At virtually every level of the conservative ecosystem — from the militant and operational class, to the upper echelons of the Republican Party and to prime-time programming on Fox News — leaders have seen the light on mail-in voting and the early voting after a disappointing election cycle in 2022.
But they face a major obstacle: the de facto leader of the party.
Whether to recalibrate messaging and strategy on voting methods is emerging as a central point of division within the Republican Party, with Trump and his mighty megaphone on one side and nearly everyone on the other.
The rationale for many Republicans wanting to embrace mail-in voting and early voting is simple: by encouraging their own voters to vote sooner, even by mail when possible, Republicans will be able to better allocate resources in the final weeks of the campaigns, reduce the large disparities in some states between Democratic and Republican vote totals before Election Day, and maximize their vote share by limiting last-minute surprises like illness or bad weather that could prevent voters to vote on election day.
“To me, it’s just common sense,” Andy Reilly, a member of the Republican National Committee from Pennsylvania, a state in which Democrats beat Republicans in early voting and won the month, told NBC News. last. “Any party that votes for 50 days will beat the party that only votes for 13 hours.”
Republicans have not always been shy about using these methods. In some states, the party had successful operations that surpassed what the Democrats were doing. But many conservative voters have come to reject early voting methods amid a two-and-a-half-year campaign by Trump and his allies, who have argued that early voting, especially mail-in voting, is not could not be trusted and was prone to fraud.
Even still, reform supporters have been reluctant to directly call out Trump, who, at least for now, is the party’s presidential frontrunner and most powerful figure.
Tuesday, for example, Fox News host Sean Hannity said Republicans “didn’t for some reason” vote early and by mail. Fox News host Laura Ingraham said, “Everyone said don’t vote early, it’s corrupt,” adding, “A lot of people did, at the top of the Republican Party.”
Speaking to Fox News this week, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, handpicked for the job by Trump, said “our voters need to vote early.
“I’ve said it over and over again,” she continued. “There were a lot in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early. And we have to stop that.
Afterwards, Nathan Brand, a spokesperson for the RNC, made it clear that McDaniel was not pointing the finger at the former president.
“The discussion was that Democrats had a month to rack up the votes while Republicans expect it to be done in a day,” Brand said in a statement to NBC News. “We weren’t talking about the former president, who encouraged his base to vote early and voted by mail himself.”
President Trump should recognize that the Republican Party’s best interest is to get more and more Republicans to vote.
Andy Reilly, Republican National Committee Member OF Pennsylvania
Even though he voted by mail himself, Trump spoke out against the practice and made false and unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him due to absentee ballots in states. of the presidential battlefield.
“YOU CAN NEVER HAVE FAIR AND FREE ELECTIONS WITH MAIL-IN BALLOTS – NEVER, EVER, EVER,” he wrote on his Truth Social website last week.
The sentiment seems to be ingrained among a large portion of the party’s voters. Days before the midterm elections, a Pew Research survey found that only 27% of voters who supported Republicans were somewhat confident that mail-in and mail-in ballots would be counted as voters wanted. Another 10% of those voters said they were very confident that those votes would be accurately recorded.
A Trump campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
A Republican strategist close to Trump’s political operation told NBC News that the party base is in the mood to “fight these ridiculous ballot harvesting laws wherever we can fight them, but in the places where we lose this fight, we have to play the game”.
Some form of third-party mail-in ballot collection, which Republicans have pejoratively described as ballot harvesting, is legal in more than half of all states, though many have limits on who can deliver someone else’s ballot. The process is not legal in most swing states where Democrats have won their biggest victories.
The strategist said a far bigger issue for Republicans than recalibrating strategy on voting methods is narrowing the fundraising gap between leading Republican and Democratic candidates — the disparity between Senator Raphael Warnock , D-Ga., and Republican challenger Herschel Walker being a prime example.
“And until we understand that, we will have election cycles like this,” the person said.
But the Georgia election also put the GOP at a disadvantage with fully visible early voting. Prior to the general election, registered Democrats held an 8-point lead over registered Republicans in Georgia in early voting. Heading into this week’s second round, that advantage was 13 points.
“It’s time to learn from mistakes,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a Trump ally and former college football coach who backs the former president’s 2024 bid. “It’s like being a coach – you lose a game, you go back and watch and see why. Watch a movie about it – Herschel had lost several hundred thousand votes before kick-off. And that’s a bad handicap .
Sports analogies weren’t limited to the former head coach of Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati when it came to discussing post-game adjustments. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Republicans were “foolish” for not using all available voting methods.
“It’s like football or baseball – whatever the rules, we have to play the best game we can under the rules that exist,” Cornyn said. “I just think it’s nonsense to say these are the rules of the game, but we’re only going to use half of them.”
In North Carolina, where Republicans won the Senate in a disputed race — although they trailed Democrats in early voting — state GOP Chairman Michael Whatley told NBC News that the party was to “be very focused” on early voting and mail-in voting programs, pointing to an early voting program it instituted in 2019.
“There are so many things that can go wrong on Election Day,” he said. “The more votes you have in the bank, the better.”
Some Republicans have noted Trump’s role in right-wing voters losing faith in alternative voting methods. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Arizona, is coming off a razor-thin race against a Democratic challenger last month. Now about to enter his seventh term, Schweikert said Republicans in his state have a strong advantage in early voting. Arizona allows nearly a full month of in-person early voting and allows full voting by mail.
“I won elections where 84% of my votes came by mail. And that was actually part of the formula — Republicans were winning the election,” he told NBC News. “President Trump then expressed his skepticism about mail-in voting. Our problem is that we had people in Arizona who were confusing mail-in voting with the permanent early voting system.
Chris McNulty, a former political director for the RNC, also claimed that Trump dissuaded GOP voters from early voting. The former president’s message was amplified by right-wing voices such as Charlie Kirk and Benny Johnson of the influential Turning Point USA activist group. Kirk, who had raised concerns about mail-in voting, changed his tune after the November midterms, Tweeter that Republicans must recognize the “power of early voting”. But Johnson called for a ban on mail-in voting. McNulty tagged the latter in a Tweeter this week, blaming Trump for recent losses and said he then heard from about half a dozen GOP colleagues who agreed with him.
Kirk and Johnson supporters ‘can’t have their cake’ saying mail-in voting is rigged and are ‘eating it’ too, saying the party needs to have a better approach to winning the election, McNulty told NBC News.
Foremost among the GOP’s early voting concerns is Pennsylvania, where Democrats enjoyed such a substantial advantage that Republicans came close to overcoming it. Retired Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the party made a huge mistake in not encouraging early voting.
“It’s been a huge mistake for Republican parties in various states — and mine is one — not to emphasize early voting,” he said. “Giving up a very large percentage of the window of opportunity to vote to the other side and then betting the ranch one day, when the weather or any number of personal circumstances might get in the way – it just doesn’t make sense.”
Reilly, the Republican committee member from Pennsylvania, said while “there are hurdles” for GOP voters to feel more comfortable with early voting options, Republicans need to undertake a broad campaign marketing on safety and correct counting during voting. concurrently advocating for electoral reforms and integrity laws.
“This is a case where, in my view,” he said, “President Trump should recognize that the Republican Party’s best interest is to get more and more Republicans to vote.”