What type of cognitive dissonance does it require to create an entire presidential commission to chase phantom cases of illegal voting by noncitizens in the 2016 election and yet studiously ignore the deeply disturbing and concrete evidence of aggressive attempts to skew our elections by a hostile authoritarian regime?
Apparently, the exact kind necessary to be a Trump Republican these days.
Ari Berman has a fantastic profile of Kris Kobach in June 13th’s New York Times Magazine. Kobach has made his career stoking fear of immigrants voting illegally, and using that fear to justify laws and practices that attack Americans’ freedom to vote. In addition to serving as Kansas’ Secretary of State and a newly minted gubernatorial candidate, Kobach has been appointed Vice Chairman of President Trump’s “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” which will be led by Vice President Pence.
The Pence Commission exists to find evidence for Trump’s outlandish and widely rebuked claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for millions voting illegally. Through it, the Trump administration will spend millions of our tax dollars desperately searching for any proof that can conveniently justify the right’s voter suppression agenda.
Towards the end of the article, Berman writes:
Kobach’s chilling narrative of deceitful foreigners subverting democracy has served him well. Making people believe that voter fraud is rampant builds public support for policies that restrict access to the ballot. And claims of illegal voting by noncitizens help justify Kobach’s hard-line anti-immigration agenda. This has given Kobach a powerful constituency, not least of which is the president himself.
This passage is striking when viewed against the backdrop of the current investigations into Russia’s meddling in our elections. Although Kobach’s narrative is laced with troubling xenophobia, in Russia we have an actual deceitful foreign power (with no respect for basic human rights) that has worked to subvert our democracy on a grand scale.
Surely Trump, Pence, Kobach and their ilk are outraged about Russian interference?
Well, not exactly.
Trump encouraged hacking on the campaign trail and then spent months contradicting the entire intelligence community by refusing to accept that it was Russia behind the interference. Even after he dropped this pretense, he’s shown no inclination to do anything about it. One key takeaway from former FBI Director Comey’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before Congress over the past couple of weeks was that Trump himself showed absolutely no interest in the substance of the investigation into Russian interference—rather, his attention was entirely on the impact of that investigation on his friend Mike Flynn and the rest of his administration.
Pence praised the WikiLeaks releases on the campaign trail, has been a reliable spinner for Trump during the current investigation, and has now hired his own lawyer to help him navigate inquiries into his involvement. But he has been short on calls to actually get to the bottom of Russia’s meddling. The first 3 pages of results of a Google search for “Pence wants to get to the bottom of Russia hacking” turned up only a tweet from July about the FBI looking into it.
A similar search for any comments from Kobach on Russian interference comes up empty, save for one comment about having no evidence of collusion in response to a question on Sean Hannity’s radio program. Kobach was on the program to talk about the Pence Commission, and he also said that “those of us whose job it is to secure our elections [will] have valuable information about what should be done in our respective states.” Yet somehow he doesn’t seem concerned with reports that the Russians hacked into 39 state election systems last year.
Conservative politicians from Trump and Pence down to state-level players such as Kris Kobach continue to attack Americans’ freedom to vote, while winking and nodding at an authoritarian regime interfering in our election. As we get deeper into the Russia investigation, the question remains: when will they choose country over party, and democracy over power?