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The Republican National Committee’s 2024 Playbook
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The Republican National Committee’s 2024 Playbook

GOP advocates are pushing candidates to focus on mail-in voting, abortion messaging, and independent voters.

Ronna McDaniel, Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) speaks during the 2023 Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Dana Point, California, on January 27, 2023. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

The Republican National Committee recognizes the party has serious challenges heading into the 2024 elections that are undermining efforts to oust President Joe Biden.

Chief among the RNC’s concerns is GOP suspicion of mail ballots and other forms of early voting, fostered by former President Donald Trump. The rejection of absentee participation in favor of in-person, Election Day voting contributed significantly to GOP losses in 2020 and 2022, top operatives at the national party say, prompting RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to launch a major education campaign aimed at reprogramming Republican voters ahead of next year’s contests.

“We have some voters that like to vote on Election Day, and we have to explain to them: We can’t allow Democrats to get a head start,” McDaniel told reporters during a recent news conference. “We don’t want to wait until the fourth quarter to start scoring touchdowns when you have four quarters to put points on the board.”

In an interview with The Dispatch prior to Trump’s indictment on federal charges of allegedly mishandling classified documents, RNC officials detailed exactly how this counterproductive thinking impacted the Republican Party in swing states in last November’s midterm elections. In several of those contests, GOP candidates fell short, leading to disappointment up and down the ballot and nationwide, despite Biden’s low job approval ratings and broad uneasiness about the economy. 

Explains one RNC official: “I was traveling around the state of Georgia asking voters to vote early, and I had people following behind me saying: ‘Don’t trust [me,] don’t vote by mail.’” 

Democrats, by contrast, have collectively embraced all forms of early and absentee voting, making it easier for their party to capitalize on its advantages. That’s why RNC officials emphasize that the new “Bank Your Vote” program is only as good as top Republicans running for office will allow. “It doesn’t work if candidates or others are undercutting this message,” one says. But how Republican voters choose to pull the proverbial lever is hardly the lone issue fueling anxiety inside RNC headquarters in Washington. 

Scattershot opposition to abortion rights is a particularly vexing problem for RNC operatives, whose primary charge is not to make policy or influence primaries but to win elections with the candidates that GOP primary voters select. Abortion was one of the main drivers of Democrats’ success last fall, say RNC officials, who suggest winning strategies ahead of November 2024 appear elusive.

“What our polling shows is that candidates who articulate the exceptions for rape, life [of the mother] and incest, and also a ban at the 15-week mark—when they know a baby feels pain—they’re able to win over independents and some Democrats,” the RNC official says. “That’s a consensus position.” Yet elected Republicans serving at various levels refuse to join hands around the “consensus.” 

Republicans also are divided over whether access to abortion should be determined by the states or the federal government.

Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Republicans generally advocated for state legislatures and governors deciding if the procedure should be available, and if so, at what stage of pregnancy. But since the high court’s Dobbs decision overturned a constitutional right to an abortion, many Republicans have pushed Congress to implement a nationwide, federal ban. Amid the political vulnerability this has created for Republicans, the RNC still believes leaning on “states rights” to navigate the issue is no longer practicable.

In part, this is because national pro-life organizations are urging Republicans to pursue federal legislation prohibiting abortion.

“I don’t think just saying it’s a states issue works,” the RNC official says. “Dobbs returned it back into the hands of policymakers. Democrats are running on codifying it … So I don’t think Republicans can completely punt on that issue.” Whatever position Republicans take, the national party is imploring candidates “to put money behind it on TV so that the electorate actually knows where they stand,” lest Democrats define them instead, as happened in 2022.

For decades, the RNC would raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising in midterm and presidential election cycles. But beginning in the 2014 cycle, on the heels of President Barack Obama winning reelection, the committee shifted gears. Under then-Chairman Reince Priebus, the RNC dropped its focus on television ads and created data-analytics and boots-on-the-ground voter turnout programs. (These year-round operations proved so effective that Trump outsourced both efforts to the RNC in 2016.)

More of the same can be expected from the RNC in 2024. The committee is examining how it might innovate its data by incorporating artificial intelligence technology. The RNC uses data to build voter profiles, micro-target individual voters with specific messaging, and model voter behavior to create macro-turnout models. But none of this work can control the candidates voters put forward in Republican primaries.

So, although Trump, the frontrunner for the nomination, has been an albatross on the party with crucial independent voters—in 2018, 2020 and 2022—the RNC could be stuck with the former president yet again, despite his indictment. RNC officials, committed to neutrality in the GOP presidential primary, have not issued a statement on the matter. Neither did they mention Trump, or any Republican presidential candidate, while discussing with The Dispatch the party’s lack of support from independents in recent elections.

But the RNC seems fully aware that wooing this crucial bloc is imperative if Republicans are going to rebound next year. To that end, the RNC is pushing GOP candidates to be proactive in pursuing independents, a tacit acknowledgement that relying on Biden’s ongoing political difficulties, including low job approval ratings and concerns about his age, will not get it done.

“Voters are telling us we want you to work together in Washington and solve our problems,” the RNC official says. “Neither party is getting a clear referendum.”

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.