The Big Lie's new plot: Trump just curiously flip-flopped on mail-in voting

Trump says he plans to "master the Democrats' own game of harvesting ballots"

By Heather Digby Parton


Published February 17, 2023 9:00AM (EST)

Donald Trump | Mail-in-Voting ballot (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Mail-in-Voting ballot (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump's Big Lie has always had many moving parts, and as strange as it may seem, there are new ones every day.

There was the charge that Trump was winning the election on election night only to lose as the count went into the next day, which Trump and his cronies suggested happened because the Democrats shipped in phony ballots in the dead of night once they realized they were losing. This was the so-called red mirage that everyone knew in advance would be weaponized to persuade Trump voters that the election had been stolen despite the fact that all the votes are never counted on election night. (Trump has said many times that he believes all counting should stop at midnight on election night as if any votes counted later are automatically suspect.)

Then there was the idea that election workers were literally stealing votes which Trump and company illustrated most vividly with their character assassination of Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss who worked in Fulton County, Georgia. The two were accused of pulling fake ballots from suitcases hidden under tables at a ballot-counting center and passing a flash drive with phony election data from one to the other. None of this actually happened, of course. The ballots were legitimate ballots handled with the normal process and the alleged flash drive turned out to be a ginger mint. But it became an article of faith that workers like Freeman and Moss had stolen the election for Biden, leading to the necessity of having state legislatures overturn the electoral college votes to account for it.

There was also the accusation of massive vote fraud perpetrated by the voting machine companies who were allegedly working with everyone from the zombie corpse of Hugo Chavez to nefarious Italians using secret satellites to switch votes to the CIA director being injured while completing a secret CIA operation aiming to seize and destroy evidence of vote tampering on an election-related computer server. These charges led to states having to initiate recount after recount, some happening even a year after Trump was out of the White House, to prove the machines had been compromised.

Trump says he plans to "master the Democrats' own game of harvesting ballots"

But perhaps the most essential piece of the Big Lie was the insistence that mail-in voting was a corrupt Democratic scheme to steal elections by "harvesting" ballots, meaning that someone could stuff the ballot box with illegitimate votes.

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Trump claimed the Democrats were sending mail-in ballots only to Democratic neighborhoods and to non-citizens and other ineligible voters. Trump demagogued that issue mercilessly and was joined in it by his Attorney General Bill Barr who flogged a nonsensical theory that foreign governments were somehow going to get their hands on blank ballots and vote in the election.

Some states have been doing vote by mail for years and the practice was being used in other places in 2020 because we were all being cautious due to the fact there was a deadly pandemic killing thousands of people every day. Trump never cared about that but cleverly set up vote-by-mail as a ready-made excuse in case he lost. In September of 2020, when asked at a press conference before the election if he would allow the peaceful transfer of power if he lost, Trump said, "we're going to have to see what happens ...get rid of the ballots and there will be a very peaceful … continuation of power. We all know what happened.

All of Trump's silly, reckless claims were nonsense both before and after the election. He lost over 60 election lawsuits but he relentlessly pushed the Big Lie for two solid years, pounding it over and over again until it became an article of faith among most Republicans that the election had been stolen by the Democrats.

Here's Fox News celebrity Tucker Carlson "just asking questions" last night:

We have been told repeatedly that because of the GOP's poor showing in the 2022 midterms, with election deniers losing their races more often than not and GOP voters eschewing mail-in voting at Trump's behest, Republicans are going to have to re-evaluate their belief in the Big Lie. They say they're tired of losing. I noted a while back that even Trump himself is suddenly downplaying the Big Lie or, at least, he isn't obsessing over it the way he did for the first two years. It comes up but now that the campaign is cranking to life, he has other things to talk about so it's not as prominent. He knows he's made his point, in any case.

60% of GOP voters still believe the Democrats stole the 2020 election. His job done, Trump is now switching gears and this week endorsed mail-in voting. But don't imagine that it's because he now believes that mail-in voting is legitimate. In a fundraising pitch earlier this week he wrote:

"The radical Democrats have used ballot harvesting to cancel out YOUR vote and walk away with elections that they NEVER should have won. But I'm doing something HUGE to fight back. Our path forward is to MASTER the Democrats' own game of harvesting ballots in every state we can. But that also means we need to start laying the foundation for victory RIGHT NOW."

In other words, he's telling his people to use vote by mail again. (Republicans were way ahead of Democrats in doing that before he came along and blew up their program.) This is a good thing, This is the 21st century and there's no reason people shouldn't have the option of conveniently voting before election day.

But read what he says carefully. He's not saying he was wrong, of course. But neither is he urging officials to encourage mail-in voting, early voting and "harvesting" because it is good for democracy and empowers voters. He still maintains that the Democrats are stealing elections.

Trump premiered the movie "2000 Mules" at Mar-a-Lago and praised it to the heavens. It is a propaganda film by convicted felon and GOP operative Dinesh D'Souza that claims Democratic ballot "mules" were paid to illegally collect and drop off ballots in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, resulting in Biden's win. When Trump says he plans to "master the Democrats' own game of harvesting ballots" that's what he's talking about. And it's almost certainly what many of his followers will hear.

Vote by mail and early voting has been free of any kind of systemic fraud until now. It looks like Trump is looking to change that. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Ballot Harvesting Commentary Elections 2024 Fox News Mail-in Voting The Big Lie Tucker Carlson