Trump Endorses Kobach For Kansas Governor Over Republican Incumbent

Aug 5, 2018
Originally published on August 6, 2018 7:43 am

Updated at 12:24 p.m. ET

One of the nation's most vocal promoters of unsubstantiated voter fraud claims hopes to eliminate his own party's sitting governor in Tuesday's primary.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach de-facto led President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission. He's a provocative, self-styled champion of election integrity — dogged by allegations of links to white nationalists and opposed by civil rights groups who see him as pursuing thinly veiled voter suppression.

The day before the primary, President Trump tweeted an endorsement for Kobach, "he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military."

Trump made no reference to the voter fraud commission, which brought Kobach and the president together, but voter registration is still Kobach's rallying cry. "Every time a non-citizen votes, it effectively cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen," he said in a recent interview. "That's a problem."

But in federal court in March, experts tore apart his claims that non-citizens are carrying out widespread voter fraud. The judge who tried the case ruled against him.

That ended what the ACLU called the nation's strictest voter registration system. Kobach had blocked tens of thousands of people from joining Kansas voter rolls.

The same court case saw Kobach held in contempt for violating an injunction meant to safeguard voting rights. He was charged lawyer fees for that, and fined for misleading a judge.

All of this happened even as Kobach campaigned to unseat Gov. Jeff Colyer. But it's unclear whether his courtroom woes will turn voters against him. Colyer is leveraging Kobach's most embarrassing moments in hopes that it will.

"There is only one candidate on this stage," Colyer said at a recent debate, "who has been fined by a federal judge for lying to a federal court."

Colyer is a fellow conservative who inherited the governorship earlier this year when his deeply unpopular predecessor left for a U.S. State Department job. But he isn't a shoo-in. Seven candidates are vying for the GOP nomination. The winning nominee doesn't need a majority — just the highest percentage of votes.

At Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., political scientist Bob Beatty says that means Kobach's base could be his ticket to defeating Colyer.

"His strategy, and it may be a very good one, is, 'I don't need to change anybody's mind,' " Beatty says. " 'I just need to get my people out.' "

Kobach is selling himself as the true conservative — someone who won't compromise with the Republican party's moderate branch, let alone Democrats.

"If you're talking about a wishy-washy politician who just says whatever he thinks you want to hear," Kobach says, "you don't know if that guy's going to deliver."

The former law professor — with degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford — lost his bid for Congress in 2004 by a hefty margin. But he continued to build his profile by crafting and defending anti-immigration laws around the country. He has hosted his own talk radio show, writes for Breitbart and is a go-to guest when Fox News needs an unapologetic conservative.

His critics accuse him of pandering to or benefiting from white nationalist sentiment, but he dismisses them.

"I don't have a racist bone in my body," he says. "I believe we are all God's children."

Kobach has repeatedly said Somali refugees stole a 2010 election in Kansas City — even though a court found that untrue. He's a key supporter of Trump's claim that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016. Politifact has dubbed the assertion "Pants on Fire" false.

Kobach's war against voter fraud bonded him with the president from the start. He has confirmed Trump considered him to lead the Department of Homeland Security before tapping him for the voter fraud commission. More recently, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., has been helping Kobach raise money for his campaign.

Despite his White House contacts, Kobach says his aspirations aren't national.

"My objective is to lead the state of Kansas," he says. "And to solve a couple of problems that we have."

Top on his list, he says, is cutting taxes and finding ways to discourage immigrants who enter the country illegally from making Kansas their home.

This story comes from the Kansas News Service, a collaboration covering health, education and politics.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.


Kansas voters are going to choose their nominees for governor tomorrow. And on the Republican ballot is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Now, he became nationally known for imposing a strict voter registration law that was later tossed out by a court. While Kobach says he wants to protect electoral integrity, critics call him a master of voter suppression. As Celia Llopis-Jepsen of the Kansas News Service reports, he believes he can win it all in November.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN, BYLINE: In order to do that, Secretary Kobach has to beat the incumbent, Governor Jeff Colyer, in tomorrow's primary. Being provocative may help. Take a recent parade when Kobach rode down the streets of Shawnee in a jeep with a giant replica gun. The city apologized. But here's Kobach at the next debate.


KRIS KOBACH: And the snowflake said, you can't have a machine gun on top of a jeep in a parade. We said, yes, we can. And now we're taking it to every parade we can in the entire state.


LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Kobach, a former law professor with degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford, lost his bid for Congress in 2004 but has built a high profile...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He's the ACLU's worst nightmare.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: ...With tough talk on immigration, Breitbart columns, Fox News appearances and talk radio.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And this is The Kris Kobach Show.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: His war against voter fraud bonded him with President Trump. Then he was tapped for the president's short-lived commission on just that. Also, Donald Trump Jr. has campaigned for him. If Kobach's style turns off some Republicans, it may not matter, says Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University. There are four experienced candidates on the GOP ballot, and in Kansas, the nominee just needs the highest percentage of votes to win.

BOB BEATTY: His strategy - and it may be a very good one - is, I don't need to change anybody's mind; I just need to get my people out.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Governor Jeff Colyer, a mild-mannered fellow conservative, is fighting back against Kobach by throwing the secretary's legal woes in his face.


JEFF COLYER: And there is only one candidate on this stage who has been fined by a federal judge for lying to a federal court.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: That stems from Kobach's 2011 law requiring would-be voters to show birth certificates, passports, something proving U.S. citizenship. It decimated voter registration efforts like this.

LOIS ORTH-LOPES: You guys are registered to vote, right?





LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Lois Orth-Lopes is a volunteer for the League of Women Voters. The group registers voters here at the Lawrence Farmers' Market or at libraries, high schools, wherever.

ORTH-LOPES: OK. Just have a seat.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Kobach has called them communists. The league and others sued Kobach for blocking tens of thousands of people from registering to vote. In June, the law was declared unconstitutional, and he was held in contempt for violating court orders. At trial, the judge rebuked him day after day for, quote, "flagrant violations of evidence rules." None of this seems to faze Kobach.


KOBACH: Look; every time a noncitizen votes, it effectively cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen. And that's a problem.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: He claims thousands of noncitizens are on Kansas voter rolls. But without proof, his claim is made on statistical projections and testimony that experts tore apart in court. But it's unclear if that'll hurt his political aspirations. If Kobach wins the primary, he thinks he can woo enough voters in November, too, including people who don't fully share his point of view.

KOBACH: I think they still will decide, hey, it's worth voting for Kobach because at least I know that he's going to deliver on the two or three issues that I agree with him on.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Much like Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Kobach says he won't pivot like other politicians and that that's his selling point. For NPR News, I'm Celia Llopis-Jepsen in Topeka.

GREENE: Celia is with the Kansas News Service, which is a collaboration covering health, politics and education.