Government & Politics

With Donald Trump Jr. on hand, hundreds turn out to support Kobach’s run for governor

The president’s oldest son came to Overland Park on Tuesday to wrap his arms around Kris Kobach, the lightning-rod conservative running for governor who has long supported the elder Trump and backed his unproven claim of mass voter fraud.

Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, was joined by Donald Trump Jr. at a campaign fundraiser at the DoubleTree Hotel on College Boulevard as protesters billing themselves as “a mass mobilization against hate and racism” rallied nearby.

A crowd of roughly 400 filled a hotel ballroom to watch Trump Jr. and Kobach have a conversation on stage after a reception that was closed to reporters.

Kobach started the night by asking questions about Trump Jr.’s father, the president. The presidential son referred to his father as a “blue collar billionaire,” and reflected on Trump’s career as Kobach peppered him with questions.

“I think he’s actually given conservatives the ability to actually feel free to speak up again,” Trump Jr. said about his father.

Kobach was the only statewide elected official who endorsed Donald Trump before the 2016 Kansas Republican caucus. He advised Trump during the campaign on immigration policy and worked on the transition team.

Both Trump and Kobach have claimed widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2016 election, but neither has provided any clear evidence. Kobach helps lead Trump’s voter fraud commission, which has sparked backlash and lawsuits this year.

Trump Jr. also has run into controversy this year. He was recently revealed to have corresponded with Wikileaks during the 2016 election about damaging information the organization had on Hillary Clinton, his father’s Democratic opponent.

And earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. had been promised “damaging information” about Clinton before he met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin during the 2016 election cycle.

The talk between Kobach and Trump Jr. Tuesday night bounced from Trump’s twitter use and hunting to how the younger Trump met his wife. They also criticized the news media’s coverage of Trump and praised his presidency and approach.

“Your dad is the most transparent president ever,” Kobach said.

But critics have repeatedly pointed to Trump's decision to withhold information, including his decision to not release his tax returns.

At one point, Trump Jr. was asked “is America great again yet?”

He said “we’re working on it.”

“The swamp has teeth,” Trump Jr. said. “The swamp isn’t going to make it easy”

Before the fundraiser, roughly 80 protesters gathered at a nearby park to accuse the GOP candidate for Kansas governor of racism, nativism and fear-mongering.

Speakers repeatedly blasted Kobach for his support of tougher immigration laws and new restrictions on voting.

“His love of the Founding Fathers should not translate to going back to a time when only wealthy white men can vote,” said Patricia “Peezy” Mullins, an activist with Indivisible Kansas City who spoke at the protest.  

Theresa Sahhar, a 56-year-old Olathe resident who held a sign decorated with lights that said “Stop Kobach,” said she was not politically active until the elder Trump’s campaign for president spurred her to become a Democratic precinct member.

The possibility of Kobach as governor has pushed her to stay active, she said.

“I’ve never been political in my life, but I’m doing everything I can because I feel like this is an emergency,” she said. “This is new for me. I have never made so many signs in my life.

Trump Jr.’s appearance with Kobach is the latest intrigue in a large Republican primary field that includes Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, the man expected to become the state’s leader once Gov. Sam Brownback officially leaves for a job in the Trump administration.

Kobach, who regularly appears on cable television and writes a column for the far-right website Breitbart, is seen as a force in the crowded Republican race.

“I’m running because Topeka faces a crisis in leadership,” Kobach said before slamming the recent tax increase by the Kansas Legislature as “outrageous and unnecessary.”

Trump Jr.’s appearance with Kobach was met with criticism by other Republican contenders for governor ahead of the fundraiser.

Former state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka Republican running for governor, said in a statement that “Kris Kobach won’t be draining any swamps as governor.”

And former state Rep. Ed O’Malley, another Republican in the race, said, “Bringing Donald Trump Jr. to town just reinforces how out of touch Kobach is.”

But other Republicans were in attendance at Tuesday’s fundraiser, including sitting members of the Kansas Legislature like Rep. Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican.

The event shows Kobach has good support from people in high places that will help Kansas, Vickrey said.

“He’s the candidate that reflects what (Kansans’) beliefs are and what I believe Kansans want in a governor,” he said.

Greg Beck, a 59-year-old Kobach supporter, came to the fundraiser dressed in a red blazer and the “Make America Great Again Hat,” synonymous with the Trump presidential campaign.

“We’re going to make Kansas great again,” he said. “Even greater.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw