OVERLAND PARK — President Donald Trump’s eldest son offered praise Tuesday night for his father and his administration at a big-dollar campaign fundraiser benefiting Republican governor hopeful and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Donald Trump Jr. joined his hunting acquaintance and his father’s close ally at the Overland Park Double Tree hotel for a VIP reception and campaign dinner with more than 400 guests who bought tickets for anywhere from $200 to $2,000.
Kobach introduced Trump Jr. as his friend before lobbing him forum-style questions about his father and family and highlighted their mutual interests in the outdoors and raising five children. The two also criticized Democrats, the establishment political class and the news media.
“To me, he was always much more of a normal, hard-working American guy — given the big balance sheet — than anyone would ever give him credit for,” Trump Jr. said.
Trump Jr.’s stop in Kansas underscored Kobach’s close ties to the first family and brought a national angle to a crowded Republican gubernatorial primary.
Kobach has long favored strict voter identification and immigration requirements and became an early Trump supporter. He went on to advise Trump’s presidential campaign on immigration and now serves as vice chairman and de facto leader of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
In his gubernatorial campaign, Kobach has pledged to work on taxes, immigration and a “culture of corruption” he believes exists in Topeka, mirroring Trump’s efforts to cut taxes, beef up borders and “drain the swamp.”
“I’m running because Topeka faces a crisis of leadership,” Kobach said.
Kobach said he thought Kansas suffered from problems that could be solved by a governor with the “political will,” including a “spending problem.” He said tax increases passed by the Kansas Legislature earlier this year were “outrageous and unnecessary.”
“Now more than ever we need a governor who is going to stand up and say, ‘This cannot happen again,’” Kobach said. “More than that, we need a governor who will roll back those tax increases.”
Trump Jr. said he grew up watching the work of his father, who instilled a work ethic in him that he doesn’t believe is as prevalent as it was in the past. He said he thought his father’s victory was perhaps the greatest political upset ever and praised his father’s use of Twitter as a method to bypass media, comparing messaging efforts to a game of “monkey in the middle.”
“Why not go right to the people?” Trump Jr. said.
Trump Jr.’s appearance comes amid scrutiny over his interactions with forces attempting to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. He has been quizzed by congressional investigators looking into Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election. According to the New York Times, Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks, the group that released a trove of hacked emails from Democratic officials. He was also questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee for meeting with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin to gather damaging information about Clinton.
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, one of several Kansas legislators who attended the event, said he didn’t think investigation of Trump Jr. was a problem. Fitzgerald is running to replace U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in Kansas’ 2nd House District. He said he has not publicly endorsed a Republican candidate for governor but held common ground with Kobach on abortion and immigration.
Fitzgerald said he thought Trump Jr.’s appearance would help Kobach in both the primary and — if Kobach wins the nomination — the general election.
Greg Beck, 59, came down from the Leavenworth area in a red blazer and “Make America Great Again” hat to support Kobach. He said he’s backed Kobach for about 15 years and thought he was the most conservative candidate in the race and stuck to his opinions.
Others turned out on sidewalks near the hotel to protest the event, including a group of about 50 people who gathered with signs calling Kobach and Trump liars and bad for Kansas.
“I think he’s just as despicable as Trump is,” said Diane Thompson, 66, of Roeland Park.
Thompson, a retired teacher and registered Democrat, said she was concerned about allegations of sexual misconduct by the president and his positions on women’s reproductive rights.
Jan Bresnahan, 67, of Lawrence, said she was concerned about Kobach’s stance on voting rights. She said she hadn’t been politically active and wasn’t affiliated with a political party, but decided to speak against Kobach.
A small group of Trump supporters gathered across the street to support Kobach and Trump. Patrick Maker, a 22-year-old Washburn University student, said he previously considered himself a “leftist” and liked Obama, but came to favor Trump’s views on trade deals and “America First” foreign policy.