Kris Kobach endorses Donald Trump for president

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Drake University in Des Moines in January.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Drake University in Des Moines in January. File photo

Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Monday became the first state official to endorse billionaire Donald Trump for president, citing the candidate’s hardline stance on immigration.

The endorsement, which comes less than a week before Kansas holds its presidential caucuses on Saturday, follows a string of endorsements for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., by other Kansas Republican officials.

Rubio plans a midday rally in Wichita on Friday. A venue hasn’t been confirmed, but Rubio’s campaign is taking reservations on Eventbrite. Questions about registering can be sent to events@marcorubio.com.

The Florida Republican has support from Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts in his quest for the GOP nomination. State Treasurer Ron Estes endorsed him on Monday, citing his plans to lower student debt.

Rubio trails Trump and is virtually tied with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in a poll released Friday by Fort Hays State University. The poll showed 39 percent of Republican respondents undecided, 26 percent favoring Trump, 14 percent backing Cruz and 13 percent supporting Rubio. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Cruz plans a Wednesday appearance at Johnson County Community College, according to a reservation form on Eventbrite.

Trump launched his campaign in June with the promise that he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico as a way to stop illegal immigration. The real estate mogul later called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, a proposal that drew condemnation from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican officials, including Brownback.

Kobach, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, cited both these policies when announcing he supports Trump.

Now, more than ever, America needs Mr. Trump’s aggressive approach to the problem of illegal immigration.

Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state

“Now, more than ever, America needs Mr. Trump’s aggressive approach to the problem of illegal immigration. Our porous borders constitute a huge national security threat, and our refugee system has been abused by terrorists in the past and is likely to be abused by ISIS terrorists today,” Kobach said in a statement.

“Moreover, there are too many Americans who are out of work because of illegal immigration or who are working in jobs in which the wages are depressed because of illegal immigration,” he said.

Kobach, an attorney who has represented Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents suing the Obama administration, said Trump is correct when he says the U.S. has the ability to force Mexico to pay for the wall along the southern border. He said he has discussed the issue with the candidate.

“We have the ability to shut down the flow of remittances to Mexico from illegal aliens working in the United States,” Kobach said. “Mexico will then have to make a choice: either make a single payment of $5 billion $10 billion to the United States to pay for the wall or lose most of the $23 billion in remittances that Mexico receives every year from its nationals working illegally in the United States.”

Endorsement: Hurt or help?

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said it “makes perfect sense” for Kobach to endorse Trump and that Kobach’s support will help Trump in the caucus, where turnout is historically low.

“Kobach doesn’t have to have a lot of supporters for them to make a difference at that caucus,” he said.

But Kobach’s support could hurt Trump in a national election, Beatty said, noting that his ties to Mitt Romney’s campaign were used against the GOP candidate in 2012.

Kobach’s announcement comes a day after Trump was embroiled in controversy in which he did not condemn white supremacist David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who has encouraged support for Trump, during an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN.

Trump later said he had had a faulty earpiece and could not hear Tapper’s questions.

Kobach, who has championed stricter restrictions on voting and immigration, has faced – and rebutted – allegations of racism from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Birds of a feather flock together.

Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, Kansas Senate minority leader

His critics said the Trump endorsement added weight to that. “He (Kobach) is the most racist politician in America, and basically he’s supporting a guy who I believe is also pretty racist in his beliefs,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Rubio support

Brownback said last week that he would back Trump over Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“You can look at what Donald Trump is saying now as part of why I’ve endorsed Marco Rubio,” Brownback said Monday when asked about Trump’s KKK comments.

You can look at what Donald Trump is saying now as part of why I’ve endorsed Marco Rubio.

Gov. Sam Brownback

Brownback said Trump has “been involved in a lot of controversies and has actually seemed to have thrived off of that” but that Rubio presents a more inspirational message for the nation.

He encouraged voters to participate in the caucuses, which come on the heels of Super Tuesday, when Republicans will hold caucuses or primaries in 13 states. Nearly half of the delegates needed to win the nomination will be up for grabs.

“Kansas votes really matter in this one,” Brownback said.

Contributing: Oliver Morrison of The Eagle

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

Send in caucus questions

Kansas Democrats and Republicans will head to party caucuses on Saturday to vote for who they’d like to see as presidential nominees.

The caucuses will help distribute the state’s delegates to national conventions this summer.

What questions do you have about the caucuses? Send them in, and Eagle staff members will try to answer them.

Also share whether you’ll participate in the caucus.

Send your questions to Marcia Werts, mwerts@wichitaeagle.com.