Former Congressman Adam Kinzinger speaks on campus

Kinzinger, a member of the Jan. 6 Committee, spoke about his experiences investigating former President Donald Trump.

by Kent Friel | 4/25/23 10:26am

by Caroline Kramer / The Dartmouth

On April 21, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-IL, spoke at an event titled “Empowering the Reasonable Majority,” co-sponsored by the Dartmouth Political Union, the Dickey Center, the Ethics Institute, the Provost’s Office and the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy. Approximately 200 people attended the talk in person, while more than 600 viewers joined a live stream, according to DPU President Jessica Chiriboga ’24.   

Kinzinger, who appeared as a part of the “Democracy Summit” speaker series hosted by the Dickey Center, DPU and Rockefeller Center, focused his lecture on lessons from his time in Congress — including his experiences during the Jan. 6 insurrection and his thoughts on how those events impacted American democracy.

In his opening remarks, Kinzinger argued in favor of protecting the institution of democracy. Kinzinger said that although democracy is the hardest form of government to maintain, its benefits outweigh that cost, and he emphasized the example America sets abroad. 

According to Kinzinger, democracies function when people know that they can vote and that their vote will count. Following the 2020 election, Kinzinger said that a large portion of the country believed the election was stolen, adding that former President Donald Trump “blatantly” stoked divisions between Americans. Despite the challenges he saw facing American democracy, Kinzinger concluded his remarks by saying that he was hopeful about the future.

“People in college today have never seen politics done in a [respectful] way that many of us who are a little older remember and long for,” Kinzinger said. “That is both frightening, and it is also, to me, an inspiration, to say that this next generation has to be the one that saves us.”

Following Kinzinger’s initial remarks, Rockefeller Center director and government professor Jason Barabas ’93 led a moderated discussion, followed by audience questions. Barabas asked Kinzinger about his experience on Jan. 6 and his subsequent role on the Jan. 6 Committee to investigate the attack. . 

Kinzinger said that prior to Jan. 6, he believed that his Republican colleagues would put their belief in democracy above their party. Though a number of his Republican colleagues admitted to Kinzinger that they believed the events of Jan. 6 had been an insurrection, few admitted so publicly, he added.

DPU Vice President Dylan Griffith ’25 noted after the event Kinzinger’s willingness to put his career at risk, if it meant standing up for what he believed was right.

“Kinzinger was singular in his ability to give an object lesson in what it means to uphold an oath of office,” Griffith said.

Kinzinger said he predicted the violence of Jan. 6 in the preceding weeks, and that despite being a veteran, he had never been scared or worried for his own safety until that day. Regarding the Jan. 6 Committee, Kinzinger said he “knew how hard it was going to be,” adding that he “couldn’t look at [himself] and not do it.” 

Though Kinzinger said he went into the committee unsure as to whether Trump was fully responsible for the attack on the Capitol, he is now “fully convinced [Trump] did this with his eyes wide open.”

After Barbaras and Kinzinger’s discussion, the event shifted to an audience question period, during which Kinzinger spoke about the role of media, how politics intersects with religion, and proposals for electoral reform, among other topics. 

When asked about the future of the Republican party, Kinzinger said that the GOP is in a “spiraling doom loop” that will eventually crash. In the meantime, however, Kinzinger said that he hoped an “effective, efficient and competitive centrist party” could attract alienated Republicans.

Kinzinger added that ballot access for independents, jungle primaries — in which all candidates for an office run in the same primary regardless of political party — and ranked choice voting could be solutions to polarization and extremism in the political system. Although Kinzinger, who declined to seek reelection in 2022, has only been out of office for three months, he said that he has been actively working on ways to implement those solutions and has not ruled out running for office in the future.

“It’s so good being out of politics, but it’s still in my soul,” Kinzinger said. “I’m still passionate about it, so I would never rule anything out. Although I’m obviously not running in 2024, I think it would be fun, because I would love to be on a stage with Donald Trump.”

In an interview after the event, Kinzinger said that his essential message was not about specific policy issues but instead about working on ensuring the United States can continue to “function as a democracy.” He added that college students should not despair about the magnitude of the challenge of restoring democracy and instead work together across differences and disagreements.  

“[Dartmouth students] are asking great questions,” Kinzinger said. “You have a real interest and a real concern with what’s going on, which actually gives me hope.”