In interview with RNC chair, CNN’s Dana Bash glosses over Republican voter intimidation

During the November 6 edition of CNN’s State of the Union, host Dana Bash glossed over the many deeply problematic elements of the RNC’s election volunteer recruitment effort for the midterm elections.

In Bash's interview with RNC head Ronna McDaniel, the CNN host offered softball questions and little to no pushback as McDaniel attempted to distance herself and the RNC from voter intimidation efforts by right-wing activist groups across the country.

McDaniel also whitewashed her appearances recruiting volunteers on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.

The RNC’s poll watcher recruitment activities are their first effort in 40 years as the group was previously barred from this type of organizing due to a consent decree adopted in 1982. The decree was put into place after the RNC was found to have engaged in discriminatory practices, including placing “armed, off-duty law enforcement officers at the polls in minority neighborhoods” and “voter caging,” a way of purging voter rolls that has historically targeted minority voters. The decree was allowed to expire at the end of 2018. This will be the first midterm cycle without it.

During the 2020 election cycle outside groups associated with the Republican Party were observed intimidating voters in several states.

Both McDaniel and Bash entirely ignored this context. Instead, McDaniel complained that “the Democrats have always had” the ability to recruit poll watchers, which she believes is “really imbalanced.”

Bash also did not ask McDaniel about the RNC working with the Election Integrity Network to help recruit poll workers. The Election Integrity Network is an election denial organization hosting poll volunteer trainings across the country; it was founded by Cleta Mitchell, a right-wing lawyer who worked with Donald Trump in his to attempt to overturn the 2020 election. According to the New York Times, “in multiple states the R.N.C. election integrity directors have been involved in Ms. Mitchell’s events.” 

In leaked audio from one of these summits, the RNC’s National Election Integrity Director Josh Findlay said, “Cleta Mitchell, she’s like the best election and election law expert out there.” Findlay is on tape speaking at Election Integrity Network events in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all battleground states, indicating that “the RNC is relying heavily on people who have spread false or unproven claims of irregularities and conspiracies” according to Politico. These exact types of conspiracies motivated the violence at the Capitol on January 6 and are now animating groups like Clean Elections USA, whose volunteers appeared at ballot drop boxes in Arizona wearing camouflage and carrying guns in a display of intimidation to voters.

None of this was discussed on CNN.

Instead, Dana Bash set McDaniel up for a clean soundbite, claiming she is against intimidation and harassment, and allowed her to claim without evidence that “our poll watchers are not being allowed to meaningfully observe,” baselessly claiming voter intimidation goes both ways.

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Citation From the November 6, 2022 edition of CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash

(Transcript is available here.)

McDaniel has been recruiting volunteers during her multiple appearances on Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic. In her question about these appearances, Bash failed to properly contextualize that War Room, previously the grassroots engine of the insurrection, has now become ground zero for recruiting volunteers for groups like Clean Elections USA, while Bannon gets his audience fired up with violent rhetoric and calls to action. Instead of mentioning just how extreme this platform is, Bash simply asked, “Is there any concern about using that outlet on this issue when it comes to potential for harassment?” When McDaniel responded, “No, I'm never telling people to harass,” Bash backed her up, saying, “No, of course you’re not.”

In between McDaniel’s appearances, Bannon went all in on intimidation and violence. He promised to threaten members of Congress “by bayonet” if they don’t fall in line with the extremist right, described Mitchell’s efforts, an ally and partner of the RNC, as a “call to arms,” and defended armed vigilantism at ballot drop boxes in Arizona.

During a November 1 appearance on War Room, McDaniel reported a “jump” in poll volunteers after her appearances on the show.

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Citation From the November 1, 2022, edition of Real America's Voice's War Room: Pandemic