For years, Kris Kobach has led an effort to pull the Republican Party to the conservative extreme. But in this election cycle — as evidenced by the platform pulled together by him and his fellow convention delegates in Cleveland this week — he doesn’t have a presidential candidate who is going to stand in the way.
The Kansas secretary of state was on the convention committee responsible for finalizing the proposed planks of the Republican party platform, which the full convention delegation will vote on next week. Normally, the process doesn’t get wide public attention because the platform is seen as little more than aspirational, something for party activists to rally around as they ramp up for the general election.
Enter Kobach, a Trump supporter with some experience pushing the Republican Party to the far right. With a nominee who has isn’t steeped in movement conservatism and doesn’t much seem to care, Kobach and conservatives on the committee appear to have had a long leash.
This was not Kobach’s first time serving on the platform committee. He was a member in 2012 — where he harshened the platform’s immigration language that the Mitt Romney campaign had tried to soften — as well as in 2008.
But Trump-mentum and Kobach’s brand of hard-right, anti-immigrant conservatism were a match made in heaven. The legal wunderkind-turned-state bureaucrat has long advocated for anti-immigrant legislation — including Arizona’s infamous “show us your papers” law — as well as for restrictive voting laws.
Now, with Trump at the top of the ticket, that attitude is reflected in the party platform, which presidential campaigns in the past have attempted to tone down. The platform also stakes out conservative positions in a number of other areas that are less of a focus for Trump, but Kobach expressed confidence that Trump is on board.
“That platform is a very conservative one and it is one that’s consistent with Trump’s message,” Kobach said in a phone interview with TPM Wednesday. “If you check off the issues, it’s hard to find much daylight between the platform and the positions of Mr. Trump.”
According to Kobach, the Trump campaign had representatives at the platform meetings who were in communication with the delegates on the committee.
“They were very much aware of and involved in the process in the sense that they were talking to the delegates,” Kobach said.
Perhaps the biggest victory for the Trump campaign was the committee approval of border wall language ushered in by the Kansas secretary of state. The proposal is a hallmark of Trump’s own anti-immigration posturing that has propelled his candidacy, but is also a source of headaches for establishment-types, and even some Trump backers who have quibbled over its meaning.
The draft version of the 2016 platform called for “construction of a physical barrier,” a shift from previous platforms calling for “the double-layered fencing” that had been approved by Congress in 2006 but still unbuilt. The language was just vague enough for wall-supporters to worry that Republicans were looking for a way out of Trump’s signature proposal.
Kobach made sure that there would be no such ambiguity. He proposed an amendment detailing explicitly a “border wall” that would cover “the entirety of the Southern Border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” according to The Hill. The only thing missing was a guarantee that Mexico would pay for it.
Kobach pointed to the Obama administration’s failure to build a physical wall, in favor of drones and other types of electronic tools, which Kobach said “is not what Congress intended or what the American people expected.”
“That is why I felt it was important we used the word ‘wall’ and that it be something that stops vehicles and personnel,” Kobach said.
Or as Kobach had previously explained to The Wichita Eagle: “There’s no metaphors. We’re talking an actual, physical barrier.”
Kobach also added language echoing Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, in the form of an amendment that called for “the interests of American workers” to be “protected over the claims of foreign nationals seeking the same jobs.”
But it’s not just immigration that Kobach had his hands on — a testament to his investment in hard right positions that extend beyond just the last year of Trump extremism.
He pushed an anti-gun control amendment to oppose any restrictions placed on AR-style rifles or other high-capacity-magazine weapons, which he said was needed after the recent mass shootings.
“Any time there’s a terrorist attack, some on the left use that as an opportunity to push for restrictions on Americans’ right to keep and bear arms when those restrictions have absolutely nothing to do with stopping the terrorist attack that just occurred,” Kobach told TPM.
He also crafted an Antonin Scalia-quoting proposal that bashed the the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and he lobbied against an unsuccessful attempt by another delegate to include pro-diversity language in the platform. Kobach described the failed diversity amendment as “pro-gay marriage,” according to the Wichita Eagle.
“I thought it was important to point out how indefensible the Obergefell decision is as a matter of law,” Kobach told TPM. “Both as a lawyer wanting to plant a standard in the ground that this is what we believe as a party and also as someone wanting to give tribute to Justice Scalia, I felt it was appropriate to quote his dissent.”
Kobach even pushed for language opposing the inclusion of the prairie chicken and sage grouse on the endangered species list — a pet cause for conservatives that nonetheless ruffled the feathers of other delegates on the committee who thought the platform was getting too mired in local issues.
“Fluffy principles are fine, but you also need specifics,” Kobach told Yahoo News. “It helps the voters discern who the real Republican is.”
While many are looking at the current platform through the prism of Trump, Kobach described it as part of a longer evolution of the party in a more conservative direction.
“The platform has moved to the right between ‘08 and ’12, and between ’12 and ’16, and the really marked difference is that I noticed, there’s a huge contrast between what happened in 2016 and 2008,” Kobach said.
“In 2008 you had a fairly conservative platform committee that was in real tension with the McCain campaign. The McCain campaign did not like platform that was emerging,” Kobach said. “Here, in contrast, there hasn’t been any tension with the Trump campaign. They seem comfortable with the platform, so this was a much easier process than in 2008.”