In September 2020, Donald Trump was asked during a White House press briefing whether he’d commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of an election defeat. The then-president declined — and explained why.
“You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster,” the Republican said, apparently referring to Americans who cast absentee ballots through the mail. Trump added that he wanted election officials to “get rid of the ballots.”
It was never altogether clear how he arrived at this position or why he was convinced that mail-in ballots represented some kind of societal scourge. Neither Trump nor anyone on his team ever produced a shred of evidence to discredit the common electoral practice.
Republican voters nevertheless got the message: Voting absentee, they came to believe, is both wrong and a dangerous part of a broken system. That belief was bizarre, of course, but Trump kept saying it and many within the party believed it.
More than two years later, the former president hasn’t budged. Just last week, Trump used his social media platform to publish this hysterical message: “REMEMBER, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE FAIR & FREE ELECTIONS WITH MAIL-IN BALLOTS — NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. WON’T AND CAN’T HAPPEN!!!”
In case that was too subtle, one day later, the Republican re-published the missive, adding, “NEVER!”
Now, however, his party has come to believe that Trump’s odd position isn’t just wrong, it’s actually hurting the GOP and its candidates.
“Our voters need to vote early,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel declared on Fox News this week. “There were many in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early,’ and we have to stop that, and understand that if Democrats are getting ballots in for a month, we can’t expect to get it all done in one day,”
As Politico reported, she’s not the only one rejecting Trump’s misguided line.
As Republicans come to terms with their lackluster midterm performance, top GOP officials and conservative luminaries are acknowledging voters were led astray with calls to reject early and absentee voting. They’re just not naming the leading figure who helped get them there.
That latter detail is important: Republicans are embracing postal balloting and rejecting Trump’s line, without mentioning the inconvenient fact that they’re contradicting the former president.
It’s not just party leaders. Media Matters published a related report this week that many Fox News hosts who spent years railing against mail-in and early voting are starting to realize that “may have been a huge mistake.”
In 2020, right-wing media engaged in a propaganda campaign against mail-in voting, lodging a panoply of false claims that the process was illegitimate. ... Now in 2022, Fox personalities are beginning to realize the folly of what they and others in right-wing media have done. After being told time and again from their trusted media sources that early and mail-in voting was a vehicle for fraud and abuse, Republican voters are crowding themselves into long lines on Election Day in the false belief that these same-day votes are somehow more valid, while Democrats worked hard to turn out their own voters for weeks.
The shift makes sense, of course. The party and its partners need only to look at the data to see how important mail-in voting has become to Democrats in recent election cycles. If Republicans are going to learn any valuable lessons from their setbacks, it stands to reason that they’d start here.
What’s less clear is whether it’s too late. Will Trump abandon his “never, never, never” position? Will his followers, who trusted Republicans and allied media outlets when they denounced mail-in voting, be persuaded to suddenly believe reality instead of what they’ve repeatedly been told?