Mike Lindell did not mince his words in a recent phone conversation with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
“That’s the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard,” Lindell said he told McDaniel when the pair discussed the new “Bank Your Vote” initiative, which the RNC launched on Jun. 7.
Lindell, who relayed his version of the discussion in an interview with TPM last week, said he was “very upset.”
“Ronna, this is the wrong thing,” Lindell said.
“Well, we have to do everything we can to win,” McDaniel answered, according to Lindell.
The “Bank Your Vote” initiative involves the party encouraging supporters “to vote by mail or early in-person, and ballot harvest where permitted.” Of course, all of those voting methods are ones that Lindell and other Republicans — including McDaniel — have long baselessly suggested were connected with election fraud. The RNC’s surprising embrace of voting by mail and “ballot harvesting” this year is setting the stage for a fresh battle between McDaniel and Lindell, who unsuccessfully ran to unseat her as RNC chair earlier this year.
McDaniel and the RNC did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Lindell’s anger at McDaniel’s new plan is unsurprising. Along with his career as the founder of the bedding company My Pillow Inc., Lindell has become known in recent years as one of the most prominent 2020 election deniers and a prolific promoter of conspiracy theories about American voting systems. Those efforts, which have recently included pressing local officials to change their election procedures, have led to legal drama for the entrepreneur.
McDaniel launched the “Bank Your Vote” initiative with comments that seemed designed to head off conservative critics who have been swayed by years of Republican-promoted conspiracy theories casting American elections — and mail-in voting in particular — as rife with fraud. In a video touting the project, McDaniel stressed that it was only coming after “work to protect the vote,” which would be “supercharged” in 2024, including “more key lawsuits.” However, even as she reiterated the RNC’s commitment to questioning elections and challenging them in court, McDaniel said it was time for Republicans to adopt early voting techniques since Democrats have a clear advantage on this front.
“In addition to protecting the vote, we need you to bank your vote. To win close elections we need to close the gap on pre-Election Day voting,” McDaniel said in the clip, adding, “We must encourage more of our voters to request ballots or vote early in person. … If we don’t vote early we’re giving the Democrats a head start.”
It’s a far cry from the leadup to the 2020 election when, in an interview with CSPAN, McDaniel criticized expansions of voting by mail and “ballot harvesting” — a term for the process by which teams collect completed mail-in or absentee ballots from voters. She also said she agreed with Trump’s contention that “Democrats are inserting havoc and chaos into this election cycle.”
“Well, of course, the president is going to accept the results of the election, but I think the president is concerned, as am I, about many of the laws across this country being changed by Democrats,” McDaniel said when asked about comments from Trump suggesting he might dispute the results.
“You know, it’s a real difference between somebody proactively asking for an absentee ballot … versus a state shifting their procedure to all mail in … and sending them to voter rolls that have not been vetted, that haven’t been checked to see if people have moved away or passed away, and those are concerns we have especially in states that don’t have the infrastructure to handle that influx of mail in voting,” she added later in the interview when asked if she had issues with mailed ballots.
After the race, when the former president did not, in fact, accept the results, McDaniel appeared alongside Trump campaign spokespeople at a press conference where they questioned the integrity of the vote and she insisted it included unspecified “irregularities with vote counting and tabulation.”
‘We Have To Stop’
Since that race, McDaniel and other Republicans — including, at times, Trump — have changed their tune on mail-in voting, as some of the party’s strategists believe the conspiratorial rhetoric about how elections work inspired voters to opt out, suppressing turnout and contributing to recent election losses. And while data on that front is not conclusive, there are a number of independent indications that election denialism has hurt the GOP.
Researchers affiliated with Northeastern University published a study last August that looked at the 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs, which were conducted amid Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election results, and in which Republicans lost two seats. The study examined social media and found that Georgia voters who shared conspiracy theories about the 2020 race turned out in smaller numbers than people who opposed Trump’s wild claims.
“The lesson we cannot quite draw is that pushing conspiracy theories will suppress turnout; but it does suggest caution [in deploying conspiracies] as a political strategy,” David Lazer, a political science and computer science professor who co-authored the study, said.
Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst and managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, similarly told TPM that, while the data was “not definitive” there were signs conspiracies about mail-in ballots and other voting systems may have discouraged Republican voters. He pointed to the fact that turnout in some conservative Georgia areas during the 2021 runoffs was not “quite as robust” as it was in Democratic strongholds.
“Did Trump’s whining in advance of the Electoral College certification have some impact on turnout? It very well could have,” Kondik said, later adding, “The Republicans are kind of realizing that they want to be banking votes, too.”
Indeed, in a December 2022 interview with Fox News, McDaniel suggested “ballot harvesting” was behind some GOP victories in last year’s midterms. During that conversation, McDaniel specifically criticized those who have spread conspiracy theories about mail-in voting, and indicated she would encourage Republicans to partake in the process in an effort to diminish Democrats’ advantages. McDaniel did not acknowledge her own history of questioning mail-in voting and the 2020 results.
“What we do need is our voters need to vote early. I have said this over and over again. There were many in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail. Don’t vote early,” McDaniel said. “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. You wouldn’t feed your family in a one day of harvesting. We’ve got to be doing the whole month like they are.”
The ‘Election Crime Bureau’
Lindell, for his part, has continued to offer conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, which include claims about voting by mail as well as other, more sweeping, plots to deprive Trump of his supposed victory. He is not swayed by the idea that Republicans need to engage in voting by mail, “ballot harvesting,” and early voting to beat Democrats. In the conversation with TPM, Lindell called McDaniel’s initiative “the worst plan … in history,” “misguided,” “misconstrued,” and “horrible.” As he argued that the RNC should focus on overhauling elections systems more fundamentally, Lindell suggested there is “a computer” involved in manipulating results.
“I’ve been living this for two-and-a-half years. That’s not the problem. You can’t out-harvest, or out-ballot, or out-harvest a computer,” said Lindell. “We have to fix our election platforms.”
The idea that some sort of digital algorithm or other computer program manipulated the 2020 election is one that has been a fixation for Lindell and other conspiracy theorists. Officials from both parties and at every level of government have confirmed there was no evidence of substantial fraud in the last presidential race. Many key election systems are not connected to the internet and were not vulnerable to any kind of hack.
Lindell said he will be confronting McDaniel’s initiative with an RNC resolution in support of “same day voting, paper ballots, hand counted, voter ID, and no machines.” According to Lindell, his proposed resolution “goes directly against” the “Bank Your Vote” initiative. Lindell, who confidently predicted he had enough support among the 168 RNC members to defeat McDaniel last year before losing that race with just four votes, also insisted he would have enough support to pass the resolution.
Lindell explained to TPM that he saw the new RNC plan is a component in an effort to thwart Trump, who is currently running for re-election in a crowded Republican presidential primary field. Lindell suggested this could be part of a “grand scheme” perpetuated by “the uniparty” and “the machine companies.”
“They for sure want the uniparty run by [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis,” Lindell said of the RNC. “They fear Donald Trump. That’s what this is all about. It’s the only reason they’re doing it. They’re not waiting for the general. They want him out in the primary.”
Lindell, who was a guest at Trump’s post-indictment press conference last week, said he has not discussed the issue with the former president.
“I purposefully have not talked to him because I didn’t want the media asking me questions,” Lindell said. “I haven’t talked to him in about two weeks for that reason only.”
Along with seeking to pass an RNC resolution, Lindell said he will unveil a plan of his own at an event in August.
“We’re revealing the real plan, the plan that will help save our country and fix our election platforms,” Lindell said. “If you’re brave enough, you can put it in your little article there. … This is going to change everything.”
While he stressed his support for same-day voting and paper ballots, Lindell was rather coy about the specifics of what his plan might entail.
“You’re not going to be able to catch me in a, you know, subjective analysis of what you’re trying to guess what the plan is,” Lindell said. “This deals with everything we’re in right now and everybody’s going to be happy. Everybody will be happy. You’ve got to trust me on this.”
Lindell pointed TPM to a website that announces “one of the most important televised events ever” on August 16 and 17 of this year. The site features a link to Lindell’s “Election Crime Bureau” and a dramatic video suggesting there had been a “cyberattack” on American election systems and describing the issue as “a war between good and evil.”
“Technology has been activated that attacks our Constitution with a capacity to destroy our future,” a narrator declares in the clip. “We must remove voting machines and any electronic devices from all elections forever.”
Lindell expressed confidence that, once it is unveiled, the country will eagerly adopt his plan.
“The only way this doesn’t work is if it’s not watched or talked about, because everybody’s going to embrace it,” Lindell said. “It will probably be the most talked about thing, I would think, in the second half of the year, because it’s a great solution to a problem that we all have.”