Trump, Johnson try anti-immigrant voting stunt that sent Kobach to remedial law class | Opinion

There was something familiar about the Donald Trump-Mike Johnson meeting on Friday, wasn’t there?

Everybody knows why Johnson made a pilgrimage down to Mar-a-Lago last week: The House Speaker was trying to save his own bacon — and, perhaps, spare Republicans a load of embarrassment — after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Conspiracy Theories) last month moved to “vacate the chair” and kick him out of the speakership.

For elected Republicans these days, appealing to Trump’s good graces is an indispensable survival tactic. Johnson was just doing what he had to do to keep his job.

But that was merely the subtext. The text? A meaningless-but-provocative anti-immigrant proposal. The two men announced a new bill aimed at stopping noncitizens from voting in federal elections.

“We cannot wait for widespread fraud to occur,” Johnson said, with Trump at his side. The threat of that fraud, he said, grows with “every single illegal immigrant” entering the country.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s a handy rule of thumb: When a politician says “we cannot wait” for some bad thing to happen — well, that’s very often because the bad thing isn’t actually happening. The politician might just be trying to scare you.

That’s very much the case with the Trump-Johnson anti-voting bill.

There is no problem with “widespread fraud” in American elections. And there is no problem with noncitizens voting. We know that. But Republicans keep trying to tell us there is, or might be someday, and that you should be very, very scared of that happening.

Which is why the Trump-Johnson announcement on Friday seemed so familiar. They were running an old playbook — the Kris Kobach playbook.

And boy, is that playbook broken.

Kansas had to pay $1.9 million to ACLU

Kobach, of course, is the Kansas attorney general these days. A decade ago, though, he served as the Kansas secretary of state — the person in charge of our elections.

It’s not the kind of position usually associated with immigration policy. But Kobach, who has made a ton of money in private practice helping towns across the country pass deeply flawed anti-migrant laws and ordinances, decided that the danger of immigrant voting was a danger to Kansas elections.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

You might remember what happened next. Kobach got the Kansas Legislature to pass a law requiring voters to present a passport or birth certificate to be eligible to vote. The ACLU sued. Kobach tried to defend the law in court — and performed so badly the judge ordered him to take remedial law classes. The state lost the case and ended up paying $1.9 million to the ACLU to settle the case.

All in all, a grand embarrassment.

One thing that came out of that 2018 trial: There was no real problem with noncitizens voting in Kansas. The ACLU pointed out that Kobach’s own evidence showed just 18 nonresidents in Sedgwick County had registered to vote since 1999, and only five of those folks had attempted to vote.

Hardly election-tipping stuff.

Kobach, of course, followed up that triumph by going to work for then-President Trump’s voter fraud commission to ferret out proof that voting by illegal immigrants cost Trump the popular vote majority in the 2016 election. That effort also ended in failure.

Why should we expect Trump and Johnson’s proposal to end any differently?

The “immigrants are voting” myth doesn’t have to be true in order for it to serve a purpose for Trump, and for Republicans more broadly. The myth undermines American faith in elections — and democracy — while whipping up fear of outsiders.

Why does that serve Trump so well? Because he has never come close to getting a majority popular vote in any election. The myth offers an excuse for his very public failures — and a foundation for his demands that he be returned to office despite those shortcomings.

But we already know we don’t have a noncitizen voting problem. Kris Kobach already proved it for us.

Joel Mathis is a regular Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle Opinion correspondent. He lives in Lawrence with his wife and son. Formerly a writer and editor at Kansas newspapers, he served nine years as a syndicated columnist.