Of all the many evil (as opposed to merely criminal) things Donald Trump did during the 2020 presidential election cycle, what he did to demonize perfectly legal voting-by-mail opportunities ranked high. His unsubstantiated fraud claims against non–Election Day voting in person not only clouded (in the minds of his credulous supporters and cynical advisers) the legitimacy of marginal folk taking advantage of “convenience voting” to back the Democratic Party. He also convinced a lot of Republican voters to avoid mail-voting opportunities as morally tainted. And that created what came to be prophetically known as the “Red Mirage” scenario, in which Republicans would build up an early lead based on Election Day votes and then disparage late-arriving mail ballots as somehow fraudulent. Trump pulled the trigger on this strategy on Election Night, claiming an early victory that Democrats might subvert with ballot-box-stuffing utilizing presumably fake mail ballots that would be counted later on.
It all led to January 6, and then disgrace and ultimate defeat. And all along many Republicans complained that telling GOP voters to avoid early voting gave Democrats an advantage. A two-to-one advantage in the percentage of Democrats as compared to Republicans voting by mail in 2020 wound up being crucial. And finally, Trump is agreeing that’s unsustainable, as the Wall Street Journal reports:
After years of assailing early voting, Donald Trump is having a change of heart. …
Mr. Trump highlighted the move in a fundraising email this week, saying, “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.”
The email added, “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.”
Now this isn’t just a strategic retreat, much less an admission that critics of his attacks on voting by mail were right all along. Trump is essentially claiming Republicans need to engage in as much electoral skullduggery as Democrats in order to win.
It doesn’t mean he or his party will ever admit the legitimacy of past, present, or future electoral defeats.
But it does mean that Trump is going along with the GOP’s desire to compete with rather than attack or avoid early voting. And going down the road to 2024, it means Republicans (even if the 45th president is their presidential candidate) will be far less likely to claim premature victories or reject ultimate defeats on the basis of the flawed idea that only Election Day votes are legitimate. And for democracy, that is a very good thing.