On Monday morning, President Trump un-shockingly overrode the advice of his advisers and enthusiastically endorsed voter-fraud obsessive and Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.
The endorsement isn’t a surprise — in July, the AP reported that “last spring, Trump was on the verge of tweeting out an endorsement of Kobach but his staff intervened, warning of the repercussions.” But it is a big blow to the incumbent Republican governor, Jeff Colyer, whom Kobach will face alongside four other Republicans in a contentious primary on Tuesday. In the closing days of the race, Colyer has attempted to cozy up to the president, who has had a Midas touch in selecting GOP primary candidates of late. Polling is scant, but Kobach is seen as well-positioned to win on Tuesday, and Trump’s late-breaking intervention may well put him over the top. (One caveat: early voting has already been under way for weeks.)
Trump’s intervention is also a godsend for likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Laura Kelly. She would be delighted to run against Kobach instead of Colyer in the fall, seeing that he comes equipped with a few overhead bins’ worth of baggage.
The former Kansas secretary of state is one of a few Republicans nationwide who can credibly be labeled “Trump before Trump.” As Gabriel Debenedetti put it in a recent look at the Kansas race, Kobach is “the country’s single most notorious anti–illegal immigration and voter-fraud crusader, whose legend as the beating heart of distilled proto-Trumpian policy has only grown” since he became a semi-national figure earlier this decade.
During his days as a Kansas lawmaker, Kobach embarked on a tireless quest to uncover mythical widespread voter fraud, making it more difficult to vote even as the evidence he marshaled to prove his hare-brained theories was routinely ripped apart in court — a trend that continues to this day. Kobach rode his extreme views to a spot on President Trump’s ill-fated Voter Fraud Commission, which disbanded at the beginning of this year.
Kobach also drafted a series of highly restrictive immigration laws that helped pave the way for the GOP’s turn into full-on nativism.
Then there are his views of Kansas’s last governor. The state is still reeling from the tumultuous tenure of Sam Brownback, whose radical, supply-side economic vision shredded the state’s budget, leaving Kansas in a deep financial hole and most voters indignant. Months before Brownback left office to take a religious-ambassador role in the Trump administration, leaving Colyer in his place, a poll showed that 66 percent of Kansans disapproved of his performance in office. But Kobach has praised Brownback as “transformative.” This embrace of a deeply disliked figure is likely to dog him just as much, if not more, than his fringy attitudes on other matters.
In the end, Kobach’s dark view of the world was too similar to Trump’s for the president not to get involved. (Kobach even attended Harvard and Yale, credentials that act as catnip to the president.) But it’s safe to say that one of the only Republicans pleased with Trump’s late entry into the race is Kobach himself.