Adam Kinzinger muses: 'I would love to run against Ted Cruz'
The former congressman explains why he's not done with politics just yet.
In an interview promoting his new book, "Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty In Our Divided Country," former Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger told 538 Politics podcast host Galen Druke, "I would love to run against Ted Cruz." He continued, "the most complete con artist in politics, like one of them, to be able to run against his face in public would be amazing."
Kinzinger clarified that he has no current plans to do so. Sen. Cruz is up for re-election in 2024 and is facing a Democratic challenger in Texas Rep. Colin Allred. If Cruz wins re-election, his seat will be up again in 2030.
Kinzinger, who recently moved to Houston from Illinois, elaborated on his desire to challenge Cruz: "I would like to, but right now, I'm not in a position to. You know, I've got a young kid. I've got to kind of come down from the last couple of years. But if there's a moment that comes along and the timing is right. Yeah, absolutely."
He also suggested the Democratic Party would be wise to back someone like him as a statewide candidate in Texas: "If you're a smart Democratic Party, you'd put somebody like me as your candidate, right? You'd put them through the primary because, I'm sorry, [former Rep. Beto O'Rourke] is not going to win Texas. If you get a conservative Democrat, you could win Texas."
Below are select, lightly edited excerpts from Kinzinger's interview with Druke:
Galen Druke, host of the 538 Politics podcast: You can tell me if you disagree with me, but I think it would be easier for you to win a Democratic primary today than a Republican primary.
Adam Kinzinger, former Representative from Illinois: Yeah, for sure. Uh-huh.
GD: And so what do you do? How do you [challenge Trump] from the inside of the party without literally getting coded as a Democrat by Republican voters?
AK: I think the coding as a Democrat is probably just par for the course in the moment we're at right now, because the Republican Party, I would argue, really is not based on anything in principles anymore. There's really not a concern for spending when we were in charge. They like Russia all of a sudden now. Well, that wasn't the Republican Party I remember. Now they want to support Israel, but only if they cut the IRS by the same amount of money. And so if you go against the only organizing principle, sadly, in the GOP generally right now is Donald Trump. Whatever he says goes, it's like a commitment to him. And so, of course, if you oppose him, regardless of what your views are, I mean, look how conservative [former Wyoming Rep.] Liz Cheney is, right? But you get coded as the other side because you're outside of the tribe. You're outside of court.
How do you change that? You're not going to do it in the next month or two. The Republican Party is probably going to continue to lose. I think they have to, to continue to lose to wake up. Donald Trump's got to go away, in whatever form that is. And then there has to be a new inspirational person that comes along and changes the tenor, a Ronald Reagan for the Republicans or a Barack Obama for the Democrats that can, you know, initially go on that stage and debate and everybody's like, "I hate him. He's a Democrat." And then all of a sudden, maybe he's making some sense, maybe he's driving us to a vision that's bigger. It doesn't happen organically, it happens with leadership.
GD: Do you consider yourself a Democrat?
AK: No, I don't. I consider myself a Republican still. I call myself a homeless Republican because I certainly don't feel like I belong to this Republican Party. The second I give up the title Republican, obviously I lose the ability to, I think, very rightly criticize this party. My hope is, it returns to what my vision of Republicanism is. But I think there's one issue on the ballot in 2024, just one issue, and that is democracy. Does it survive or do we continue to slide to authoritarianism? So, I'll probably vote for a Democrat. Doesn't make me a Democrat.
GD: I've heard you already say on your book tour that you would vote for Biden over Trump.
AK: I could see you. That's where you were leading to.
GD: Would you vote for Biden over [former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley]?
AK: I don't know. And that's, um, it depends on, I like Nikki Haley a lot. I like [former New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie a lot. If she actually could pull off winning in the primary, I'd probably vote for Nikki Haley. What are the things I dislike about Nikki Haley? Well, not a ton, except that she's not standing … And I get the politics of it. And this is that whole, like. Well-
GD: Getting coded as the other side.
AK: Yeah, you've got to, boy you've got to defend Donald Trump. But at the same time, it's like, it's the continuing defense of him which makes him almost, you know, invulnerable. So, yeah, I would certainly consider her. But I want to hear what she has to say about that, because, again, that justice, that defense of democracy is the most important thing.
GD: So what prevents you from just being, I mean, I got to say, you sound like a Democrat.
AK: Yeah. I mean, look, I think part of it is I don't see a very healthy conservative democratic movement anymore, right? They all end up getting beat. But look, to me, I have no, like, personal attachment to an elephant. I've always called myself a Republican. So it would be kind of weird to say something different. But I believe what I believe. If the Democratic Party starts welcoming people like me, you know, I think they can be a very healthy and vibrant party. But look, I'm, you know, a moderate on abortion, but I consider myself pro-life. Is there a spot for that in the Democratic Party today? I don't know.
GD: So what's next for you now?
AK: Right now, I don't know. I mean, I'm going through this kind of one year of taking a look at, you know, everything we went through in the last couple of years had an impact. And I use the equivalent of, when you're in war, nobody has PTSD in combat, right? It's afterwards, and I don't have PTSD, but I feel the impact of that last couple years. I would have told you five months ago that I probably never intended to get back in politics again. Personally, that's changed. I'm kind of finding that energy again. It's not going to be anytime soon, but we'll see where it goes from here.
GD: Which party will it be in?
AK: Who the hell knows, man.
GD: Okay, so-
AK: Who knows?
GD: I read in your book that you were writing the book from Houston.
GD: Would you consider changing states and running elsewhere? I imagine yes.
AK: Honestly, I haven't really-
GD: Does Texas seem like a good place to run for office?
AK: Actually it'd be kind of fun to run against Ted Cruz, to be honest with you. I'm not doing that, let's be clear. But it would be fun, right? I don't even know when he's up.
GD: Wait, wait, wait, you're going to step on my news peg as soon as you say it?
AK: I would love to run against Ted Cruz, because that to me would just be, it would just be like the most, the most complete con artist in politics, like one of them, to be able to run against his face in public would be amazing. But-
GD: But it sounds like you would like to?
AK: I would like to, but like, right now, I'm not in a position to. You know, I've got a young kid. I've got to kind of come down from the last couple of years. But if there's a moment that comes along and the timing is right. Yeah, absolutely.
GD: In six years?
AK: Potentially, yeah.
GD: Do you think you'll stay in Texas?
AK: I don't know. I don't know. We made a decision kind of accidentally to stay in Texas. [Laughs] So I had sold my house in Illinois when the threats were coming in and my address was out there. My in-laws have a place they're not in, in Texas, so we stayed there as we tried to figure out what's next, and didn't feel like moving too far. So, we ended up buying a house in Texas. So, for now, we're there. But anything can happen.
GD: For somebody with your politics, how might they run for statewide office in Texas?
AK: Well, I think if somebody was going to do it like me, I think what you want to look at is, first off, if you're a smart Democratic Party, you'd put somebody like me as your candidate, right? You'd put them through the primary because, I'm sorry, Beto is not going to win Texas. If you get a conservative Democrat, you could win Texas. If you're a Republican running in that, it's tough. It's a pretty crazy party in Texas right now. But I think you just have to run honestly and put it out there and try to turn out as many not Republicans in the Republican primary as you can. But I think it'd be pretty hard. But I have not made a decision, and I haven't made a decision based on a future political move in like ten months, including whether I'm living in Texas or not.
GD: Okay. But I can sort of piece together, you know, have you stayed up at night ever thinking like…
GD: Oh, what would it be like to run ...
AK: No, not really.
GD: ... As a Democrat in Texas against Ted Cruz?
AK: I mean no, but I will tonight now, because you, like, have it in my head. I'm like, "Huh? What would it be like to run as a Democrat against Ted Cruz?" The question is, would the Democrats ever elect, you know, you run against a liberal Democrat and then, you know, you're an Adam Kinzinger type, would they elect you? I don't know. I think Democrats are more pragmatic on that decision-making than Republicans are.