OPINION

Should Derek Schmidt keep an eye on Mike Pompeo? Running for president as a governor makes sense for former SOS.

Bob Beatty
Special to Gannett Kansas

Former Gov. Jeff Colyer has dropped out of the 2022 Republican primary for Kansas governor, leaving Attorney General Derek Schmidt as the only well-known candidate and the clear front-runner.

Colyer’s departure transforms the nature of the primary. What would have been a titanic battle of political heavyweights going head to head now looks to be 11 months of Schmidt making fundraising calls and issuing press releases criticizing Gov. Laura Kelly.

Many Republicans are pleased at this development as they claim to dislike competitive primaries that “dirty up” the eventual winner. But in a democracy, it’s always good to have competitive elections, and in Kansas, Republican primaries give voters much-needed information about the candidates.

Without party cues, voters, the media and the candidates themselves are forced to concentrate on other things, such as character, records, and yes, sometimes even issues. Millions of dollars are spent, political action committees get involved, TV debates are held. It’s glorious.

To paraphrase an old Sam Brownback quote, Schmidt looks to have a glide path to the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Almost all the Republican establishment politicians in the state are rushing to endorse him — some clearly angling to be his lieutenant governor — while the few names that had been floated as possible opponents, such as Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, have opted out of the race.

So, Schmidt can kick back and relax, as his primary worries are over. Right?

Not quite. There’s the small matter of Mike Pompeo. And his interest in being president of the United States. And that’s not good for Derek Schmidt. (Pompeo did endorse Schmidt on Wednesday.)

Mike Pompeo — former Kansas congressman and director of the CIA, and Donald Trump’s secretary of state from 2018-2021 — is showing every sign that he intends to run for the 2024 Republican nomination for president. However, his former boss Trump is showing every sign that he is planning on running again.

Jason Miller, a close Trump confidant, when asked recently about the chances of Trump running, said, “I would say somewhere between 99 and 100 percent. I think he is definitely running in 2024.”

Pompeo won't run if Trump runs, but Trump may not make a decision until well after the 2022 mid-term elections. That might make Schmidt safe, with Pompeo frozen in presidential election limbo, waiting for Trump, while Schmidt battles Kelly.

Maybe not, because Pompeo running — and then winning — the Kansas governorship puts him in an incredibly powerful position to run for president — or get picked to be Trump’s vice president — regardless of Trump’s decision.

Many presidential candidates are governors with executive experience or senators with foreign policy experience. As governor, Pompeo would have both. If Trump does run in 2024, Pompeo would be a likely VP pick or perfectly situated to run in 2028, presumably after winning a second term as governor in 2026.

If Trump doesn’t run, then fresh off a 2022 gubernatorial victory in Kansas, Pompeo decamps to Iowa every weekend for presidential campaigning. And if he loses, well, so what? He’s still governor of Kansas.

The tortuous part for Schmidt is that Pompeo is a political rock star in Kansas Republican circles. He could wait until the filing deadline in June of 2022, enter the race and then still win. Yes, Pompeo has endorsed Schmidt. But he can always change his mind. It’s been known to happen among politicians.

So the question is actually not whether Pompeo will enter the Kansas gubernatorial primary. No, the real question is, why wouldn’t he?