The Slatest

Top Trump Adviser Caught on Tape Saying Republicans “Traditionally” Engage in Voter Suppression

Two people walk into a polling place that has a sign out front warning voters that photo ID is required to vote.
A polling place in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on Aug. 14, 2018. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A top reelection adviser to President Donald Trump told a group of influential Republicans in Wisconsin that voter suppression is “traditionally” part of the Republican Party’s strategy to compete in battleground states, according to audio obtained by the Associated Press. When asked about it, though, he said his remarks were being misinterpreted and he was referring to the frequent accusations that Republicans take part in such tactics. A liberal advocacy group provided the roughly 20-minute audio of Justin Clark’s remarks at the Republican National Lawyers Association’s Wisconsin chapter to the Associated Press.

Clark, a senior political adviser and senior counsel to the president’s reelection campaign, was recorded while making the remarks on Nov. 21. “Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places,” Clark said. “Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. … Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”

Clark pushed back against the AP, essentially saying that his words were taken out of context. “As should be clear from the context of my remarks, my point was that Republicans historically have been falsely accused of voter suppression and that it is time we stood up to defend our own voters,” Clark said. “Neither I nor anyone I know or work with would condone anyone’s vote being threatened or diluted and our efforts will be focused on preventing just that.”

Clark’s words on voter suppression were particularly significant considering that the 2020 election will mark the first time since 1982 in which the Republican National Committee will be allowed to be engaged in poll monitoring. A judge last year lifted a consent decree that had been in place preventing the RNC from engaging in several types of “ballot security” measures.

Beyond that specific topic, the senior adviser also got into strategies for next year’s presidential campaign during his talk. In addition to the comments on voter suppression, Clark also spoke about the strategy of attacking the so-called blue wall of traditional Democratic strongholds in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Trump was able to break through that “wall” to win in 2016, and it is clear both parties see it as key to the 2020 election as well.