It’s no secret that the president would like to hand an anvil to his current Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, and point her to the nearest cliff. It’s unclear whether his beef with her is strictly personal (perhaps she is not tall enough for his approval), is performance-based, or is simply a product of her responsibility to inform him now and then of inconvenient laws and regulations that inhibit him from straddling the U.S.-Mexico border like a colossus. He has famously been abusive towards her in Cabinet meetings. And according to the Washington Post, he could fire her or she could resign almost any day.
It’s also pretty clear who Trump would like to put in charge of DHS if he had his druthers. He dropped this pretty big hint at a rally in Kansas in October:
“I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration. In fact, if he loses, I’ll bring him into my administration. I hope he loses, because I want him so badly.” said the president.
“He” and “him” are Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the close Trump ally and world-class nativist who turned down earlier Trump job offers in order to run for governor of his state. He did indeed lose, and so is now available for duty in Washington. His two chief qualifications are: clearly established loyalty to Trump (he endorsed him pretty early in 2016, and ran his ill-fated Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity as vice chairman before it was disbanded when states refused to hand over confidential voter data), and a bad attitude about immigration that rivals Trump’s own. (Kobach, among other things, was the architect of Arizona’s infamous S.B. 1070, the so-called “show your papers” law mostly struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012.)
Kobach’s right-wing fan base has ginned up a White House petition urging Trump to replace Nielsen with Kobach, which Breitbart News is promoting:
Trump is rumored to be replacing Nielsen by the new year, as he and allies of his “America First” have continuously expressed disappointment and rage [sic!] at her leadership of DHS over the last year, sources have said.
Kobach has dedicated much of his career to combatting illegal immigration, being one of only a handful of elected Republicans who recognize the downward wage pressure on U.S. workers created by the annual importation of more than 1.5 million mostly low-skilled immigrants.
In some of his most recent Breitbart News columns, Kobach has advocated for stopping mass illegal immigration at the southern border and a migrant caravan of 7,000 to 10,000 Central Americans by enlisting state and local police to aid federal immigration officials.
Yes, he’s all over the migrant “caravan,” too. Short of Steve King, there’s no major figure in public life Trump can choose for DHS that would more clearly signal he means business on the border, law and constitution be damned.
Trouble is, the very characteristics that make Kobach beloved to Breitbart News (whose former chairman Steve Bannon reportedly got Kobach involved in designing a very controversial citizenship question for the 2020 census) and to Trump make him anathema to most Democrats and a nasty piece of work to many Republicans. He lost the Kansas governor’s race in part because of conspicuous Republican defections to Democrat Laura Kelly. And FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon, Jr., suggests that a confirmation vote on Kobach could energize a new Senate rebellion against Trump’s more extremist tendencies, encompassing Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski plus new senator Mitt Romney and vulnerable 2020 target Cory Gardner.
It’s entirely possible Trump will either learn to live with Nielsen or find a less inflammatory successor, consigning Kobach to an informal advisor role while occasionally making goo-goo eyes at him when an appropriate post comes open. But if he’s in the mood to test the loyalty of a Republican Party that has largely surrendered to his arbitrary will, then look out! Secretary Kobach, with 240,000 employees and a $60 billion budget, could be in the wings.