beliefs. But when he steps out of those beliefs or gets out of line, someone needs to point it out. And give credit to Congressman Kinzinger: He’s had the courage to do that,” Brady said. 

Kinzinger’s frequent CNN appearances have not gone unnoticed back in his district, said Kelly Kinate of Fairbury, chair of the Livingston County Republican Party. 

Generally, local Republicans there have a good relationship with Kinzinger and his staff, Kinate said. But Kinzinger’s #NeverTrump stance in 2016 has not been forgotten. 

“Now Trump is his commander in chief, so being a veteran, I personally see it as, you gotta remember your chain of command,” said Kinate. “And even from his military background, that’s the commander in chief. And while the president might not have prior military experience, he’s surrounded by enough people to advise him.” 

Kinzinger is both more “more plainspoken and forthright when speaking than many other politicians,” said Robert Evans, associate professor of political science at Rockford University. 


The full article can be found on the WGLT website here.