Far-right Donald Trump supporters are eyeing Kris Kobach, an immigration hardliner and a leading figure in the Republican assault on voting rights, as a potential running mate for the presumptive GOP nominee.
The two appear to have similar worldviews. For decades, most modern Republicans have talked about the need to shrink government in order to protect liberty. By contrast, Trump and Kobach are more likely to emphasize "security" – both on the border and at the polls. Call it big-government conservatism.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, endorsed Trump in late February. And last month Kobach said Trump’s idea for getting Mexico to pay for a border wall came from him. The plan involves cutting off remittances from the U.S. to Mexico, which inject about $20 billion a year into the Mexican economy. In response, goes the thinking, Mexico would agree to fund the wall, which is projected to cost about $10 billion, as the cheaper option.
“Mr. Trump was receptive to that idea. And I think he’s an excellent negotiator, and he looks for opportunities to put pressure on opposing parties in negotiations, and this fits the bill,” Kobach told the Topeka Capitol-Journal.
Experts have said the idea would only drive remittances onto the black market and could needlessly alienate an important regional partner.
The nativist website VDARE.com has promoted Kobach as a veep selection for Trump. Peter Brimelow, the site’s founder, called Kobach’s endorsement of Trump “a very brave move,” adding: “Kobach for veep.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes VDARE, which has regularly published writing by white nationalists and anti-Semites, as a hate group. It's named for Virginia Dare, said to be the first English child born in the New World.
In March, Kobach served as a de facto surrogate for Trump in an interview with PBS, in which he appeared alongside Marco Rubio supporter Henry Barbour. Kobach praised Trump for “taking the strongest position that we’ve ever heard a presidential candidate take on illegal immigration" and attacked Rubio as a supporter of “amnesty.”
The performance drew raves from VDARE. “In a GOP party that was living up to its professed principles, people like Kobach, and not Barbour, would be running things,” a writer for the site enthused, describing Kobach as “a stalwart warrior against the illegal immigrant invasion.” The post also appeared at the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, whose founder has endorsed Trump.
Last week, the vice presidential speculation went more mainstream with a tweet from Mickey Kaus, a former writer for The New Republic and Slate who has adopted an increasingly hard line on immigration.
Kobach, a former aide to then-Attorney-General John Ashcroft, was the lead author of immigration laws passed by Arizona and Alabama in recent years, which are seen as the strictest immigration measures in the nation. The laws require law enforcement to try to determine a person’s legal status during any legal stop if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is undocumented.
As Kansas’ top elections official, Kobach has been equally well-known for making it harder to vote. He championed a 2011 state law that requires people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. In November 2014, Kobach kept around 24,000 voter registration applications in limbo because they didn’t include documentary proof of citizenship. Last week, a federal judge ordered Kobach’s office to begin processing suspended applications submitted through the Department of Motor Vehicles, significantly weakening the law. Kobach’s office is appealing the ruling. And in January he convinced the director of the federal agency that helps states oversee elections to make a highly controversial change to the federal voter registration form that allows his state, as well as Georgia and Alabama, to ask for proof of citizenship. Both of those states have passed similar laws to Kansas’. That move, too, has drawn a lawsuit. Kobach claims non-citizen voting threatens the integrity of elections but has been able to point to only a tiny number of cases.
Kobach’s record as a supporter of voting restrictions and especially of proof of citizenship requirements may well appeal to Trump, who has several times voiced support for tight voting laws and suggested, without evidence, that illegal voting is a serious problem. “I want to see voting laws so that people that are citizens can vote,” Trump said on NBC’s "Meet the Press" this month. “Not so people that can walk off the street and can vote, or so that illegal immigrants can vote.”
“You’ve got to have real security with the voting system,” Trump said on the campaign trail in January. “This voting system is out of control. You have people, in my opinion, that are voting many, many times."
Trump’s campaign, which rarely responds to media inquiries, didn’t respond to MSNBC’s request for comment on Kobach’s chances of being named his running mate. A spokesman for Kobach declined to comment.
Earlier this month, Kobach told The Wichita Eagle that he intends “to be available to Mr. Trump to continue to provide any advice he needs on immigration issues” but that he has no expectation of a post in a Trump administration.