Opinion | How ‘Election Integrity’ Can Change the People Around Trump

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In the days after the 2020 election, Mr. Whatley talked about the turnout operation Republicans had built in North Carolina. “That ground game was the difference in all of these races,” he told a local radio host that month, detailing the down-ballot achievements. “We won across the board, really, with that 100,000, 150,000-vote margin really because of our ground game.” Asked about Mr. Trump’s fraud claims, he gestured at fraud in other states, but said his state was well run. As The Times reported earlier this year, Mr. Whatley resisted efforts to push for an audit of the state’s election results.

By the next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, at an election integrity panel on “successful states,” Mr. Whatley was explaining that, “When I got elected in June 2019, the first thing I did that month is set up a goal of getting those 500 attorneys, and everybody looked at me like, ‘What? Why are you doing this?’ We need to be lawyered up.”

When Mr. Whatley addressed the state convention in Greensboro last week, he sounded like a party chair from any decade, like the ground game guy. “You’ve got to get your people to the polls and you have to persuade the unaffiliated, you gotta persuade the independents, you gotta persuade the undecided voters,” Mr. Whatley said.

He has talked about his plan to field 100,000 volunteer poll watchers and attorneys. Ms. Trump talked about that plan too, and she also sounded more like a party chair from an earlier era, like she was trying to shoehorn traditional ways of winning elections (early voting, big time fund-raising) into the great struggle for election integrity.

“We have to fight fire with dynamite,” Ms. Trump said of matching legal Democratic efforts to collect ballots. She talked, at length, about the importance of voting early and using the additional time to help turn out other voters. Much of what Ms. Trump and Mr. Whatley talked about seemed, actually, about fighting the prospect of fraud by getting Republican voters to become comfortable again with early voting — a return to normal against the tide of Mr. Trump’s inability to accept his own defeat.