Eight months ago, then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) lost the 2018 gubernatorial election by 5 points to Democrat Laura Kelly — a stinging defeat for any GOP nominee in a state won by his staunch ally President Donald Trump by more than 20 points two years earlier.
Kobach’s national brand has been built on two main racist and xenophobic pillars: backing hardline anti-immigrant policies and voter suppression policies to combat paper-thin claims of “voter fraud.”
As Kansas secretary of state, Kobach repeatedly pushed the false narrative that widespread voting by non-citizens was tainting elections. He created an error-riddled interstate database and pushed to purge tens of thousands of people — many of them legitimate voters — from the voting rolls. His legal defense of a law he helped enact to require documentary proof of citizenship for voters in Kansas was such a disastrous failure that a judge ordered him to take several hours of continuing legal education.
Trump entrusted Kobach in May 2017 to lead a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, also referred to as the “Voter Fraud Commission. It was disbanded in January 2018 after coming up with zero evidence of widespread voter fraud (though Kobach long refused to accept this fact).
Kobach also designed a series of anti-immigrant state laws, advised 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on his plan to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they “self deport,” and drafted plans for Trump’s failed effort to get Mexico to bankroll a massive wall along its border with the United States.
Last month, leaked Trump transition documents obtained by Axios revealed that Trump’s own vetting team had flagged Kobach for “white supremacy” concerns.
“Past political opponents have accused Kobach of allying himself with groups that had connections to white supremacist groups,” the document noted, likely referencing reports that Kobach had accepted support from white supremacist groups during his unsuccessful race for U.S. House of Representatives in 2004.
At the time, Kobach accused political opponents of trying to play a “Kevin Bacon game” linking him to extremist groups. “It’s just a stupid argument,” he told the Kansas News Service, calling the accusations “hurtful.”
Kobach’s 2018 candidacy was most notable for the huge numbers of Republican voters and elected officials who wanted nothing to do with it. In a deeply red state, Kobach received just 43% of the vote.
Former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) even crossed party lines to endorse Kobach’s rival Kelly, telling The Kansas City Star that Kobach had “developed a record that shows a focus on ways and how to accomplish his end goals that I think are not the best for Kansas.”
Two-term former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves (R) did the same, in his first ever statewide endorsement of a Democrat. Former U.S. Senator and Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm and former state Senate President Dick Bond also joined more than two dozen former prominent GOP elected officials backing Kelly over Kobach. Frahm said that Kelly would “bring Kansans together to rebuild our state” and “slam the door on the failed policies of [Republican former Kansas Gov.] Sam Brownback and stop Kris Kobach.”
While moderates ran from Kobach, Trump enthusiastically embraced the man he had picked to head up his voter suppression effort.
Days before Kobach faced off against then-Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican primary, Trump tweeted a full-throated endorsement of the challenger.
“Kris Kobach, a strong and early supporter of mine, is running for Governor of the Great State of Kansas,” he wrote. “He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military. VOTE TUESDAY!”
Kris Kobach, a strong and early supporter of mine, is running for Governor of the Great State of Kansas. He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military. VOTE TUESDAY!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2018
Days after Kobach narrowly defeated Colyer for the Republican nomination, Trump again endorsed him as his “friend and very early supporter.”
My friend and very early supporter Kris Kobach won the Republican Nomination for Governor of Kansas last night in a tough race against a very fine opponent. Kris will win in November and be a great Governor. He has my complete and total Endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2018
Trump’s prediction that Kobach would win did not come true.