He lost an election, then his Twitter bullhorn, but the previous president has not lost his grip on the party. While some Republicans would like to move along, others in Trump World believe the last war is the one still worth fighting — even when it’s among themselves.
A messy, but telling, internal conflict has ensued.
The latest chapter involves Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a pro-Trump political action committee, and allegations that the Illinois Republican lobbied the last White House for a plum position for his wife -- before turning around, months later, to lead a lonely charge against the outgoing president.
“Senate RINOs are calling it quits!” the Senate Conservatives Fund blasted in an email that tried to fundraise off news that Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey would be retiring. “The mainstream media believes these departures are a loss for the Republican Party,” the group wrote, “but they actually create a unique opportunity to replace weak Republicans next year with strong conservatives who will truly fight for our principles and values.”
Toomey likely could not care less as he heads toward the exit in 2022, but Kinzinger took offense that his more moderate Senate colleague was being lambasted as a "Republican in Name Only.” So he tweeted that those attacking Toomey for being less than ideologically pure “need to learn what a conservative is. Cuz it aint the Senate ‘Conservative’ Fund, it’s Toomey.”
Mary Vought, president of SCF, fired back by calling the six-term congressman a “RINO” himself, someone who “hates the MAGA movement and voted to impeach Donald Trump.”
It was seemingly a little online dust-up, but enough for those in the MAGA orbit to take notice.
The congressman had voted for impeachment, one of just 10 House Republicans to do so. Infamy followed on the right — the La Salle County GOP voted to censure their congressman for that action, and some family members publicly disowned him. Newfound respect, this time on the left, also followed as Kinzinger became, the New York Times noted, “a ubiquitous figure on cable television.”
He was skyping with Bill Maher on HBO one night, talking turkey with David Axelrod on that Obama alum’s podcast the next. It was a rare walk in the mainstream sun for a member of the GOP. Some took Kinzinger at his word that he really was trying to “end the poisonous extremism that has overtaken American politics.” Others griped that he was just trying to raise his profile, cashing in by criticizing his party during the second Trump impeachment saga.
It is true that Kinzinger, who represents a more moderate district than many of his party colleagues do, often disagreed with Trump. But not always. A lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, Kinzinger had lobbied for a nomination from the president he publicly criticized, telling Fox News in 2019 that he would be willing to serve as secretary of the Air Force and that “it would be an honor to be considered.”
He didn’t get the job, and the next year, another hiring decision allegedly led to more strife.
“Adam’s just mad that The White House didn’t hire his big push and recommendation (we’ll leave who, between us) in the comms shop back in April 2020,” tweeted former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino last December when Kinzinger again criticized Trump. “Why weren’t they hired, and brought on the team!? Bingo! Because they were close to him, and honestly, he’s a TOOL! Embarrassing!”
The tweet was a public taunt that Trump World privately understood. When the congressman tangled with the Senate Conservatives Fund though, it resurfaced. According to three former White House officials, Kinzinger had pushed hard last spring for his wife, Sofia Boza-Holman, then a press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, to join the president’s communications team.
Scavino stopped the hire. “It’s 100% true. We completely shut it down when Kinzinger lobbied the White House to hire his wife in the Communications Department because he’s a complete a------,” a source with knowledge of the process told RealClearPolitics.
“Kinzinger lobbied everyone — and his wife wanted nothing more than to work in the White House,” the source added. “But nope, we didn’t allow it to happen.”
The snub was enough to inspire Kinzinger’s anti-Trumpism, according to former White House officials. In their telling, his so-called principled stand against the 45th president is just sour grapes. Kinzinger spokeswoman Maura Gillespie calls that charge “absurd.”
“Sofia was employed by the Trump administration from 2017-2020. Their implication that she wasn’t capable of getting a job on her own is false and deeply misogynistic,” she told RCP, adding that the whole episode was “sad, petty, and shows how low they'll go to try and score political points. They know they’re lying, but they’ll spread this garbage anyway. It’s disgraceful.”
The alleged lobbying by Kinzinger also didn’t happen, according to Alyssa Farah, who served as Trump’s last communications director.
“I tried to recruit Sofia to White House Comms because I know she’s the best at what she does. We served together for Vice President Pence, and before that when she was on the White House communications team,” Farah told RCP.
“No one ever lobbied me on her behalf. They didn’t need to; I knew how good she was, as did many in the White House,” Farah added. “I was the one who tried to convince her to come on board, but she ultimately decided not to take the position.”
These kinds of staffing squabbles are rare in 2021 as the new occupants of the West Wing have either kept palace intrigue to a minimum or kept it from public view. But on the right, Republicans are grappling with their next moves, a question inextricable from Trump himself. The old war will bleed into the future so long as the former president remains a force, and conservatives judge between good and bad Republicans based on their loyalty to him.
When asked during a Tuesday interview on Fox News if he would consider another bid for the Oval Office, Trump told Maria Bartiromo, “Based on every poll, they want me to run again, but we're going to take a look and we will see.”