Don't be fooled by the GOP's united front — there are still anti-Trump dissenters in Cleveland

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger tells Salon that Trump's speech tonight can't erase all of his bigoted rhetoric

By Sean Illing
July 21, 2016 7:02PM (UTC)
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Adam Kinzinger (AP/Cliff Owen)

CLEVELAND – A lot has been written about the united front Republicans have presented at the convention. Despite all the in-fighting and tepid endorsements leading up to this event, the party appears to have yielded to their new strongman. There has been no floor fight, no pushback from the delegates, and no indication that Republicans are troubled by the comical unpreparedness of their nominee. The only moment of genuine resistance occurred last night, when Ted Cruz refused to endorse Trump during his speech. But Cruz's intransigence was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd, an indication of the mood in the room.

Some of this solidarity is attributable to the fact that many reputable Republicans declined to attend the convention. The last two Republican presidents stayed home, for example. John Kasich, the Republican governor of the state hosting the convention, also refused to participate. There's also the fact that the RNC and the Trump campaign went out of their way to undermine the #NeverTrump contingent before the convention began.


But don't be fooled by the show of unity in Cleveland. Establishment Republicans are still very much unsatisfied with Trump at the top of the ticket. They know he's unlikely to win in November, and, more importantly, that he threatens to sully the Republican brand for a generation.

Among those in attendance, there are still some unwilling to endorse Trump. I spoke briefly with Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger on Wednesday afternoon. A respected moderate, Kinzinger has been critical of the GOP nominee throughout the campaign. After Trump's anti-Muslim comments following the Orlando massacre, he said he appreciated “Mr. Trump's fieriness in talking about it...but you don't do it by alienating the very people we need and those are moderate Muslims.” He's also called Trump's foreign policy “narcissistic” and “devastating” to global security if implemented.” Kinzinger even considered running as an independent in order to thwart Trump, but decided against it for infrastructural reasons.

I asked Rep. Kinzinger if he was still on the fence about Trump, and the best response he could muster was: “We'll have to see. He'll speak for 20 or 30 minutes on Thursday night and we'll see.” My reply to this was simple: “What's left to see?” We know who Trump is by now. A man speaks and acts like a swaggering bigot for 12 months and somehow one marginally sane speech negates all of that? Kinzinger wisely conceded the point here but held to his original comment about waiting to see what happens. But he did admit that Trump's antics are “troubling” and that he's especially “concerned” about the campaign's deliberate effort to alter the GOP platform on Russia and Ukraine, the latest sign that Trump is Putin's unwitting puppet.


Kinzinger isn't a lone voice in a whirlwind. Few are unwilling to say it publicly, but there are plenty of dissenters here. They've simply been denied a platform to express their dissent. What becomes of this opposition beyond the convention is anyone's guess. For now, though, it's Trump's show, and Republicans are being carried away by it, whether they like or not.

Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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