When the election-deniers faceplanted in the 2022 midterms, it wasn’t just humiliating for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. It had a sudden, devastating impact on how the former president and his aides had planned to wage their 2024 campaign to retake the White House. And now, Trump’s allies are reversing course, accepting voting measures they railed against just a few months ago.
Trump had hoped that the Keystone State would elect Doug Mastriano, a Christian nationalist and Jan 6 stop the steal activist, who openly supported the ex-president’s authoritarian efforts to cling to power. Mastriano had also signaled a willingness to do Trump’s anti-democratic bidding in the next presidential election, if it came down to it. His campaign platform included calls to force all voters in the state to re-register and hints that he would appoint an election conspiracy theorist to the state’s highest election administration office. The former president had hoped Mastriano, with a Republican-led Pennsylvania House, would repeal the state’s universal mail-in voting law, also known as Act 77. “You can never have fair & free election with mail-in ballots,” Trump thundered on his social network shortly after the midterms.
But Trump’s hoped-for victories in the state house and governor’s office never happened. And so, according to those who had been intimately involved with the push against mail-in-voting, that operation was quietly shuttered in the wake of Republicans’ failures in the midterm elections.
“The effort for the constitutional amendment to roll back Act 77 — which allowed for no-excuse mail-in balloting — has been disbanded. I am not a part of it anymore, and neither is Donald Trump,” Michael Caputo, a former senior Trump administration official who worked on the initiative, tells Rolling Stone. “However, the activists who were on the ground in Pennsylvania who were a part of it are now working to train activists to successfully work within the legal confines of no-excuse mail-in balloting.”
The state’s supreme court has twice affirmed Act 77’s constitutionality—once in Nov 2020 and again in August 2022—leaving legislative action as the only option to repeal it. But Mastriano’s failure to win the governor’s race and Republicans’ loss of the state house means the effort to get rid of universal mail-in voting in the state is “lost, likely for a generation,” according to Caputo.
Caputo says he’s already “told President Trump and others” that the only way forward is for Republicans to embrace mail-in ballots, even if they dislike the practice. “[Democrats] didn’t like super PACs, but when the Supreme Court made their decision, they mastered the super PAC. Now, Republicans need to master no-excuse mail-in balloting in Pennsylvania and other states,” he says.
Even Mastriano, who campaigned on repealing Act 77, endorses mail-in voting as critical for future victories in the state. “I didn’t embrace that during the campaign. We probably should’ve used it as the Democrats had,” Mastriano said in a talk radio interview last week, describing it as a “hard lesson.”
Mastriano was one of a slew of Trump candidates in 2022 who all-but-admitted they’d be willing to help him rig the next election — and got absolutely crushed by the Democrats.
Even though Trump looks destined for a brutal 2024 Republican primary, he is already assuming he will once again be his party’s presidential nominee. And headed into the general election against President Joe Biden, Trump was in part counting on a robust “Stop the Steal” and election-denial movement on the right — one that held widespread positions of state and local authority.
With the paltry wins in the midterms, it wasn’t lost on Trump that he had just suffered a setback in his ambition to retake power. According to two people familiar with the matter, shortly after the dust settled on the 2022 elections, Trump lamented privately that not having “my people” in all the secretary of state and governor offices that he wanted would make it easier for Democrats to supposedly “cheat” in the next election. In these private comments, Trump complained, in particular, about the swing states like Pennsylvania where his MAGA electoral fantasies failed to materialize.
In 2022, Trump endorsed candidates from the America First Secretary of State Coalition, a group of activists and conspiracy theorists running to gain control of their state’s election administration based on lies about mass election fraud.
Kristina Karamo, a former poll challenger and witness for the Trump-backed Supreme Court suit to overturn the 2020 election, lost her bid to be Michigan’s secretary of state. Far-right militia member Mark Finchem, a state representative who helped lead Arizona’s efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory there in 2020, also lost his secretary of state race.
Those losses damaged Trump’s chances to skew voting rules in his favor the next time around. But even in the face of evidence that the stop the steal movement has hurt his presidential ambitions in 2024, Trump is still endorsing its most die-hard believers as they mount new campaigns.
Kari Lake, Trump’s favored candidate for Arizona governor and a stop-the-steal conspiracy hardliner, lost by a thin margin of 17,000 votes. Her loss, a new analysis shows, came in part because thousands of voters willing to support other Republicans on the state ballot couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the far-right former TV news anchor.
The former president has not completely ditched her just yet. According to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, in the weeks following her defeat last year at the hands of Democrat Katie Hobbs, the former president was still asking confidants and his club guests what they thought of Lake as a possible vice-presidential pick for him.
Or take Matt DePerno, a Kalamazoo attorney whose conspiracy-fueled 2020 lawsuit helped kick off the election audit craze in conservative states. His losing campaign for attorney general helped to solidify unified Democratic control of the battleground state ahead of 2024. No matter to Trump. In a statement released on Friday, Trump endorsed DePerno’s new bid for the state’s GOP chair and emphasized his role in the election conspiracy movement. “No one has done more to fight for election integrity,” the former president gushed.