OLIVIA INGRASSIA: The RNC's new leadership is killing it

The RNC’s newly-elected leadership – comprised of North Carolina’s Michael Whatley, Lara Trump, and experienced political operative Chris LaCivita – which hit the ground running immediately following Ronna McDaniel’s departure, has already made significant strides in overhauling a party apparatus plagued by mismanagement, lackluster fundraising capacities, and an inability to channel voter frustrations into tangible election day victories. A revamped RNC, no longer begrudgingly working alongside President Trump, but now guided directly by his stamp of approval, is crucial. Indeed, the swiftness with which this team has begun working is a tremendous sign: staff shakeups, relocating operations out of the DC swamp, and bolstering fundraising, on top of a recent court victory in the important swing state of Pennsylvania, will undoubtedly establish a strong trajectory throughout these next six months before the first early votes are cast for the general election.

As the saying goes in Washington, personnel is policy. And this shakeup alone can serve to answer perhaps the most pressing question posited by voters since 2020: what changes have been made to ensure our elections are secure this time around?

Certainly, Republicans are in a strong position, all things being equal, with the primary now wrapped up and President Trump at the head of the ticket. What’s more, the incontrovertibly absurd nature of each of these criminal and civil cases waged against Trump by his political opponents becomes more apparent by the day. Still, despite the favorable poll numbers, all efforts must remain hyper-focused not simply on returning President Trump to the People’s House for a second term, but also bolstering the future 47th President’s electoral mandate to govern, unimpeded, according to the democratic will of the voters throughout the entirety of a second term. There is far too much at stake in the 2024 election – with the urgency posed by the invasion at our southern border, paired with crippling inflation numbers, skyrocketing crime, ongoing foreign conflicts instigated by the current administration, and the crisis of the rule of law thanks to Biden’s DOJ prosecuting its political opponent – the national committee must not leave anything on the table. Among the most important components of this monumental task is solidifying the ground game for November.

The Clock Is Ticking: Fortifying the Republicans’ Ground Game

In 2020, the RNC spearheaded the reelection campaign’s field team, dubbed the “Trump Victory” arm of the operation. The field apparatus, reflecting the national party committee generally, was ill-equipped for the overwhelming vote-by-mail scheme: from a failure to maximize resources to working from behind, the RNC lacked an overarching strategy heading into the consequential presidential election in which less than one-third of voters cast their ballots in person on election day. Instead, the McDaniel-led RNC continued to tout its “voter contact” efforts, mirroring a strategy conceived by Obama’s 2012 campaign, despite the vastly different landscape posed by the COVID-induced changes in election laws. Moreover, as it turns out, much of that record-setting voter contact data contained statistical inconsistencies and relied upon “deeply flawed” methods, contributing to the party’s inability to overcome the barrage of Democrat mail-in ballots.

Contrast this with the well-organized ballot harvesting operation by Democrats in Pennsylvania. In 2020, Democrats significantly outpaced Republicans with respect to both mail-in ballot requests and return rates. Building upon this, in 2022 Pennsylvania Democrats strategically began their general election ballot application program in the spring before the November midterm elections, coinciding with taxpayer-funded notices sent by county boards of elections which serve to remind voters to reapply for mail-in ballots each election. Leveraging these notices mandated by Pennsylvania state law, the Democratic party encouraged their voters to participate in the mail-in ballot process more efficiently, with a particular focus on those within the city of Philadelphia. Further, despite the success in recent election years, they did not stop there. As of late last year, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has implemented automatic voter registration throughout the Commonwealth, and has recently launched an “election security task force” ahead of the 2024 election.

Necessarily, the disparity in mail-in request rates between the parties is expected: Democrats rely upon mail-in ballots to a greater extent than do Republicans. This is not a fatal flaw – lest we forget, despite the party not tactfully using this expanded access to its advantage, the 2020 differential was merely 42,918 votes in three states: Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia. Because of the census update, flipping just those three states once again would send the 45th President back to the White House. Moving forward, however, if Republicans take advantage of expanded mail-in ballot access specifically to increase their turnout among voters who may not otherwise have voted on election day at all, this would place the party in a formidable position come Election Day.

In addition to maintaining “voter contacts” with solid Republican voters, the RNC is absolutely correct in prioritizing the low propensity, crossover (Obama/Trump voter), and heretofore unregistered voters in these states to expand the voter base. As such, efforts beginning now to register new voters across states are crucial. The RNC’s refined infrastructure must invest in capturing these would-be non-voters, either by way of mail-in ballot applications in states such as Pennsylvania, or throughout the early voting window. In addition, the early voting windows – in some states as long as 40 days – can and should be used to mobilize well-trained volunteers to ensure the elderly or otherwise homebound can exercise their right to vote. With this outreach in mind, the party is prepared to utilize the “election month” wisely: see to it that these voters with a lower likelihood to vote on their own volition cast their ballots early. Because Trump so successfully expanded the party, the new field efforts should adapt to target voters – traditional Republicans and non-traditional Republicans alike – specifically to encourage as many people as possible turn out for Trump. Voting on election day in person remains the preferred method, and for a good reason. But ensuring those with irregular voting histories cast their ballots during the long windows of early voting would help to bridge the gaps in these swing states.

Last year, in an attempt to assuage these concerns, the McDaniel-led RNC unveiled its nationwide “Bank Your Vote” campaign for 2024. However, as demonstrated by the NY-3 special election debacle, the first iteration of the program proved woefully insufficient. Rather than adapting to the post-COVID election system, it was more of the same: once a voter “pledged” via the online form to cast his vote early, it is unclear whether further effort taken to ensure that voter actually made it to the polls. In addition, the program tended to capture voters already likely to turn out to the polls, and did little by way of expanding to the crucial lower propensity voters not otherwise in the system. The new RNC leadership is not going to make these same mistakes.

As Chairman Whatley’s memo recently affirmed, early voting procedures with disparate mail-in ballot laws across the fifty states require the creation of state-specific infrastructure, limiting the extent to which a one-size-fits-all strategy will succeed, unlike the situation in 2016. However, because many state GOP parties have been slow (or, in some cases, outright reluctant) to adapt, the RNC can guide the parties where needed, maintaining focus on the crucial battlegrounds: Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada.

The Party need not work alone, either. Just as the DNC relies upon scores of outside non-profits every election year, activists such as Scott Presler and Turning Point Action will play a role in maximizing early voter turnout. Already, efforts such as the “Early Vote Action” mobile application, provide a promising foundation for voter outreach.

Naturally, the field effort is only one segment of a winning operation, and teams of lawyers in crucial swing states and city centers monitoring election procedures and any potential infractions, on top of poll watchers, is vital. While the post-COVID election laws call for a more resource-intensive outreach program, the shakeup among the RNC’s top brass demonstrates the party is far better equipped today than in years past to tackle the get-out-the-vote effort in a more streamlined, strategic, and ultimately effective manner.

In 2016, members of the Republican Party were actively rooting against Trump. In 2020, a failure to adequately respond to changes stood in the way of success. In 2024, the unified Party is poised to help deliver victory for the American people.
 

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