President Trump threw his support behind controversial Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s gubernatorial bid on Monday, the latest move from the president that could end up hurting his party’s chances of winning a major 2018 race.
It’s no shock that Trump embraced Kobach, an early and ardent support (and the head of his conspiracy theory-driven “election integrity commission”), with a Monday morning tweet calling him a “fantastic guy.” But a Kobach endorsement could give him the needed boost to win a hard-fought gubernatorial primary on Tuesday — and put the race at risk for the GOP, the latest time Trump has stepped in and made things harder for his party in a key race, following endorsements in Florida and Georgia that undercut his party’s more moderate candidates.
Kobach is in a tight race with Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), a more establishment candidate who became governor when Sam Brownback was given an ambassadorship in the Trump administration.
The deeply polarizing Kobach has faced a bevy of legal issues stemming from his efforts to curtail voting rights in his state as well as his involvement in the Trump-backed national commission that unsuccessfully sought to confirm Trump’s baseless claims that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.
Republicans worry that if Kobach wins the nomination next Tuesday, he’ll put the seat in jeopardy, as Democrats have a number of unobjectionable options running for the governor’s mansion as well, with moderate state Sen. Laura Kelly (D) leading the pack.
Self-funding businessman Greg Orman is running as an independent and could ruin Democrats’ chances at the seat — but Trump has done them a favor with his endorsement.
That’s not the only time Trump has stepped into a race in recent weeks to back a candidate more like him who establishment Republicans worry will prove less electable in the fall.
Trump also recently endorsed Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in their respective races for governor, boosting the pair of rabble-rousers over more establishment-minded candidates.
Kemp would have likely won his primary anyways over Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (R), who was foundering in the runoff before Trump stepped in. But his primary win has boosted Democrats’ chances of winning Georgia’s governorship for the first time in more than a decade.
In Florida, DeSantis, already had momentum against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R), largely because of DeSantis’ frequent Fox News appearances defending the president. But Trump’s endorsement will likely be the final straw for Putnam. That’s problematic for the GOP — Democrats have made it clear they’d much rather face DeSantis in their quest to win the governorship of the swing state for the first time in two decades.
Even Trump’s general election involvement may not prove that helpful for his party. Trump campaigned with GOP House candidate Troy Balderson over the weekend in a GOP-leaning but Trump-averse district outside of Columbus, Ohio. That could excite the GOP base and help pull Balderson over the finish line on Tuesday — but it could also further nationalize the contest, making it more about the president and goose Democratic turnout, backfiring on the president and his chosen candidate. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said this weekend that Balderson hadn’t actually asked him to come — something Balderson himself didn’t deny, though he was at the rally with Trump on Saturday.
Trump’s endorsement is unquestionably a blessing in GOP primaries. But even in red states like Kansas, his involvement might hurt his party’s chances more than it helps this fall.