After a poor performance in the midterm elections, Republicans are backtracking on their stance against early voting and mail-in ballots despite supporting previous conspiracy theories pushed by former President Donald Trump.
But restoring voters' faith in mail-in voting may take years, if the GOP effort is effective at all. Trump and his allies have repeatedly echoed falsehoods about voter fraud and stoked fears around absentee ballots.
The former president has promoted the widely discredited film "2000 Mules", which alleged widespread voter fraud in the last presidential election.
"Republican states are rightly taking steps to ensure elections are safe and secure," a Republican strategist who worked on the Georgia midterm election told Politico. "Our problem now is a messaging and operational one. We start by throwing out the Trump B.S. lies and telling people the truth about their votes and the power of their vote. Who would have imagined telling people, 'the election is rigged' and then asking them to vote wouldn't work?"
Now, some Republicans are hoping to undo his mess and tout a different message around mail-in voting to restore voters' trust.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., won early voters by about 16 percentage points, entering Election Day with a 300,000 vote lead, CBS News reported. He also earned 64% of the absentee mail vote and almost 58 percent of the early vote, according to the secretary of state's office.
"Our voters need to vote early," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on Fox News. "There were many in 2020 saying, 'don't vote by mail, don't vote early', and we have to stop that, and understand that if Democrats are getting ballots in for a month, we can't expect to get it all done in one day."
Republicans had predicted a "red wave" for months before the midterms. But once it failed to materialize, several allies of Trump turned against him and blamed him for candidates underperforming.
Trump as recently as last week disparaged early voting and voting by mail, posting on Truth Social: "you can never have fair & free elections with mail-in ballots--never, never, never. Won't and can't happen!!!"
Herschel Walker's failure in the pivotal Georgia Senate race came as the last blow, finally convincing Republican operatives and lawmakers to issue a wake-up call to their party persuading them to take early voting seriously.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
"[P]eople are awakening to it, even the Trumpistas," GOP strategist Karl Rove, who runs RITE, told Politico. "It's a sad commentary that we have to do that and there is resistance. He's creating a class of people who may for a long time believe the elections are stolen as long as there's a presence of mail-in ballots, and that causes people to say my vote doesn't count, I don't need to bother to vote."
Even Fox News hosts, who have repeatedly echoed Trump's claims about mail-in and early voting, are shifting their stance.
When the Georgia runoff elections showed Walker was likely going to lose, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., about the "reluctance some Republicans" have "about voting early and voting by mail," adding it was "too big of a margin for Republicans to always have to make up". McCarthy agreed: "You're exactly right."
Fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham grew frustrated while interviewing Kellyanne Conway, former counselor to Trump, who said if Republicans don't "bank ballots early, we're going to keep losing."
"How come we didn't?" Ingraham asked. "We didn't do it in 2020, because everyone said, 'Don't vote early, because that's corrupt.'" She went on to say that "a lot of people at the top of the Republican Party" echoed this sentiment, which ultimately impacted Republican candidates.
While Trump has been under fire for casting doubt on mail-in voting, others are also blaming him for making poor choices when it came to candidates.
"Every Republican in this country ought to hold Donald Trump accountable for this," Geoff Duncan, Georgia's Republican lieutenant governor, said in an interview with CNN. "The only way to explain this is candidate quality."
Regardless of the reasons, several of Trump's allies are abandoning him and his conspiracy theories. Republican operative Scott Jennings warned on Twitter that "Georgia may be remembered as the state that broke Trump once and for all."