Kansas Republican voters delivered Kris Kobach a squeaker of a victory in the state’s gubernatorial primary, boosting the political career of a man who has spent years turning the GOP into the anti-immigrant, voter-suppressing party that President Trump rode to victory in 2016. Trump made a last-minute endorsement-by-tweet that could have contributed to Kobach’s ultra-thin margin of victory.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been celebrating the primary victories of Trump acolytes in this summer’s primaries as a sign that Trumpism is consolidating its control over the GOP. And nothing could be a clearer indication of that than the extremist Kobach being selected as the party’s nominee for governor. Indeed, as the New York Times editorial board noted earlier this month, Kobach “represents the ugliest part of today’s Republican Party”—and he “sounds a lot like the president.”
Kobach is best known for his anti-immigrant and voter-suppression efforts, but he has also stoked racially tinged right-wing conspiracy theories. As we noted when Kobach joined Trump’s post-election transition team:
Kobach, like Trump, has been known to be drawn to conspiracy theories, especially ones that bolster fears of the growing influence of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. On his weekly radio show in 2014, Kobach entertained the question of a listener who wondered if a Hispanic majority in the U.S. would start conducting “ethnic cleansing,” saying that while he thought it was unlikely, “things are strange and they are happening” under President Obama. On another occasion, he told a caller it would not be a “huge jump” to think that the president might ban all criminal prosecutions of African Americans. Just this year, Kobach told a caller to his show that Obama might well oppose Kobach’s disastrous proof-of-citizenship voting restriction in Kansas because he’s not a citizen himself.
Kobach was part of the right-wing race-baiting attack that destroyed community organizing group ACORN in the wake of President Obama’s 2008 election. At Phyllis Schlafly’s 2009 “How to Take Back America” conference, Kobach, then running for Secretary of State, asserted that no one in America is disenfranchised by the color of their skin, saying it was people like those in attendance (conservative white Christians) who were disenfranchised by the supposed voter fraud carried out by ACORN and its allies. Kobach later credited the manufactured controversy over ACORN with generating support for his voter ID push.
Kobach is relentless in his voter suppression pursuits, such as the 2013 law he pushed requiring Kansas voters to present proof of citizenship when registering to vote, creating a nightmarish scenario in which county clerks would be forced to keep track of separate classes of voters, some of whom would only be eligible in federal elections. In spite of having the power of his office to pursue his claims, Kobach has never been able to identify more than a handful of people wrongly voting, while the laws he championed have prevented tens of thousands of legitimate voters from being able to cast a ballot. Indeed, voter ID laws are really about rigging elections in favor of conservatives by making it harder for many people who gravitate toward traditionally Democratic voting groups from being able to register or cast a ballot.
In May 2017, Kobach was named vice chair of the Trump administration’s sham “Commission on Election Integrity,” which was created to try to substantiate Trump’s petulant insistence that his losing the popular vote by more than 3 million votes was due to the supposed fact that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally for his opponent. Kobach gave Trump cover by declaring that the president was “absolutely correct” that the number of illegal votes cast exceeded the popular vote margin.
There was, and is, no evidence to support that claim, of course, and the commission was a fiasco from the beginning. Last year Kobach wrote (and was paid for) a column in Breitbart claiming that he had “proof” that the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire “was likely changed through voter fraud” and that Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory might have been the result of fraud, too. His headline-grabbing but dishonest and easily debunked claims made it clear that the commission’s work would not be trustworthy.
During its short life, the commission did give a platform to Kobach and other voter-suppression advocates such as Heritage Foundation fellow Hans von Spakovsky, former Ohio secretary of state and current Family Research Council official Ken Blackwell, and former DOJ attorney and voter-roll-purge advocate J. Christian Adams. In early 2018, the commission folded in ignominy. And this month, fellow commission memberMaine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap released more than a thousand documents showing that the commission found no evidence to support Trump or Kobach’s claims, and that the commission had been founded with a “pre-ordained outcome” in mind.
Kobach got another slapdown this year when a federal judge not only ruled that the Kansas proof-of-citizenship law Kobach championed was unconstitutional, but also slammed Kobach for failure to comply with the court’s orders and for his “repeated and flagrant violations of discovery and disclosure rules.” The judge’s order included the humiliating requirement that Kobach, a Harvard University and Yale Law School grad, take six hours of legal education classes.
Simply put, when it comes to his job of overseeing the functioning of elections in Kansas, he’s been a disaster.
Kobach has been equally zealous in promoting his anti-immigration views, not surprising for someone who worked for Immigration Reform Law Institute, a legal affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the anti-immigration groups founded by promoter of white nationalist ideology John Tanton that was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2015, Kobach spoke at a writers workshop event held by the Social Contract Press, which frequently publishes the work of white nationalists.
Kobach helped write Arizona’s infamous HB 1070–known as the “show me your papers” law—and shaped and defended other state and municipal immigration restrictions across the country. In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of lower court decisions that struck down two towns’ anti-immigrant ordinances that Kobach had written, and that the towns spent millions defending in court. Some of that money went to pay Kobach, who said at the time that he charged about $50,000 a year to defend his ordinances.
Earlier this month, ProPublica and the Kansas City Star documented the “sometimes disastrous effects” on towns that Kobach exploited to push his agenda, including Farmers Branch, Texas, which “wound up owing $7 million in legal bills” and Fremont, Nebraska, which raised property taxes to pay for his “services.” A university of Missouri law professor who focuses on legal ethics likened Kobach’s efforts to the scammer Harold Hill in the musical “The Music Man.” They were costly for the towns, but lucrative for Kobach, who “earned more than $800,000 for his immigration work, paid by both towns and an advocacy group, over 13 years.”
Kobach said last year that the U.S. has no “moral obligation” to accept refugees and that “a significant number” of them would eventually “become terrorists.”
Kobach helped write Trump’s border wall policy, and promoted the idea of paying for the wall by cutting off the flow of money that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. send to family members in Mexico. He also got Trump’s wall included in the Republican Party’s 2016 platform. Kobach was also a member of the platform committee in 2012, where he led an effort to get language endorsing his proof-of-citizenship law and language about the supposed threat to the U.S. Constitution from Sharia law into the platform, language he hoped activists could use to pressure their states to pass anti-Sharia legislation. He also promoted anti-marriage-equality language and claimed credit for a provision opposing any limits on the number of bullets in a gun’s magazine. He has compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi was criminal Josef Mengele.
The spread of Kobach’s anti-immigration and voter-suppression ideology throughout the Republican Party has been boosted by right-wing ideology marketing behemoth the Heritage Foundation and Kobach’s allies in the Religious Right.
This week, Andy Schlafly, son of the late Phyllis Schlafly, declared that Kobach was one of her favorites, and celebrated Kobach’s “miraculous victory” on the eve of his mother’s birthday as “the best birthday present she would have wanted.”
I wonder what Schlafly would make of the fact that Kobach held a fundraising event in June—at which an AR-15 assault rifle was raffled off—with musician Ted Nugent, who once said while wielding two machine guns onstage, “Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch!” Given how fully Schlafly embraced Trump, joining the rest of the Religious Right stampede to abandon previously held beliefs about the importance of a politician’s character, it’s possible she wouldn’t have batted an eye.