Justin Clark, one of Donald Trump’s top campaign advisers, was caught on tape at a Republican event saying that voter suppression was historically a key strategy in many battleground states and that this year, the party would begin “playing offense” to take advantage of relaxed voting rules for the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
According to HuffPost, roughly 20 minutes of audio was recorded by a liberal group known as American Bridge while attending the Republican National Lawyers Association’s Wisconsin chapter. The audio reveals that the Trump campaign is targeting key areas that have traditionally gone Democrat but that Trump managed to win in 2016. This includes parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places,” the senior political adviser said. “Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are…. Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”
When confronted about his comments, Clark insisted that his words were misunderstood and taken out of context.
“As should be clear from the context of my remarks, my point was that Republicans historically have been falsely accused of voter suppression and that it is time we stood up to defend our own voters,” Clark said.
He added that no one within the campaign would support voter suppression and that their efforts would be focused on preventing voter fraud.
This year, the RNC agreed to increase Election Day monitoring after a judge ordered a ban on “ballot security” efforts like voter identification rules be lifted. Critics say that lifting the ban will enable voter suppression efforts, which often impact Democratic voters to a larger degree. The DNC sued, saying that GOP tactics amounted to voter intimidation and the RNC agreed to abide by the same rules as the DNC in the 2020 election.
Clark insists that Trump is focused on voter fraud and wants to ensure that none takes place in 2020. Given Trump’s claims that it was voter fraud that allowed Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote in 2016, it’s not surprising that he is focused on the issue for the coming election.
The senior campaign adviser says that the campaign plan to focus its efforts on voter fraud in small rural areas in Wisconsin, “where our voters are,” though there is no evidence that there is any voter fraud in the state.
Wisconsin governor Tony Evers said that either side working to prevent people from voting is harming democracy. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul also responded to Clark’s comments, saying that the people must have free access to vote.
Polls have shown Trump trailing his Democratic challengers in the upcoming election, which some suggest has increased the president’s concern about winning re-election. But the deputy director of One Wisconsin Now, Mike Browne, says that the Trump campaign strategy amounts to “underhanded tactics” to try and win the election.