RNC head repeatedly appears on Steve Bannon’s podcast to cast doubt on elections, recruit poll watchers

Two staff members working on the RNC’s “election integrity” efforts have been implicated by the Department of Justice for their involvement in Trump’s fake electors scheme

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, has appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast at least three times in October to recruit poll watchers and workers who could be organized to intimidate or disenfranchise voters. Although McDaniel in many ways epitomizes the establishment wing of the Republican Party, which Bannon often claims he opposes, the two are united in their efforts to field an army of poll workers and volunteers throughout the country.  

This voting cycle will be the first midterm election where Republicans are freed from a consent decree that “prohibited it from challenging voters’ qualifications and targeting alleged fraud.” In 2020, during the first presidential election after the consent decree expired, law enforcement and outside groups associated with the Republican Party were observed intimidating voters in several states. 

Now, with midterm elections less than two weeks away, McDaniel and Bannon are in lockstep, strategizing in the open about ways to challenge votes, purge rolls, and otherwise enact what Bannon calls the “precinct strategy.” Bannon’s show is specifically central to what The Washington Post referred to as the RNC’s “unprecedented push to recruit thousands of poll workers and watchers,” and it’s one of the only outlets where McDaniel emphasizes — or even mentions — the need to recruit poll watchers. When McDaniel has appeared recently in other right-wing media outlets, she has mostly stuck to her standard talking points, primarily blaming Democrats for rising crime.   

On October 11, McDaniel described the RNC’s efforts, underlining that the organization was “under a consent decree for 40 years, not allowed to do poll watching or election integrity.”

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Citation From the October 11, 2022, edition of Real America's Voice's War Room: Pandemic

Now, with the lifting of the consent decree, the RNC has been unleashed. “We’ve put 17 different election integrity directors, 17 battleground states. We have lawyers in all of those states that have been recruiting for the past years, training lawyers that will be in precincts and also be in the war rooms at the state level,” McDaniel said. She added that the RNC has been “training poll watchers, so we have about 30,000 poll watchers already trained.” 

“Also 30,000 poll workers, which I think is even, if not as important, but maybe more important,” McDaniel continued. “These are people who will actually be working the polls in Fulton County, in Wayne County, in Milwaukee, in Philly. These are going to be the people that we have outfitted that are actually going to be counting the ballots.”

McDaniel didn’t mention that two of the 17 election integrity directors were either subpoenaed directly or mentioned in other subpoenas issued by the Justice Department for their alleged participation in former President Donald Trump’s fake elector scheme. Josh Findlay, the RNC’s national director for election integrity, appeared in three subpoenas  issued by the DOJ in July. The Department was seeking communications between Findlay and three witnesses to the fake electors plot. Thomas Lane, whose LinkedIn page lists him as the RNC’s director of election integrity in Virginia, was subpoenaed by the DOJ in June for his alleged role in the Trump campaign’s fake elector scheme in Arizona.

She wrapped up her appearance with a call to action. “To everybody listening, make sure you vote early in person,” she said. “And then go volunteer to do a shift as a poll watcher.”

The following week, McDaniel was back on War Room, again trying to recruit more volunteers and hitting many of the same talking points.

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Citation From the October 19. 2022, edition of Real America's Voice's War Room: Pandemic

“We’ve put 17 different election integrity directors in 17 battleground states since last year,” McDaniel said. “So they’re going into every county and saying, ‘How are you going to administer the election?’ because you have to ask so many times before you can sue when they don’t tell you.”

Prompted by Bannon, McDaniels shared how his audience can get involved, noting: “We need those volunteers now.”

“Everyone needs to understand: It’s not Election Day, it’s election month,” she added.

She closed that appearance nearly verbatim to her earlier one, calling on War Room listeners to “go vote in-person early, but then go and sign up for a poll watching spot.”

McDaniel was back on the show on October 26, hyping the RNC’s effort in Michigan. “The RNC has recruited in Michigan — we have a hundred percent coverage on our poll watchers — but here’s the difference, Steve,” she said. “Because we’re out of the consent decree, we have 11,000 poll workers in Michigan that will be working the polls on Election Day, and this is unprecedented.”

Bannon then referred to the RNC’s effort as “like the second World War, you have to — everybody has to be part of this, not just passively watching the show or watching Fox,” before asking McDaniel how his audience can get involved.

McDaniel again plugged the RNC’s website, urging viewers to sign up even if they can’t volunteer on Election Day. “If you can’t work Election Day, or the slots are all full for Election Day, we’ll slot you for a recount,” she said. “This operation we’re building, it’s not ending on Election Day, because we anticipate in some of these close races, or Georgia, that we’re going to have either run-offs or recounts.”

“So we have to be ready to deploy people to all of these different precincts,” she added.

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Citation From the October 26, 2022, edition of Real America's Voice's War Room: Pandemic

McDaniels’ almost singular focus on so-called election integrity while on Bannon’s show is striking when compared with other her appearances over the course of October. Although she briefly mentioned the RNC’s success recruiting volunteers in the context of the party’s get out the vote operation on The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show earlier this month, a Media Matters review of seven recent appearances across Fox News and its competitor Newsmax showed that McDaniel avoided the topic entirely on those networks. She also didn’t mention the RNC’s poll watcher recruitment efforts on Hugh Hewitt’s podcast, or in print interviews with the Daily Caller, Brietbart, or Fox News.

In these cases, McDaniel stuck to boilerplate language about how great Republicans were doing in polls and about the party’s chances of winning one or both chambers of Congress in November. When she deviated from that script, it was almost exclusively to blame Democrats for what she characterized as rising crime rates, an argument that has been central to the GOP’s midterm strategy. 

This discrepancy appears to highlight a perceived difference between the audiences at most right-wing media outlets and Bannon’s listeners. When McDaniel speaks to a general conservative audience, she highlights crime and does general Republican Party boosterism. But she apparently sees the War Room audience as a more hardcore, activist-inclined crowd. The difference in focus may also reflect Bannon’s fixation on the precinct strategy as a way to sow chaos in November.