Views from Kansas: Gut-check time for Kansas GOP

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

If history is any guide, Kansas’ U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Pat Roberts since 1997, and by Republicans for a century, should be the GOP’s to lose in 2020.

And were Kris Kobach the Republican nominee, the party would have a fighting chance to do just that: lose.

The former Kansas secretary of state and failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate — who is so polarizing that even the Kobach-kindred Trump administration has recently been careful to put daylight between him and the president — blew into the Senate race with his kickoff announcement Monday. Like any cyclone, Kobach changed the atmosphere instantly in GOP circles, from that of anticipation to one of dread.

“The last statewide campaign that Kris ran for governor could be described as disorganized and amateur at best,” warned conservative Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park. “We simply can’t afford to give the Democrats another gift like we did with Laura Kelly in that governor’s race.”

“Just last year, Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat,” added a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Now he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate majority at risk. We know Kansans won’t let that happen …”

Yet, is it so certain they won’t? Remember, even with a growing reputation for leaving a trail of damage, Kobach last year narrowly defeated incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican primary before losing to Kelly, a Democrat, in November. Moreover, there’s a risk that many good conservative Kansans will earnestly but futilely cling to Kobach as the border savior he clearly is not.

Indeed, with what’s been described as a Music Man-style hustle, Kobach has crossed the land over the years selling city officials on his elixir for local immigration enforcement, only to leave them with overturned ordinances and court costs reaching into the millions, not to mention his hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. Taxpayers in Valley Park, Mo.; Farmers Branch, Texas; Hazleton, Pa.; and Fremont, Neb., all were sucked into the Kobach whirlwind.

He hasn’t left out his home state, either. Last year, the Kansas voter citizenship law he championed was struck down by a federal judge who also felt it necessary to find Kobach in contempt for his foot-dragging on voter rights and ordered him to take remedial classes to fix his courtroom behavior.

He has, by trusted accounts, left the secretary of state’s office in disarray. Yet, when being considered for the new post of Trump administration “Immigration Czar” earlier this year, Kobach reportedly issued a list of such extravagant demands — for a West Wing office, 24/7 government jet, eminence over other Cabinet officers on immigration, unfettered access to the Oval Office, a path to Homeland Security secretary — that it was undoubtedly leaked to the media to shame him.

Kobach also has been dogged by reports of having ties to white supremacist groups — accusations that he’s denied. The allegations were flagged by Republican National Committee researchers working for the Trump transition team, and recently released Trump vetting documents listed possible connections to white supremacists as a Kobach vulnerability.

How many red flags must flap wildly in the Kansas wind before GOP voters see this storm coming?

It’s gut-check time for Kansas Republicans. They will be not only nominating a candidate for a Senate seat they’ve occupied since 1919, but will also be choosing a standard-bearer for the party.

Does Kris Kobach really represent the standard the Kansas GOP wants to set?

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star


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