What kind of shot does Kinzinger really have at another office?
Just days after saying he wouldn't seek reelection to his seat in Congress, outgoing Illinois Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger raised eyebrows in a recent CNN interview where he acknowledged the potential for a gubernatorial run, a U.S. Senate campaign or even a White House bid.
But many political pundits and GOP leaders don't believe there's an easy path to victory in any of those races for the unabashed critic of former President Donald Trump.
"I think Adam's real problem will be in his ability to win a Republican primary because of his outspoken opposition to President Trump," said former Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider. "And because he's alienated so many voters in his own party, I think if he does get a nomination, some Republicans will stay at home instead of vote for a Republican who may actually win."
Kinzinger, a six-term congressman from Channahon who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment earlier this year after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection by Trump loyalists, told constituents recently that he wasn't seeking reelection after Democrats redrew the state's congressional districts.
"I cannot focus on both a reelection to Congress and a broader fight nationwide," he said late last month in a video on his new country1st.com website.
Neither Kinzinger nor his spokesperson returned calls or emails seeking comment for this report.
Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago, believes it may be too soon for Kinzinger to attempt such runs.
"He may well have a political future, but I think that's likely if Trumpism fails in 2024," Simpson said. "There aren't many moderates left to lead elements of the party, but he has national name recognition, good access to the press, and he's acted courageous," Simpson said.
Zachary Cook, an assistant professor of politics at Lake Forest College, said Kinzinger may be aiming too high.
"If he wants to stay in office and wants to continue to serve at a midlevel profile until the Trumpist wave has passed, he needs to find an office where he's somewhat insulated from GOP partisan pressures," Cook said. "If he hunkers down and runs for something like secretary of state, that's where independent-leaning Democrats would be more likely to support him because it's frankly a nonpolitical office."
Kinzinger is also just one of two GOP House members to break from the party and join Democrats on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. That is something many Trump-supporting Republicans won't likely forgive, the experts agree.
"It's almost a litmus test, and that makes it hard to see how he can get past what is still a sizable portion of the Republican Party, because the positions he's taken are so anti-Trump," said Wayne Steger, a DePaul University professor of political science. "He's positioning himself more like a Bruce Rauner or Mark Kirk, but those guys didn't have to deal with taking such positions on Trump who has become so central to people's decision making."
Some suburban GOP leaders believe Kinzinger is ostracizing himself from the party to his own detriment.
DuPage County GOP Chairman Jim Zay said Kinzinger has spent too much time bashing fellow Republicans while "giving Democrats a pass" on issues like the economy, the COVID-19 response or even the very congressional maps that made it much more difficult for Kinzinger to stay in office even if he wanted.
"He wants to run as a Republican, but he doesn't have anything good to say about Republicans," Zay said. "He basically says we're all spineless Trump followers, but we're not. If he's going to run, he's got some bridges to repair, because I don't know how much support he would garner from the party right now."
Kent Redfield, the professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield, believes Kinzinger remains a longshot in any statewide race and an even longer shot for the presidency. He suggests Kinzinger should bide his time rather than jump back into a campaign.
"Right now, he's very high-profile, and the question really is can he sustain that if he doesn't run right away," he said. "He's the anti-Trump Republican on the Jan. 6 commission; him not running for reelection does not diminish that. If he runs and loses, that becomes the story."