Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is seeking the GOP nomination to replace retiring Republican Pat Roberts in this year's race for Roberts' U.S. Senate seat. And he has to thank for his campaign's viability an $850,000 investment from controversial tech billionaire Peter Thiel.
"I think the money that that super PAC is putting into the race—primarily through this one rich guy—is absolutely the lifeblood of the pro-Kobach campaign at this moment," Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, told Recode. "You take that money away and Kobach doesn't have a lot of campaign left."
That Thiel—often identified, including by himself, as a libertarian—is dedicating himself to a candidate whose primary obsession is immigration restriction is a further sign of the tumultuous swirl of hypernationalism pushed by and surrounding Thiel (and discussed at length in a story in the August/September issue of Reason, now available online to subscribers).
Unnamed friends of Thiel tell Recode that Thiel "has a really strong preference for people who stick their middle finger up to the status quo and conventional wisdom. There is nobody who I think was more obviously sticking his middle finger up at conventional wisdom quite like Kris Kobach."
Thiel back in 2016 shook up some of his libertarian fans by becoming a Trump delegate and hyping him onstage at the Republican National Convention. Thiel went on to become a poster boy for the new conservative nationalism and has been reported to be disappointed in the president lately and so far sitting out this presidential race.
Thiel had, however, reportedly began donating to immigration-restrictionist causes at least as far back as 2008, and over the years he's given to a wide variety of GOP candidates and PACs, including $2 million to a Carly Fiorina PAC.
Thiel's interest in Kobach is likely rooted in the same reasons he was enthusiastic about Trump. Kobach was one of the minds behind Trump's Muslim registry and his unrepentant anti-immigration views mark him as perhaps Trumpier than Trump. (Kobach believes COVID-19 death numbers are being manipulated up to harm the president, for one.) Trump endorsed Kobach in his failed attempt to become governor of Kansas in 2018, and Thiel began funding Kobach during that race. Fellow disillusioned Trump superfan and immigration-hater Ann Coulter co-hosted a Kobach fundraiser in Thiel's New York apartment.
Recode reports that Thiel has "cut at least three successive checks to [a pro-Kobach PAC called Free Forever], the most recent for a half-million dollars last month." The PAC has "spent more than four times what Kobach's campaign itself has spent on television and radio ads…The heavy amount of mailers sent by the PAC have run the gamut of attacking [Republican challenger Roger] Marshall as 'anti-American' for being insufficiently tough on immigration, alleging that he voted to fund 'Rosie O'Donnell summer camp,' 'global warming musicals,' and 'transgender plays,' and promising that Kobach will 'stop the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg.'"
Thiel's other candidate donations this year are going to another super immigration hawk, and advocate of sending in federal troops to quell protesters, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.
Kobach is also one of the leading voices claiming American elections are rife with fraud and had his attempt to fight it when he was Kansas' secretary of state overturned in 2018 by a federal judge who questioned the reality of the problem Kobach was allegedly solving.
The primary election for the U.S. Senate seat Kobach is vying for will be held on August 4.