TOPEKA, Kan. — President Trump touted a pivotal conservative victory at a rally here Saturday night, just hours after Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, outlining what’s at stake ahead of the Nov. 6 midterms to his re-energized supporters, and portraying Democrats as a “radical, angry mob” in their failed quest to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“I stand before you today on the heels of a tremendous victory for our nation, our people and our beloved Constitution,” Trump said, emphasizing the importance of electing Republicans to Congress in four weeks, given potential future openings on the Supreme Court.
“It could be three, it could even be four, it could be a lot,” he said. “And if you allow the wrong people to get into office, things could change . . . You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob.”
Kavanaugh’s name elicited thunderous applause, with supporters cheering, fist-pumping into the sky and holding up babies in celebration.
Trump is hoping his presence will propel Kris Kobach to victory in the Kansas governor’s race — just as Trump’s Twitter endorsement helped seal Kobach’s narrow primary win last month.
Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state and a conservative hard-liner who acquired a national profile prosecuting exaggerated claims of voter fraud, emerged as one of Trump’s earliest supporters and was rewarded with a place on his transition team, advising him to curtail illegal migration and set up a Muslim registry. Kobach is in a dead heat against Laura Kelly, a Democratic state senator from Topeka.
The president also hopes to boost GOP candidate Steve Watkins in the race to represent Kansas’ battleground 2nd district, the seat being vacated by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who is retiring after five terms. Despite not voting in 2016 and holding talks with Democrats before launching his candidacy, Watkins has styled himself as a full-throttled Trump backer.
“I’m a ‘build the wall’ guy,” he told voters at a recent forum. “That doesn’t make us mean-spirited or racist bigots.”
Watkins, an Army veteran, started the race ahead of Democratic opponent Paul Davis, but he has been dogged by claims that he misrepresented his past. Board members of a security firm denied his claims that he co-founded and helped grow the company. He was also forced to walk back claims of “heroic leadership” during an avalanche on Mount Everest, after one of those present said he never made comments attributed to him on Watkins’s website. Watkins has described the criticism as “fake news.”
Earlier, aboard Air Force One, where he signed Kavanaugh’s commission just before landing in Kansas, Trump predicted that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would buoy Republican voters.
“I think the Republicans are going to do great in the midterms,” Trump said. “I think we have a momentum that hasn’t been seen in years.”
Cheering supporters Saturday night repeatedly chanted “USA! USA!” throughout Trump’s hour-long appearance.
“The biggest thing a president can do is, they’ve always said, is Supreme Court justice,” Trump told the crowd. “We’ve had two in less than two years.”
Susan Irwin, 65, a teaching assistant from outside Topeka who helps children who speak English as a second language, said she was giddy upon learning the news of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“This is the guy who literally decides if babies die or not,” Irwin said. “Trump said we’d get tired of winning, but we’re not tired!”
Irwin, who voted for Kobach in the Republican gubernatorial primary, said her support for him could be summarized in one word: “Values,” she said, adding: “It’s not about specifics. It’s about does he have the president’s back?”
Another Trump supporter, Druissila Absher, a 54-year-old who works at a Medicare call center in Topeka, praised the Kavanaugh confirmation as an “enormous moment” but said she remains undecided on Kobach.
“I want to hear more from his wife,” Absher said. “I feel I don’t know him. There’s a lot of slogans, a lot of people say they support Trump now. But it’s easy to say. Is that going to be realized with action?”
Travis Simpson, 71, who works as a laboratory assistant at a school in Lawrence, said: “It’s about time Kavanaugh got on. It’s not just about the man. It’s about who runs our country.”
Simpson said he did not fear Republican voters would become complacent in the wake of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“We’ve got record jobs, too. Who in the history of our planet said, ‘No, stop,’ the moment they got something they liked? I think people will keep voting for what they like.”
Trump won the Sunflower State by more than 20 points in 2016 — but there is a debate about whether his presence will help or hinder Republican candidates. Critics say the rally risks turning off moderate voters, even while exciting the GOP base.
“We anticipate that this will rejuvenate a lot of the Trump voters. We think that those are going to be reliable Republicans here in the polls this November,” Watkins said last week.
Watkins has an awkward relationship with both Trump and the GOP establishment: The president’s 2020 campaign manager, Topeka native Brad Parscale, denounced him during the primary, while a string of local party officials have raised the issue of his credibility and threatened to oust him after a term if his CV continues to unravel.
Notably absent from the Trump rally: Rep. Kevin Yoder, another Kansas Republican locked in a tough election bid, who last week cited a scheduling conflict. Yoder, in his fourth term, is fighting Democrat Sharice Davids to keep his seat in the 3rd Congressional District in suburban Kansas City, where Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Trump, before departing for Topeka, mentioned Kobach and Watkins by name but not Yoder. The National Republican Congressional Committee has also pulled planned advertising in Yoder’s district in a signal that they needed to put the money where it could make a greater difference.