Will the “Trump effect” carry Kris Kobach and Republican congressional candidates to victory this November?
Some commentators believe that an endorsement by President Donald Trump represents a powerful force in winning state and local elections, but the president’s mounting and careless disregard for the rule of law should nullify the Trump effect with Kansas voters.
Kris Kobach claims that Trump’s last-minute endorsement gave him the winning edge in the razor thin Republican primary race for governor. Sources in the Colyer campaign agree: “It was all Trump.”
Of course, there was little doubt about the president’s preference in that contest. Kobach had endorsed Trump early in the 2016 presidential campaign and was considered for a top job in the administration. Donald Trump, Jr., made two fund-raising trips to Kansas for Kobach this past year. Kobach campaign commercials prominently featured Trump.
Republican officials in Kansas certainly believe that Trump endorsements give their candidates a boost. National Committeeman Mark Kahrs contends, “Trump is very popular in the state.”
Kansas election results from 2016 back up this contention. Trump carried the state with 57 percent of the vote, a 20-point margin over Hillary Clinton. He carried every county except for Douglas and Wyandotte, with margins in 40 rural counties exceeding 80 percent of the vote.
That, however, was nearly two years ago. Kansans have since seen what it is like to have a loose cannon in the White House, one who mocks the rule of law with impunity.
Just last week, Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court to eight felonies, including two in which he verified that he broke the law at the direction of candidate Trump. Those instances involved illegal payments in the closing months of the 2016 election of hush money to two women claiming affairs with Trump. Trump dismissed Cohen’s felonies as “tiny ones” or “not even crimes.”
Also last week, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted by jury in federal court of eight felonies involving financial fraud. Trump responded Manafort was “brave” and did not “break.”
Five close Trump associates have now been found guilty of serious felonies. Two more have been granted immunity in further investigations of wrong-doing.
Kobach responded to the convictions: “I’m very pleased and honored to be associated with President Trump.” In contrast, the silence of Republican congressional candidates has been deafening.
After a series of presidential taunts undermining professional law enforcement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned against politicizing the administration of justice: “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Trump tweeted in response with a list of political enemies he wants investigated.
Kobach’s own litigious antics mirror those of Trump in disregarding the rule of law. He wasted over seven years in state office pursuing specious claims of “pervasive” illegal voting and came up short — leaving a trail of courtroom defeats and contempt citations. Kobach was recently found in contempt of court for disregarding a federal court order and fined $26,000 — which he wants Kansas taxpayers to pay. He was earlier fined for “patently misleading representations” in federal court.
Over the weekend the president unleashed another tweet storm again mocking Sessions and the Department of Justice while threatening to become personally involved in FBI investigations.
Trump has placed Kansans’ belief in the rule of law and professional law enforcement on the ballot this November. Any candidate who endorses Trump’s reckless disregard for the rule of law or remains silent should suffer the consequences.
Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University and served with Kansas Governors Bennett and Hayden.