A citizen's guide to Trump's 2024 strategy

In the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, top Republican officials began to criticize Trump. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, said that Trump's actions were "destructive" and "displayed poor leadership." 

Everyone must take responsibility for their destructive actions yesterday, including the president. As the leader of the nation, the president bears some responsibility for the actions that he inspires — good or bad. Sadly, yesterday he displayed poor leadership in his words and actions, and he must take responsibility. 

Was this the start of a true break between the Republican establishment and Trump? In February, Grassley announced that he would not vote to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. But, in a lengthy statement explaining his decision, Grassley expanded on his criticisms of Trump. Grassley flatly stated that Trump lost the election, and harshly criticized Trump's efforts to retain the presidency after his legal efforts failed: 

The reality is, [Trump] lost. He brought over 60 lawsuits and lost all but one of them. He was not able to challenge enough votes to overcome President Biden’s significant margins in key states. I wish it would have stopped there.

It didn’t. President Trump continued to argue that the election had been stolen even though the courts didn’t back up his claims. He belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way. He encouraged his own, loyal vice president, Mike Pence, to take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions during the Electoral College count. My vote in this impeachment does nothing to excuse or justify those actions. There’s no doubt in my mind that President Trump’s language was extreme, aggressive, and irresponsible.

Nine months later, Trump's conduct has only gotten worse. Trump's lies and conspiracy theories about election fraud have gotten wilder. Trump has recast the January 6 attack on the Capitol as a "protest," claiming those charged with crimes are being "persecuted so unfairly." 

But Grassley has completely changed. The 88-year-old Senator has announced his intention to run for reelection in 2022. On Saturday, Grassley appeared on stage with Trump in Des Moines, Iowa, and accepted his endorsement. 

Former President Donald Trump smiles as Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91% of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart," Grassley said. "I'm smart enough to accept that endorsement."

Grassley has conveniently forgotten about his concerns in the wake of January 6. And he is not alone. Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-IA) sharply criticized Trump after January 6, saying Trump was "responsible" for the violence, but appeared on stage with Trump on Saturday to accept his endorsement. The presence of former critics like Grassley and Hinson sent a clear message: the Republican Party is still Trump's party. 

After Grassley ceded the podium, Trump took the mic for a rambling 95-minute diatribe. Both the location and the content of the speech strongly suggested that Trump may run for another term. "We will quickly complete the border wall, and we will end illegal immigration once and for all," Trump told the crowd. "We will have to start it all over again. It would have been so much better if we had an honest election, but we’ll be able to do it again."

In 2020, Trump's strategy to overturn the election relied on Rudy Giuliani and a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists. It didn't work out. In Iowa, Trump made clear that his strategy in 2024 is to install unwavering Trump loyalists throughout the state and federal government. "The election was a fraud and if we want to save our country and make America great again, we have only one choice. We must elect strong and unyielding American Republicans at every level," Trump said. 

This would facilitate a much more sophisticated effort to seize power in the next presidential election, regardless of the actual vote total. 

Part 1: Put Trump loyalists in charge of election administration in key states

In September, Popular Information reported that Trump is using his political clout to try to get Republican candidates that still believe claims of election fraud into election administration roles in key states. Trump has officially endorsed three candidates for Secretaries of State: Mark Finchem (R) in Arizona, Kristina Karamo (R) in Michigan, and Jody Hice (R) in Georgia. In his endorsements, he praised all three candidates for working to stop election fraud, even though there is no evidence of meaningful fraud in the 2020 election. 

A Reuters report that looked at the “15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states -- Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, [and] Nevada” found that ten out of the 15 candidates have either “declared that the 2020 election was stolen or called for their state’s results to be invalidated or further investigated.” Out of the nine candidates that Reuters interviewed, only two said that Biden won the election.

One of the candidates interviewed was Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump called Raffensperger on January 2, 2021, and urged to recalculate the votes and “find” thousands of additional votes. Raffensperger refused to comply with Trump’s request. Now, Trump has endorsed Hice — a loyalist who says the election was stolen from Trump — in his primary campaign to defeat Raffensperger.

In most states, the role of Secretary of State includes acting as the chief election officer, holding power over how votes are “cast, counted and certified.” This also involves approving vote counts for both individual counties and the results of the official presidential election. If Trump is able to get his supporters elected into these positions, they will have an immense amount of power over how the next election is conducted in key swing states.

Republican candidates for Secretary of State are supported by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Corporations that donated to the RSLC in 2021 include General Motors ($125,000), Eli Lilly ($100,000), Facebook ($50,000), Walmart ($50,000), AT&T ($50,000), and Walgreens ($15,000). 

Part 2: Elect Trump loyalists as governor in key states

The outcomes of the 2022 gubernatorial races are also critical to Trump's 2024 strategy. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where the GOP already retains control of the state legislatures, the election of GOP governors could lead to the rampant expansion of “anti-democratic tactics.” 

“At stake [in the 2022 races for governor] are how easy it is to vote, who controls the electoral system and...whether the results of federal, state and local elections will be accepted no matter which party wins,” the New York Times reports

Republicans in each of these three critical swing states have attempted to undermine the 2020 election. In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers are pushing for a review of personal voter data––a costly and time-consuming process––to identify “illegal” voters. In Wisconsin, a former State Supreme Court Justice, Michael Gableman, is leading an "audit" of the state’s 2020 election results on behalf of the Republican legislature. Last week in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) rejected a series of election bills that she said “perpetuate the big lie” and “weaken voting rights.” 

With the help of a Republican governor, state legislators loyal to Trump in these states could do far more damage. A Republican governor, backed with the support of a Republican legislature, could ignore the popular vote and send a slate of electors pledged to Trump to Congress. Alternatively, a Republican governor could refuse to certify electors pledged to a Democratic candidate. Either of these tactics could be enough to tip the balance of the election in a close race.

The field in these states includes candidates who are likely to do Trump's bidding. In Pennsylvania, former Congressman Lou Barletta (R), one of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016, is running. Trump then endorsed Barletta during Barletta's 2018 run for Senate. Just prior to announcing, Barletta appeared on Steve Bannon's podcast and falsely claimed that the 2020 election in Pennsylvania “was a buffet of irregularities” and the state “made it actually even easier for dead people to vote.” 

In Michigan, the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate is former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. At his campaign kickoff, Craig said that he "supports a full audit of the presidential election because there are 'valid concerns out there.'" Other Republican candidates are even more extreme. Ryan Kelley, a local planning commissioner, "was among the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol and climbed on scaffolding outside the building." A conservative media personality running for governor, Tudor Dixon, "is backed by campaign operatives with close ties to Trump." 

The Wisconsin field is more unsettled but the leading Republican candidate, Rebecca Kleefisch, "praised and aligned herself with former President Donald Trump" during her announcement speech last month

Republican candidates for governor are supported by the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Corporate donors to the RGA in 2021 include Eli Lilly ($100,000), Walgreens ($100,000), Charter Communications ($150,000), Boeing ($200,000), and Deloitte ($100,000).

Part 3: Put Trump loyalists in charge of Congress

The third part of the plan is more straightforward: restore the Republican majorities in Congress. On January 6, 2021, about two-thirds of the Republican caucus objected to the certification of the Electoral College in an effort to reverse the outcome of the election. Some of the Republicans who did not object to the certification are retiring or facing primary challengers. A majority might be all that's needed to rubber-stamp efforts in the states to swing the election to Trump.