CHARLIE KIRK: Hate the game, but play by the rules

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book "Right Wing Revolution: How to Beat the Woke and Save the West" by Charlie Kirk. 

The 2022 election was a very tough one for me. I was deeply invested in the many excellent candidates we fielded that year, especially in my own state of Arizona. Kari Lake would have been an excellent governor, Blake Masters an excellent senator, and Aba Hamadeh an excellent attorney general. I expected all of them to win, and for Republicans to dominate all over the country. I was confident . . . ​too confident. Even when election night arrived and the vote totals started to come in, and showed our candidates trailing, I assured listeners on my show that Kari Lake was going to be governor, guaranteed. I stayed upbeat even into the following days, as the gap stubbornly refused to close.

In the end, it never did. All of the candidates I’d fought so hard for in Arizona lost. So did other promising candidates around the country. Worst of all, in Pennsylvania Dr. Mehmet Oz lost to John Fetterman, an embarrassing vegetable of a man with zero accomplishments who couldn’t even talk (thanks to a stroke caused entirely by his abominable health habits) and who’d sponged off his parents for his entire life.

I didn’t just feel upset; I felt humiliated. It wasn’t just because I’d been so confident going into election night. It was because I knew, deep down, that this wasn’t just a failure of messaging. It was a failure of tactics. For no reason at all, we conservatives had taken an inferior tactical approach, and that left us with fewer votes on election night, despite running against a president with an approval rating of under 40 percent. We took a winning position, and we squandered it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game." It’s something to keep in mind when trying to weave your way through the American political system. As conservatives battling to save America, we must be in this fight to win. Throughout this book, I have made the case for changing our attitude in a whole host of ways by resisting woke emotional manipulation, by being more energetic, and by realizing that we not only can win, we morally deserve to win.

But one last attitude shift is needed. We need to be willing to pursue the tactics that will help us win.

So, let’s talk about political tactics. There are plenty of electoral and political strategies that I think are distasteful, or unclean, or not particularly democratic or classy. In an ideal America, they wouldn’t exist. But, mostly due to the actions of our foes, they have become a part of our politics. In the past few years, Democrats have become experts in techniques like mail-in voting, ballot harvesting, and early voting. They’ve recognized that American politics is not just a battle of ideas, but a literal game where power is handed to the team that scores more points. During the 2020 campaign, conservatives endlessly ridiculed Joe Biden for his anemic campaigning, his empty rallies, the total lack of genuine love he inspired compared to the passionate enthusiasm and intensity of the MAGA movement. But on January 20, Biden was the one taking the oath of office, because his team was the one that scored more points in the election game.

When we watch sports, all of us understand when a team does every- thing it is allowed under the rules to win. It’s time we applied that attitude to saving our country as well. After all, it’s how you win.

Tens of millions of American conservatives carry deep scars from the election night of 2020. After being told by the press all fall that Donald Trump was doomed, when November 3 rolled around, the president once again dramatically outperformed the polls. He dominated in Ohio and Iowa, which were supposed to be close. In Florida, where polls supposedly had him losing narrowly, he won by more than three points. And in the upper Midwest states that had flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016, it looked like Trump had once again defied every expert prediction. Just after midnight on Nov. 4, Trump had big leads in all three of the former “blue wall states.” In Pennsylvania, with 75% of votes counted, he was up a whopping 11 percentage points.

You remember what happened then. All of us do. The harvested ballots pouring in. The mail-in votes, some arriving after Election Day itself. The non-existent signature verification. The failed legal challenges. 2020 left all of us shell-shocked. But the harm of that election wasn’t limited to the presidential race. It also caused us to self-destruct in 2022.

Back in 2012, Republicans were more likely to vote absentee than Democrats (and consequently, The New York Times at the time was happy to note that fraud is “vastly more prevalent” in mail votes than in-person ones). In 2020, with the incredibly rushed rollout of mass mail-in and drop-box voting using Covid as an excuse, we’d all become suspicious of early voting methods. By 2022, we were all deeply hostile. Rejecting mail-in voting, and casting ballots on Election Day instead, became a cultural marker for conservatives. It became a way of symbolically affirming our suspicions about 2020, and our opposition to letting it happen again. Polling before the 2022 vote showed a 49-point swing in the results between people voting early (who leaned Democrat) and those voting on Election Day (who leaned Republican).

But in the end, this backfired disastrously.

Here in Arizona, more than sixty percent of the entire state lives in Maricopa County, which contains almost the entire Phoenix metropolitan area. The rest of the state is split between Pima County and the Indian reservations, which are ultra-blue, and the rest of the state, which is ultra-red, so Maricopa County decides Arizona’s elections.

And on Election Day in Maricopa, the voting machines didn’t work. At more than a quarter of Maricopa’s polling places, vote counting machines had errors that prevented them from reading ballots.

All throughout Election Day, I watched in horror as my friends throughout Phoenix sent me text messages about long lines at polling places and wait times lasting an hour or more. My friends stuck it out and voted anyway. But how many people decided that their one vote wasn’t going to matter, and simply left without casting a ballot? How many people saw tweets about the problem, and simply didn’t turn out at all?

Did the voting machines truly just have surprise errors, or was the whole thing planned? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. We made the decision to push election-day voting above all else, leaving ourselves vulnerable. Even without any election machine malfunctions, there are plenty of other reasons that emphasizing election-day voting over all else is damaging to our cause. For one, it strains the resources of campaigns. Both sides of the political spectrum spend a large amount of time and effort nagging people they know lean their way to get out and vote. Once a person has actually voted, they can stop. So, if you’re a reliable Republican voter, by voting earlier you aren’t just adding another vote to the tally for the right side, you’re also saving our candidates time and money, because they don’t need to expend effort pestering you to vote. When Election Day rolls around, Republican campaigns are still scrambling to make sure almost all their voters get to the polls, while Democrats are only chasing down the last few lazy holdouts they haven’t picked up ballots from yet. Expanding the window of voting also lets resources be used more efficiently. Consider driving voters to the polls. If Republicans all vote on election day, then we need a lot of cars to ferry people around. If Democrats are voting across a three-week period, they can get a lot more mileage (literally) out of a single car, and a single driver. And then there’s all the marginal impacts that are hard to measure, but surely exist. If a Democrat plans to vote early, but forgets, they can still show up on Election Day, no harm done. But if a Republican plans to vote only on Election Day, but then gets sick, or has a family emergency, or has a crisis at work, or simply forgets, that’s it. The clock can’t be rewound. If they don’t vote, they don’t vote, and it’s a missed vote for Republicans.

In 2020, 1,661,000 people voted for Donald Trump in Arizona. In 2022, only 1,288,000 voted to make Katie Hobbs governor. If Republicans had the same turnout as in 2020, we wouldn’t have just kept the governor’s seat. We’d have swept every race in Arizona by a decisive margin. Instead, we lost. The Democrat strategy for keeping their turnout high—vote early, vote by mail, and harvest ballots everywhere possible—beat our strategy of flooding the zone on election day. It was the superior strategy. And so, I’ve changed my mind on early voting and on ballot harvesting. It’s not that all of us need to vote early or vote absentee or vote via drop box. But Republicans should adopt the same mentality as Democrats. That means every piece of paper in the box is one point. We are trying to score as many points as possible. We should pursue any tactic that gets pieces of paper into the ballot box.

In states with loose ballot harvesting laws like California, that will mean leaning in hard on ballot harvesting. In California, virtually anyone can return the ballot of someone else, so long as it is approved—even paid campaign staffers and party operatives. Democrats, naturally, have harvesters traveling about collecting “votes” from the homeless, or going door to door in mega-blue areas like the slums of Oakland. The least Republicans can do is field our own harvesters, in places with red-leaning demographics such as gun shows, country concerts, and above all, church gatherings. One of my close friends, Pastor Rob McCoy, realized the importance of ballot harvesting before I did, and carried out major harvesting efforts among his congregation. The efforts of McCoy and his fellow pastors in California may be the reason we have a Republican House of Representatives, because California is a state where Republicans most overperformed in 2022.

At the risk of sounding like Barack Obama for a moment, let me be clear: In an ideal world, I would have American elections take place on a single day. There would be no ballot harvesting. Absentee voting would only be for rare cases, like the seriously ill or military service members on deployment. Ballots would all be counted on election night, with no tallying of votes that arrive by mail days or even weeks afterward. I believe this system is the one that would best prevent fraud and generate the most trust among members of the general public.

But that’s an ideal. In the world we live in, right now, different rules prevail. We must play by them to even have a chance of changing them. So instead of being sour about voting early, it’s time to get enthusiastic about it. Become familiar with the laws that currently exist in your state. If you live in a red state with sharply curtailed absentee and early voting, congratulations, that’s great. But if your state has rampant early voting, or legalized ballot harvesting, accept that, and figure out how to make the most of it. Get in contact with local campaigns or party organizations and figure out what events you could try to collect ballots at.

And don’t be afraid to get creative in your own personal life as well. Host a dinner party or barbecue a few weeks before an election, where your friends can only attend if they join you in voting early beforehand. Turn in the ballots of your family members, to make sure they aren’t “too busy” when Election Day comes. Republicans are more sociable than Democrats. We have more robust family lives, more close friends, more churches and more non-political community organizations. Take advantage of that!

Above all else, don’t allow yourself or the people you know to become so demoralized they don’t vote at all. The left is in a psychological war against you where they want you to give up and tune out. Instead, make them regret the day they made early voting the norm.


Image: Title: charlie kirk