Trump’s Big Lie is hurting Republicans' efforts to get out the vote

Mail-in-ballots used to be the GOP's best election weapon. Trump's lies have Republicans now second-guessing voting

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 3, 2024 9:36AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Ballots are received, sorted and verified at the LA County ballot processing facility. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Ballots are received, sorted and verified at the LA County ballot processing facility. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump was all over the place in his big Time Magazine interview this week but there is one issue on which he's never wavered. When asked if he thought there would be violence around the election this fall he said, "If we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.” On Wednesday he went even further, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “If everything’s honest, I’ll gladly accept the results. I don’t change on that. If it’s not, you have to fight for the right of the country.” It's pretty clear that in his mind and the minds of his followers, there is no such thing as an honest and fair election that doesn't result in a Donald Trump victory so there's little doubt about what to expect if they don't get their way in November. 

Over the past three years, Trump's Big Lie has become the main organizing principle of the Republican Party. There had been a festering sense of grievance and resentment among the GOP base for decades which Trump skillfully tapped into. But ever since his flukey win in 2016, his insistence that the succession of losses the party has suffered under his leadership were all the result of rigged elections, has taken a toll. Among the Republican faithful these days are quite a few who question whether it's even worth it to participate. 

Their only option is to turn Election Day into a chaotic circus and hope that somehow they can find a way to disqualify enough votes to eke out a win in the Electoral College.

"The skepticism is hurting us," local Pennsylvania GOP organizer Milo Morris told Antonia Hitchens of the New Yorker. "A lot of people are disenfranchised by the fraud allegations," Morris said, explaining that he is often confronted with suspicion and distrust from voters who say, "This whole game is just ridiculous and I’m not going to participate anymore." Gosh, I wonder where they are getting those crazy ideas. 

Trump's campaign and his supporters in the media begged him to stop talking about the Big Lie and insisting that it was going to happen again. They knew that this relentless drumbeat going into another election is counterproductive. But he won't stop. They've apparently accepted that fact and are now desperately trying to compensate for it. Unfortunately, Trump's sabotaging those efforts as well. 

Trump has been disparaging early voting and mail-in voting since before the 2020 election when he correctly surmised that he was going to have trouble getting re-elected. States were changing some of their election procedures to deal with difficulties getting to the polls due to the pandemic and if he lost, he saw that he could use that as an excuse to challenge the election. He and his henchmen (like Attorney General Bill Barr) spent months suggesting that the mail-in votes were rife with fraud and told his voters not to use that method or trust the results where it was used. This formed the basis for his claims that the election was stolen despite no evidence that anything untoward had happened. 

But that has presented a big problem for the party in subsequent elections. Early voting and voting by mail boost turnout. They are convenient methods for people to participate and they like using them. But by insisting that Republicans should only vote on Election Day, some voters just don't make it to the polls. Moreover, it makes it much more difficult for the people running the ground game to focus their get-out-the-vote efforts.

As Bloomberg recently reported

New research shows that Trump's crusade against mail-in voting is backfiring. According to a study in the Election Law Journal by researchers at the Universities of Florida and Alabama, the more voters embraced vote-by-mail in the primaries through mid-March, the worse Trump did.


In 11 red states where Republican legislators actively worked to discourage mail-in voting, the report found that mail voting declined, but so did turnout — to 17%. 

Now some state and local Republicans are desperate to get their people to use these methods and are working to persuade voters to forget what they've been told in the last two election cycles and vote early. Unfortunately, they keep running into one big orange roadblock. 

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Trump is hooked on the idea that elections should only be held on one day and that they should be done with paper ballots and hand-counted. He reiterated that this week in Wisconsin. He told Fox News' Laura Ingraham in February, "If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud.” (He has also stated in the past that he thinks the counting should be stopped at midnight, which is certifiably insane.) 

Trump has posted on Truth Social that people should vote absentee or early, but it appears to be something he did under duress. After all, it's almost as if he's admitting he was wrong about something and that simply cannot happen.

There are various groups working to persuade voters to essentially forget that Trump has been instructing them for years to only vote on Election Day because it's the only way they can be sure their vote will count. Last month the New York Times published a big, sexy profile of Turning Point USA's get-out-the-vote program called "chase the ballot," which they characterize as attempting to fix this problem. But Axios recently quoted the COO of the organization, Tyler Bowyer, saying "We're not trying to encourage more people to get on the early voting list. If you vote too early, you're basically telling Democrats how many votes they need to win," which is simply bizarre since it would do no such thing. (Bowyer, by the way, is also one of the fake electors who was indicted in Arizona last week so he is something of an expert on voter fraud.) 

Donald Trump has no one to blame but himself for this problem. But it's unclear whether the Republican Party is really putting its efforts into getting out the vote anyway. From what we hear from the new Chair of the RNC, Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump, the real efforts are going toward something else entirely: vote suppression and intimidation.

"We now have people in the RNC," Trump told Newsmax's Eric Bolling, "who can physically handle the ballots."

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This comes from the top. Trump has said for years now that "sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate." 

His daughter-in-law didn't mince words when she said that they will have people in the polling places "handle the ballots" and issue threats of prosecution. Why bother with trying to maximize turnout when you can intimidate the election workers and manipulate the vote count? 

This is really their last resort. Their leader has spent the last several years telling their voters that their votes are irrelevant because the system is rigged and now they're having to scramble to try and convince them they should vote anyway, even as he's still saying it's probably pointless. Their only option is to turn Election Day into a chaotic circus and hope that somehow they can find a way to disqualify enough votes to eke out a win in the Electoral College. That's what they like to call "election integrity."

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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