Kris Kobach Is the G.O.P. at Its Worst

In his race to be Kansas’ next governor, Kris Kobach represents the ugliest part of today’s Republican Party. He also sounds a lot like the president.

.. Kris Kobach, the state’s secretary of state — and quite possibly the most pernicious public official in America.
.. This distinction is not conferred lightly. Mr. Kobach has labored for it long and hard, notably in the areas of voter suppression and nativism. He is best known for having been the vice chairman of President Trump’s ugly voter fraud commission, spawned in 2017 to root out the millions of illegal voters who Mr. Trump’s ego pathetically, and falsely, claimed had cost him the popular vote in 2016. The commission was dissolved this January, having failed to find any evidence of widespread fraud, but having succeeded in raising Mr. Kobach’s national profile and cementing his reputation as a master purveyor of Trumpism.
Mr. Kobach on Wednesday declared victory at a noon news conference, acknowledging that only 191 votes separated him from Mr. Colyer and that the election result may change as provisional and other ballots are counted. Awkwardly, as the state’s top election official, Mr. Kobach would be the person charged with overseeing any recount of votes. Unless he recused himself, which he has said he would not.
Mr. Kobach is running for governor on a promise to “Make Kansas Great Again.” (#MKGA!)
.. Starting with a failed run for Congress in 2004, Mr. Kobach has regularly sounded the alarm that illegal immigration and widespread voter fraud are destroying this nation. Indeed, he has suggested that fraud played a role in his congressional defeat.
A former constitutional law professor with degrees from Yale, Harvard and Oxford, Mr. Kobach’s specialty is concocting creative legal arguments to achieve controversial political ends — such as, say, forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall. (His plan: use a provision in the Patriot Act to track and tax the remittances that undocumented immigrants send home to family members.)

He was the brains behind the self-deportation proposal for which Mitt Romney was widely mocked in his 2012 presidential run.

..  As an adviser to immigration hard-liners in Arizona — including the felonious-until-pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio — he helped write the state law that, among other measures, tasked the local police with verifying the citizenship of anyone they had “reasonable suspicion” to believe was undocumented.

.. ProPublica and The Kansas City Star recently detailed Mr. Kobach’s 13-year history of pitching his consulting services to small towns, helping them enact such ordinances. This has been a profitable gig for Mr. Kobach, but not so much for the towns in question, some of which wound up drowning in legal fees after trying to defend measures that ultimately proved unenforceable.

.. His crowning achievement as secretary of state was a law passed in 2011 requiring people to prove their citizenship before registering to vote. Or, rather, it was his crowning achievement until a federal judge this year struck down the law as unconstitutional.

In the course of that case, Mr. Kobach so violated basic courtroom rules that he was held in contempt and, among other humiliations, ordered to take six hours of legal education.

.. he has a flair for the dramatic and isn’t overly concerned with facts.

.. His speeches contain plenty of red meat, such as comparing Planned Parenthood to the Third Reich’s Josef Mengele.

.. Until early 2017, Mr. Kobach spent several years hosting a local call-in show, on which he held forth on such terrors as the “illegal alien crime wave” that he warned was decimating America.

.. He also got a kick out of indulging the dark fantasies of listeners, such as the 2014 caller fearful that the immigration policies of then-President Barack Obama would lead to the “ethnic cleansing” of whites.

.. Then there was the 2015 caller anxious about whether Mr. Obama might one day decree that “any black person accused of a crime, charged with a crime, is not going to be prosecuted.”

“Well, it’s already happened more or less in the case of civil rights laws,” Mr. Kobach soothed. “So I guess it’s not a huge jump.”

.. in Mr. Kobach, Mr. Trump clearly sees a kindred spirit.

 

 

 

How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

Why I’m Still a NeverTrumper

Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high.

And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?

.. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” said the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

.. And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

.. Or maybe you regret the failure to repeal Obamacare. But that had something to do with the grotesque insults Trump lobbed at John McCain, the man whose “nay” vote sank repeal.
.. Look at every other administration embarrassment (Scaramucci) or failure (the wall, and Mexico paying for it) or disgrace (the Charlottesville equivocation). Responsibility invariably lies with the president’s intemperance and dishonesty. That puts Republican control of Congress in play. It also risks permanently alienating a millennial generation for which the G.O.P. will forever be the party of the child-molesting sore loser and the president who endorsed him.
.. Now look at the culture of governance. Trump demands testimonials from his cabinet, servility from Republican politicians and worship from conservative media. To serve in this White House isn’t to be elevated to public service. It’s to be debased into toadyism, which probably explains the record-setting staff turnover of 34 percent
.. In place of presidential addresses, stump speeches or town halls, we have Trump’s demagogic mass rallies. In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.

Trump is normalizing all this; he is, to borrow another Moynihan phrase, “defining deviancy down.” A president who supposedly wants to put a wall between the U.S. and Latin America has imported a style of politics reminiscent of the cults of Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez.

.. Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the Fourth Estate, hostility toward high culture and other types of “elitism,” a penchant for conspiracy theories and, most dangerously, white-identity politics.

Their Dark Fantasies

In reality, murder is at a historic low, we’re seeing a major urban revival and net immigration from Mexico is negative.

.. Mr. Ryan is, of course, a media darling. He doesn’t really command strong support from his own party’s base; his prominence comes, instead, from a press corps that decided years ago that he was the archetype of serious, honest conservatism, and clings to that story no matter how many times the obvious fraudulence and cruelty of his proposals are pointed out.

.. According to him, it’s very grim. There will, he said, be “a gloom and grayness to things,” ruled by a “cold and unfeeling bureaucracy.” We will become a place “where passion — the very stuff of life itself — is extinguished.” And this is the kind of America Mrs. Clinton “will stop at nothing to have.”

.. Gallup finds that 80 percent of Americans are satisfied with their standard of living, up from 73 percent in 2008, and that 55 percent consider themselves to be “thriving,” up from 49 percent in 2008

.. So Mr. Ryan’s vision of America looks nothing like reality. It is, however, completely familiar to anyone who read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a teenager.

.. The people Mr. Trump represents want to suppress and disenfranchise you-know-who; the big-money interests that support Ryan-style conservatism want to privatize and generally dismantle the social safety net, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there.