Trump’s Political Godfather Is Reportedly Running for Senate

Rep. Lou Barletta rose to prominence by trying to push immigrants out of Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Lou Barletta and Kris Kobach

Lou Barletta (left) and Kris Kobach speak to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 2007.Mark Moran/AP Photo/The Citizens' Voice

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) told GOP leaders he would run for Senate in 2018, becoming the highest-profile Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in what may be one of the most hotly contest races of 2018. If Barletta runs he won’t have the field to himself; a handful of state reps and two businessmen have already announced, but as a Trump supporter with a congressman’s clout, he’d be a likely front-runner.

His candidacy is significant for reasons beyond the electoral math. Something as monumental and era-defining as the election of President Donald Trump has many authors and origin stories, but you could make a case that the nation’s current arc began in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, in 2006, when Barletta, then the city’s mayor, found himself on the defensive after passing a harsh new city ordinance designed to force undocumented immigrants to flee town. (As the Washington Post noted at the time, “Barletta wore a bulletproof vest [to the vote] because, he says, Hazleton is menaced by a surge in crime committed by illegal immigrants.”)

The so-called Illegal Immigration Relief Act targeted immigrants where they lived by making it a crime to lease housing to anyone without proper papers, and it was one of the first of what would become a nationwide push by conservative municipalities and states to encourage “self-deportation” by making life impossible for immigrants. Looking for help, Barletta placed a call to a young law professor in Kansas City named Kris Kobach. Barletta’s ordinance was going to get thrown out in the courts, but Kobach helped him draft a new one that he believed wouldn’t, and agreed to represent Hazleton in the face of the subsequent legal challenges.

The ordinance was not a win for Hazleton—which spent millions to unsuccessfully defend its ordinance in the courts—but it succeeded on a much larger stage. Kobach’s legislation formed a template that was replicated across the country, and as Kansas’ secretary of state he helped Republican-run states like Arizona draft legislation that would likewise scare immigrants away. By 2011, Barletta was a member of Congress, having unseated an incumbent Democrat in the tea party wave. By 2012, the Republican presidential nominee was being advised by Kobach and speaking openly about nudging immigrants to “self-deport.” And by 2016, the nativist politics that drove Hazelton and Fremont, Nebraska, and other such towns to call in Kobach for help took over the Republican party completely.

Now Kobach is in charge of a Trump administration-led voter suppression project, and a possible candidate to be the next secretary of Homeland Security. And Barletta is angling for a promotion of his own; his election in 2018, in the tightest of swing states, would be a test of just how far Trumpism can rise before it’s cut down by voters.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate