Republicans suddenly get religion on early voting

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Donald Trump has spent the last few years leading a crusade against mail-in voting, but Republicans have suddenly made a point of standing up for their virtues. They did so on Tuesday in particular, even as Georgia voters handed the GOP their latest big loss in a disappointing election cycle.

Republicans’ comments on early and mail-in ballots are certainly related to their party’s debacle in the Georgia runoff. Are the GOP’s losses actually related to Trump’s attacks on the electoral alternatives? That’s less clear.

It is striking how often the topic came up on Tuesday:

  • Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel followed up on those in her party who discouraged mail-in and early voting, saying “we need to stop this.”
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) noted that Republicans once benefited from early and postal voting, but lamented that “we put that away.”
  • Trump’s former White House aide Kellyanne Conway and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were also involved in the case during their Fox News appearances.
  • So were Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Hannity wondered aloud why Republicans had stopped voting early and by mail “for whatever reason.” But an hour later, fellow host Laura Ingraham had a theory: “Everyone was like, ‘Don’t vote too early, it’s corrupt.'” When Conway argued it wasn’t all in the GOP, Ingraham shot back a knowing smile, “A lot of people have done it at the top of the Republican Party.”

McDaniel’s staff claimed their comments weren’t actually about Trump, but Ingraham’s comment gives the game away. Many people have apparently come to the conclusion, albeit belatedly, that attacks on these voting methods by Trump and his allies are corrosive to the GOP. And since Trump’s political stock is now damaged – or perhaps because they see the situation as untenable – they are (sort of) saying it out loud. The fact that so many said it at once suggests that the party is looking for answers and that some internal guidance may have been circulated.

The RNC is technically correct that Trump occasionally asked people to vote early and even vote by mail. But that was buried under widespread attacks on the company he wrongly blamed for his 2020 election loss. Even in the year leading up to the 2020 election, he attacked absentee ballots more than 100 times, according to The Washington Post’s Sal Rizzo. And while Trump has reserved most of his attacks for absentee voting, his allies have gone after early ballot boxes (see: the baseless 2000 mules thing), and he has argued that only voting in person on election day is safe.

This rhetoric has continued to this day because it is so central to his bogus claims about stolen elections. Just last week, he declared on social media, “CAN NEVER HAVE FAIR AND FREE ELECTIONS WITH MAIL-IN VOTES.” And during his campaign launch three weeks ago, he said as president he would only push for same-day votes.

When you’re the GOP, you can’t have it both ways. Sure, Trump occasionally urged people to vote using these methods, but he also repeatedly told them they couldn’t be trusted. The message being sent is unequivocal that if people want their votes to count, they should vote in person on Election Day.

Why is this suddenly such a big deal? The Georgia runoff provides some clues, though they may not be entirely convincing.

Shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, some pessimism spread among Republicans. The reason: The early vote was huge, and the data suggested it was very friendly for Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock. Republicans needed a massive turnout on runoff day, and while that was also high, it didn’t seem to be at the level it needed. And in the end it wasn’t.

The weather forecast on the deadline was also aggravating for the GOP. There was significant rain in the northern part of the state, and there was some in the Atlanta area — exactly the areas Republican Herschel Walker desperately needed to have a strong GOP turnout. Voters in North Georgia didn’t get much in the runoff two years ago, and the Atlanta area saw the highest concentration of people who voted for Governor Brian Kemp (R)’s re-election on Election Day four weeks ago, but Walker did were skeptical about.

There are competing schools of thought on the impact of primaries and postal votes on elections. Some believe it has little effect because it only cannibalizes the votes of people who would otherwise attend Election Day. But people have real lives, and giving them only a 12- or 14-hour window to cast their ballot, whatever their best intentions, opens things up to unforeseen circumstances.

Speaking of whether Attacks on mail-in and early voting have cost Walker in particular, it’s not that clear, although it’s plausible it made a difference. GOP turnout has declined more in north Georgia than elsewhere in the state, but as noted, that was the case two years ago, and Walker was actually expanding its margins in that area. Walker fought in the Atlanta area — probably crucially — but much of it was probably because Kemp voters there already didn’t like him. Walker was already well ahead of Kemp in those counties by Election Day, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

Nate Cohn, for example, isn’t convinced that the GOP’s lack of early voting made a significant difference in 2022. He noted that GOP turnout was relatively higher than Democrat turnout in many key states. Georgia’s 2022 election was good for every statewide Republican whose name wasn’t Herschel Walker. It’s just that flawed candidates like Walker have gotten enough of those Republican voters to vote for Democrats in some of the most important races.

Walker’s losing margin — currently about three points — was so wide that it likely took him much more to cross it than a stronger push on early voting and Trump to address those issues.

But it also typified the kind of situation you want to garner votes in: if even your voters aren’t even particularly fond of your candidate, they might have a harder time getting to the polls on the final day of elections.

While Warnock received about 90 percent of the early votes he received four weeks earlier, Walker received less than 80 percent. And Warnock increased its share of early and postal votes from 55 percent four weeks ago to 58.4 percent in the runoff.

The best course for the GOP seems to be to field better candidates. But the Republicans who took the floor Tuesday seem to think it’s worth addressing their president’s and their party’s ban on early voting as well. It certainly couldn’t hurt unless it elicits a backlash from Trump.



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