Media Bellyache About New RNC Chair’s Election Integrity Efforts

Media Bellyache About New RNC Chair’s Election Integrity Efforts

The Republican National Committee (RNC) replaced its chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Friday with the now-former North Carolina Republican Party (NCGOP) chair Michael Whatley, who was the Trump-backed frontrunner. Ever since Whatley’s name was floated, the corporate media predictably deployed the “election denier” smear they assign to any Republican who has ever shown an interest in protecting the integrity of elections.

Whatley has a track record of emphasizing election integrity — and that’s enough, in the eyes of the corporate press, to paint him as a radical election-denying extremist. But with the high stakes of the 2024 election cycle, some of Whatley’s critics say he needs to amp up his election integrity efforts to another level in his anticipated post at the RNC.

Attacks From The Corporate Media

Whatley, who had served as NCGOP chair since narrowly defeating his opponents Jim Womack and John Lewis in 2019, has been the target of hand-wringing pieces from corporate media ever since he was tapped as former President Trump’s choice to lead the RNC.

In an MSNBC column, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton clutched his pearls about the “danger” Whatley poses. 

“It’s clear that Trump is looking for an RNC leader who won’t hesitate to disenfranchise voters, rig elections or dismantle our democracy,” Clayton melodramatically wrote. “[Whatley] has helped lead efforts to defy the will of the people and infringe on North Carolinians’ rights.”

CNN ran a piece entitled “Likely frontrunner for RNC chair parroted Trump’s 2020 election lies.”

Multiple outlets affiliated with States Newsroom — a network launched by a Democrat dark-money group — shuddered at the thought that Whatley teamed up with organizations like Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network that trains poll watchers, under the headline: “Trump’s pick for RNC chief worked with top election denier’s group.”

Russia hoax lawyer Marc Elias’ Democracy Docket joined in the attacks, saying Trump’s “endorsement of Whatley signals that the party is continuing down its path of pushing false election fraud narratives ahead of the November general election.”

What did Whatley do to be smeared as an election conspiracy theorist? In November 2020, he alleged that there was “massive fraud” in “places like Milwaukee and Detroit and Philadelphia.” Of course, even the Associated Press has admitted the existence of voter fraud in the 2020 election, just simply not enough for their liking to denote it as “widespread.”

As Whatley told CNN, “changes to the 2020 election process … weakened safeguards on absentee and mail-in votes in some states,” which “led to distrust by many across the country.”

Whatley’s Work on Election Integrity

Whatley’s supporters tout major wins for the state’s courts and election integrity efforts under his leadership.

“I think [election integrity] is probably [Whatley’s] greatest strength,” Nash County Republican Party Chair Mark Edwards said. “Coming out of the 2020 election there was a lot of angst and energy among Republicans about election integrity and rather than stoke some of the more outlandish and extreme and outrageous reactions to what happened in 2020, Whatley stood above it and saw that this is where the concerns of the party were.”

“He took it upon himself to grab the election integrity issue by the horns and direct that energy into productive use by setting up the Election Integrity Review Committee within the party,” Edwards added, crediting Whatley with “hiring legal staff to help head up the election integrity efforts of the party, and work very closely with Republican legislators to craft legislation that was drafted, introduced and passed and is now being implemented.”

The NCGOP established the Election Integrity Committee in 2021 to recruit, train and send out attorneys and poll watchers to observe “absentee-by-mail approval meetings, early voting polls, election day polls, county canvasses, recount meetings, and protest hearings.”

In 2022, “Whatley doubled down on his efforts to recruit and train poll observers and lawyers,” said former NCGOP legal counsel Philip Thomas. The NCGOP was unable to provide numbers for how many poll watchers were appointed over the course of Whatley’s tenure. Whatley critic Jay DeLancy, however, said it might be difficult for the NCGOP to obtain that data since individual counties appoint observers and the process is decentralized.

Senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute Cleta Mitchell said Whatley “understands that there is more to winning elections than just turning out votes and voters.”

“He has a sense of the need to focus on the election system itself,” Mitchell added. “While sometimes he has too narrow a focus, such as thinking that volunteer lawyers on Election Day will somehow overcome the billions of dollars that the left has invested in changing the entire voting system in our country, Michael is at least aware that there is more to winning than the historic or traditional ‘If we have a good candidate and good issues and a good campaign, our side will win.’ Those days are long gone and at some level, Michael understands that.”

Whatley also created the Judicial Victory Fund, which states its goal is “raising the resources needed to support … statewide conservative judicial candidates.”

NCGOP Communications Director Matt Mercer said the fund is “something that really can’t be overstated enough.”

“Whatley campaigned on ‘Reset in Raleigh’ and overturning a 6-1 Republican deficit on the Supreme Court,” Mercer said. “Whatley has been undefeated [in judicial races] in 2020 and 2022 with the Judicial Victory Fund and the partners at the county and district levels.”

Mercer also credits Whatley with helping get voter ID “past the finish line” by flipping the balance of the court, adding while the NCGOP will miss him, “it’s going to be a benefit for the RNC to have someone of his caliber there.”

The fund was particularly handy during the 2020 election for the North Carolina Supreme Court’s chief justice between Democrat incumbent Cheri Beasley and Republican Associate Justice Paul Newby. Beasley refused to concede after she lost by about 400 votes, and attempted to restore thousands of ballots. Of the 2,800 of those ballots analyzed by The News & Observer at the time, 70 percent belonged to Democrats and just nine ballots belonged to Republicans.  

Some of the ballots Beasley tried to force election officials to accept were ballots that had already been counted, WRAL News reported. But the NCGOP says her attempts ultimately failed after they used resources from the Judicial Victory Fund to fight back.

Republicans also managed to flip the balance of the state’s Supreme Court in 2022 after Republicans Trey Allen and Richard Dietz won their races, giving Republicans a 5-2 majority. 

“If you’re a state party chairman and you don’t have critics, you probably aren’t doing your job,” former chairman of the NCGOP Tom Fetzer told The Federalist. “It’s something that anybody who has ever been a state party chairman accepts and deals with.”

GOP Critics Say Whatley Could Do More

Womack and John Kane, who tried to unseat Whatley in 2022, say he is being given too much credit and should be doing more for election integrity.

“He’s taking credit for [the Judicial Victory Fund] as a great accomplishment, but the credit needs to be shared with … the attorneys that were working on the judicial campaigns, there were different districts that were raising money,” Womack said. 

And when it comes to fighting to secure elections, Womack said the real effort comes from the RNC. In October, the NCGOP and RNC intervened in a lawsuit wherein Democrats attacked a state senate bill that “prevents non-citizens from voting, protects bipartisan poll watchers, and eliminates dark money in elections.”

“The RNC is taking the lead on their lawyers so the NCGOP is just saying, ‘Me too,’” Womack told The Federalist. “We do have a general counsel who is pretty good but the RNC is the one floating all these costs for the lawsuits nationwide.” Aside from the RNC’s election integrity efforts, he added, grassroots Republicans have also worked behind the scenes to ensure the state has a fair process.

This criticism was echoed by Executive Director of Voter Integrity Project of North Carolina, Jay DeLancy, who claimed the NCGOP only addressed allegations of dead people voting in the Beasley-Newby race after his organization took the lead and began investigating.

“It wasn’t [the NCGOP] idea, it was ours,” DeLancy said, adding however that he was pleased the NCGOP helped ramp up efforts. DeLancy also argued that while he has “no complaints about [the NCGOP] lawsuits” and said he gives “credit” to the “effective” legal action that was taken, securing elections starts from the bottom up.

“Election integrity takes creativity, you have to think about how the bad guys are doing things and get into the process,” he said. “What we’re more concerned with is day-to-day ground game and where people are cheating, where the rubber meets the road at the polls.”

“When things go south at the polls, we train our poll workers to pull out the law and show the clerk where they’re wrong. [NCGOP] doesn’t, they just say ‘call us’…and log it unless they feel they can take legal action,” DeLancy added. “I would love to have seen someone who took election integrity seriously as RNC chairman but at the end of the day, all they really care about is get out the vote efforts and they’re not serious about election integrity.”

Mitchell expressed similar thoughts, saying while recruiting volunteer lawyers and poll observers is “absolutely vital,” she hopes Whatley “will be open to hearing about and understanding” that Republicans need to “fight the left on every single issue and every inflection point regarding the election system.”

“We cannot hope to counter their massive funding and organizational advantage that has nothing to do with the DNC or the normal political campaigns,” Mitchell said. “We are in a different world now and hopefully, Michael and the new RNC leadership will want to learn and do something about it. Banking early votes or ballot harvesting as a singular strategy has the left rolling in the aisles laughing at us.”

Womack and Kane also expressed concerns about whether Whatley could actually fundraise for the party.

“The state party would be broke if it weren’t for RNC subsidies,” Womack said. Kane also attributed the state party’s funds to the RNC.

Womack acknowledged, however, that Whatley likely wouldn’t need to worry about doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to fundraising because Trump would be able to drum up most of the support himself.

“Trump’s train has left the station,” Womack said. “I think he’s gonna do well regardless of who the RNC chair is so I’m guessing it really doesn’t matter who leads the RNC.”

Brianna Lyman is an elections correspondent at The Federalist.

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