Kevin McCarthy was warned. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted.

A few days before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, the House Republican leader had a conference call with GOP lawmakers. On the call, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois warned McCarthy that his and other party leaders’ claims — that the election had been stolen and that Republicans had the power to block Joe Biden’s victory from being certified — “would lead to violence on January 6th.”

The response? Crickets, Kinzinger said, and then McCarthy “dismissively” blew off the warning. “Ok, Adam,” the GOP leader replied, “operator next question.” The rest — a Capitol ransacked, certification halted, five dead — is history.

Kinzinger tweeted about the exchange Monday and expanded on it during a National Press Club virtual gathering. “This was entirely predictable,” the sixth-term lawmaker said of the deadly attack, “and it was disregarded.”

Kinzinger brought all this up, he said, because McCarthy is seeking to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) as the No. 3 House Republican over her refusal to embrace the “big lie” that then-President Donald Trump won the election — the very lie that provoked the Capitol attack. “Liz is being chased out for one thing,” Kinzinger said. “… Her consistency. She said the same exact thing that Kevin McCarthy said on January 6th, which is Donald Trump is responsible” for the insurrection.

But while Cheney continues to speak the truth about Trump’s election fantasies and his role in the Capitol attack, McCarthy went to Florida soon after the insurrection to see a politically finished Trump and “resurrected him politically back to life.”

“He basically made the decision when he went to Mar-a-Lago that he was not going to be a leader of the Republican Party,” Kinzinger told the press club. “… I don’t consider him to be speaking on behalf of the Republican Party anymore because he gave his voting card, gave his proxy card, to Donald Trump.” Kinzinger called the attempt to oust Cheney “ludicrous” and said that, after Jan. 6, “the person that should have their leadership challenged is Kevin McCarthy.”

Kinzinger, like Cheney, is an outlier in the Trump-occupied GOP. Like others who voted to impeach, he has been censured by local Republicans at home and already has a primary challenger. But Kinzinger, who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t the sort to live in fear of losing an election.

And so he has been relentless in calling out McCarthy’s cowardice. He has tweeted about McCarthy’s attempts to whitewash Jan. 6. He said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the Republican Party is “basically the Titanic … in the middle of this slow sink” — a condition caused when McCarthy “put the paddles on Donald Trump and resurrected him in the party.”

I’ve been on book leave this spring, watching from a distance as the Republican crazy train careened down the line toward Wit’s End:

In Arizona, supporters of the defeated Trump are examining ballots with UV light to see “if there’s bamboo in the paper” in support of a conspiracy theory that 40,000 fake ballots were surreptitiously flown in from Asia.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a Fox News-only signing ceremony for a state law that will disproportionately stop non-White people from voting.

Republican legislators in Tennessee and Colorado have offered defenses of the three-fifths compromise.

House Republicans attempted to form a caucus in support of “Anglo-Saxon” traditions.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) got ensnarled in a sex-for-cash probe that involves an underage girl.

Rudy Giuliani had his home and office raided by federal agents.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that “100 percent of my focus is on standing up to this [Biden] administration.”

And at the bottom of the barrel is McCarthy, now publicly backing Cheney’s ouster, which is likely to come to a vote Wednesday. Last week, in hot-mic remarks, McCarthy said: “I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence.” Instead, he’s backing a challenge by Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who is far less conservative than Cheney but has the essential credential of supporting Trump’s “big lie” about the election — including the bamboo boondoggle in Arizona.

Kinzinger told me Monday afternoon that he thinks McCarthy, once a good friend, has made an ends-justify-the-means calculation to “accept the lie at the moment so we can win the majority and then address it.” He thinks that only about 10 House Republicans are dumb enough to genuinely believe that Trump won the election. The rest simply fear primary challenges and therefore accept McCarthy’s belief that “winning a majority was more important than a clear-eyed recognition of what happened on January 6.”

But Kinzinger sees this craven acceptance of lies destroying the Republican Party. “I have watched us compromise with crazy basically every two years,” he said. “All that becomes is the starting position for the next iteration towards crazy.”

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