Charlie Kirk, Donald Trump, Chase the Vote
Charlie Kirk and former President Donald Trump at a “Chase the Vote” rally at Dream City Church in Phoenix, AZ, June 6, 2024. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

The emerging strategy is not convincing undecided voters but persuading infrequent voters who already like him.

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The grifter drove the headlines again. At the activist right-wing “People’s Convention” on Detroit’s riverfront in mid-June, another pitchman took the stage before you-know-who. Your stocks and savings could crumble in this economy, warned Alexander Spellane, a sponsor of Turning Point Action’s event. He urged the crowd to buy his gold and silver.

The front-page New York Times report on this sordid campaign trail spectacle began by noting that federal financial regulators had been trying to “shut down” Spellane’s operation after “virtually every customer had suffered ‘immediate and dramatic losses.’” 

But sleazy hucksters are not exactly new in Donald Trump’s orbit. Something else is going on.

The doomsaying warm-up act fits the apocalyptic mindset of 2024’s Trump-led Republican Party and what appears to be his emerging November voter-turnout strategy. Namely, if the election is close, it is not likely to be slivers of undecided voters who must be lured and will determine the presidential election’s outcome, as pundits interpreting tight polls have been saying.

Rather, Trump — assisted by the right’s power-hungry evangelicals, culture warriors, and anti-government capitalists — is angling to prompt legions of infrequent voters, beginning with white Christian nationalists and evangelicals, to leave the sidelines and vote in volumes that will upend predictions by Democrats, pollsters, and mainstream media. 

These citizens aren’t undecided in their beliefs and politics. They just need prodding to vote.

According to right-wing provocateur and culture warrior Charlie Kirk, head of the Turning Point organizations, whose Detroit “People’s Convention” is one of many allied efforts being held or planned in battleground states to make authoritarian Christian beliefs central in the election:

What we have seen — with the pastors we’re working with, with the churches that we are organizing, both through Turning Point Action and TPUSA Faith — is there is an unprecedented desire to take back this country, to have a check and balance on the tyranny and the nonsense that we’re living through. 

So Kirk told The Western Journal, a conservative website whose motto is “equipping readers with the truth.”

As the homepage for My Faith Votes announces, “1 In 3 Christians does not vote consistently. We’re on a mission to motivate and equip Christians to PRAY THINK VOTE in every election.”

Is this Trump campaign turnout strategy hiding in plain sight? Many clues suggest it may be. 

Of course, groups like Turning Point USA are already boasting that they will spend upwards of $100 million to put boots on the ground in battleground states. Boasts like that are regular fixtures of GOP campaigns and often don’t come to pass. (In past cycles, right-wing groups such as True The Vote have proclaimed they will deploy legions of voting vigilantes — which did not materialize.) But there are other signs.

These hints include red states increasingly beating culture war drums designed to garner national attention, such as Louisiana recently requiring the Ten Commandments be posted in public school classrooms — which, of course, was met by an ACLU lawsuit. (Oklahoma education officials quickly followed suit, ordering the Bible be taught in public schools.) 

Additionally, those sharing the stage with Trump at Turning Point’s Detroit convention were a who’s who of ambitious and bellicose right-wingers whose pursuit of power has attached itself to Trump’s increasingly vengeful, erratic, and unhinged persona.

God acts in mysterious ways, and has mysterious messengers, one often hears among Trump’s religious-right allies — people who, in previous decades, called themselves the moral majority. Hypocrisies aside, there are clear reasons why Trump needs the right’s preachers, culture warriors, climate and election deniers, and their deep-pocket voter profiling and turnout operations. Why is that?

Trump supporter, Jesus, protest sign, January 6

Trump supporter holding a Jesus protest sign at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo credit: Tyler Merbler / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Centrist Republicans have been rejecting MAGA copycat candidates in growing numbers since 2020 — and, as unimaginable as it may be to Trump cultists and right-wing media echo chambers, many of these disaffected Republicans have voted for the Democrat instead.

Take Arizona. A March 2024 analysis of split-ticket voting patterns after 2020 found that very trend. Today’s election systems produce reams of data. This analysis parsed every vote cast on every ballot in the general elections in the two counties comprising three-quarters of Arizona’s electorate. On tens of thousands of individual ballots where the majority of votes were for Republican candidates, those same voters rejected MAGA Republicans and cast votes for the Democratic candidate instead. That is why Arizona now has a Democratic governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. 

Nationally, in 2024’s Republican presidential primaries, this same anti-MAGA voting pattern could be seen in votes for Nikki Haley — including in states whose primaries were held after Trump had secured the GOP’s presidential nomination and Haley had officially dropped out.

“This report analyzes voter behavior in Arizona, highlighting shifts within the GOP base from the 2020 presidential election to the 2022 midterms, using Cast Vote Record (CVR) data,” wrote its author, Larry Moore, who founded a federally certified election audit firm. “The result indicates growing disenchantment and cross-party voting. When combined with the persistent strength of Nikki Haley, these findings suggest a challenging landscape for MAGA-aligned candidates in 2024.”

Moore’s analysis, which is factual and is one of the more hopeful assessments of 2024’s likely outcome for people who fear another Trump presidency, has not been covered by mainstream media. Nonetheless, it underscores the question of where Trump can find votes that are not on many pundits and pollsters’ radar. The answer can apparently be seen in who is campaigning with Trump — such as at Detroit’s Turning Point Action revival.

There’s nothing new about church-based get-out-the-vote efforts — in both major parties. These have been staples of campaigns for decades. Many of today’s right-wing operations trace their roots to efforts that arose in the early 1970s in response to 1960s-era liberalism, as investigative reporter Anne Nelson documents in her book Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right. (Her most recent investigative report updated this trend in 2024’s battleground states.)

Many progressive journalists have been covering the overlapping interests of evangelical authoritarians and anti-regulatory corporate titans for years. A key thread that Nelson adds is noting that, starting in the mid-1970s, these moralists and moneymen have led a series of institutional coups to commandeer less-partisan organizations and incite culture wars. In other words, Trump’s bellicosity is nothing new in these circles. It is welcomed.

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As her book describes, these power-hungry extremists took over the Southern Baptist Convention and National Rifle Association in the 1970s. During Ronald Reagan’s 1980s presidency, they deregulated the media and cheered House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s vicious smears powering his and the GOP’s seizure of federal power. After Barack Obama’s election, they created the Tea Party and funded its disruptive agitators. They drove efforts to gerrymander state legislatures and congressional seats, leading to more than a dozen years where Republicans, despite representing minorities of voters, took and held power in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and, until recently, Michigan.

This nexus of the religious right and anti-regulatory corporatists (such as the petrostate billionaire Koch brothers) funded massive voter profiling operations aimed at electing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as president in 2016. They turned that operation over to Trump — after he agreed to dump New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as his running mate and instead pick Mike Pence — the former evangelical broadcaster turned Indiana politician.

These same circles gleefully saw Trump transform the Supreme Court, withdraw from climate change agreements, and massively cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy. After 2020’s election, they promoted Trump’s stolen election lie, egged on participants in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, and have since been planning what they could do in a second Trump presidency.

Such plans, needless to say, depend on Trump finding votes this fall — especially, if the results are close, among voters who are not on the political and media establishments’ radar. 

Ask yourself: What seems easier, convincing undecided voters (who probably have made up their minds but aren’t telling pollsters what they think) or the far larger group of people who back you but don’t always vote? To reiterate what My Faith Votes’s homepage notes, “1 In 3 Christians does not vote consistently.”

Some media outlets that more objectively cover religion and religious trends have recently explored whether “MAGA evangelicals” could tip the balance in the fall. They’re skeptical.

Religion News Service’s Bob Smietana and Jack Jenkins published a deep dive into this question on June 25. Trump’s allies will grab the headlines, they predicted. “But it’s swing state faith voters — Catholics, mainliners and Black Protestants — who will likely decide the election.” These churches are not MAGA evangelicals, they emphasized.

Religion News Service journalists’ analysis may prove prophetic. But their reporting affirms that Trump has few places to turn for new voters apart from evangelicals and white Christian nationalists. 

The surprising bottom line is that a close presidential election may not turn on slivers of undecided voters. It appears that Trump and the Republican Party have grasped that and are focusing intensely on turning out the religious right’s voters. Whether they are successful in that effort — and how Trump would reward Christian nationalists — remains to be seen. 


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