Kinzinger, a onetime star of the 2010 Tea Party class, said the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol served as a final breaking point for the direction of the Republican Party, providing a stark divide between those who want to continue a path toward autocracy and those who want to return to traditional conservative values.
“The reality is this: This is a time to choose … And my goal in launching Country1st.com is just to say, look, let’s take a look at the last four years, how far we have come in a bad way, how backward looking we are, how much we peddle darkness and division,” Kinzinger said on the program. “And that’s not the party I ever signed up for. And I think most Republicans didn’t sign up for that.”
Kinzinger previewed the launch in a Saturday interview with a small group of reporters on a Zoom call, alternating between taking shots at Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), whose QAnon conspiracy theories have drawn great attention in recent days, and being dismissive toward what he views as the weak leadership of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“Republicans must say enough is enough. It’s time to unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality, and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage,” Kinzinger says in the launch video.
Kinzinger said in the days after the assault on the Capitol he felt some optimism as McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for encouraging the rioting mob to attack Congress and target then-Vice President Mike Pence. McCarthy quickly backed away from that remark and on Thursday he praised the ex-president after a meeting at his Palm Beach resort.
“That’s a heck of a move in about three weeks. It’s hard to square that circle,” Kinzinger told reporters Saturday. He suggested that McCarthy is not even the most powerful member of the GOP caucus anymore, but that it was Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) “for sure” now.
Jordan was an outcast just a few years ago who banded together with about 30 other far-right conservatives and, after forging a strong alliance with Trump, has soared to vast power over McCarthy’s leadership team while making alliances with figures like Taylor Greene while trying to expel Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from the leadership team because she voted to impeach Trump.
“They’re political terrorists,” Kinzinger said of Jordan and his allies.
He called Wednesday’s formal meeting of the House Republican Conference — when Republicans will debate Cheney’s status and discuss whether to punish Taylor Greene for her controversial actions — “the opening salvo in the fight for the party.”
Kinzinger, 42, said he does not want to play any leading role in the GOP and has no ambition to run for higher office, but said too many Republicans were remaining quiet and just hoping Trumpism will fade away without fully confronting it.
He said that his push is not really around ideology so much as it was focused on driving the conspiracy theorists and racists out of the GOP.
“We don’t embrace conspiracy theories to win anymore,” he said. “Would we lose the Proud Boys? Maybe, I’m fine with that.”