MADISON, WI — A newly released audio tape offers a behind-the-scenes look at how former President Donald Trump’s campaign team in a key battleground state learned they had been outvoted by Democrats in the 2020 presidential election. But even as they conceded defeat, they resorted to allegations of widespread fraud, which were ultimately debunked repeatedly by election officials and the courts.
An audio recording from November 5, 2020, two days after the election, surfaces as Trump is aiming for the White House again continuing to lie about the legitimacy of the results and Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
Wisconsin political operatives at a strategy session even praised Democratic turnout efforts in the state’s largest counties and appeared to joke about their efforts to attract black voters, according to a tape obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday. The audio is dedicated to Andrew Iverson, who led Trump’s campaign in the state.
“Here’s the thing: Comms will continue to fan the flames and spread the word that Democrats are trying to steal this election. We will do whatever they need. Just be on standby if we have to do any stunts,” Iverson said.
Iverson is now the Republican National Committee’s Midwest regional director. He deferred questions about the meeting to the RNC, whose spokesman Keith Schipper declined to comment because he had not heard the tape.
The former campaign staffer and Republican operative who provided the AP with a copy of the tape attended the meeting and recorded it. The operative was not authorized to speak publicly about what was discussed and did not want to be identified out of concern about personal and professional vendettas, but said they had come forward with Trump preparing a third attempt at the White House.
In response to questions about the audio, Trump campaign spokesman Stephen Cheng said: “The 2024 campaign is focused on competing in every state and winning in a dominant way. That’s why President Trump is leading by a wide margin in every poll.”
Wisconsin was a big part of Trump’s victory in 2016, when he crushed the so-called “Blue Wall” of Democrats in the upper Midwest, and his campaign fought hard to keep the swing state in his column four years before he lost to Biden.
Biden beat Trump by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin in 2020, a margin that stands independent and party audits and reviewsand lawsuits and recounts in the state’s two largest Democratic-leaning districts.
Still, Trump’s victory in the state was not discussed during a meeting of Republican campaign managers two days after the election.
Instead, some parts of the meeting focused on discussions about packing campaign offices and writing final reports on how the campaign unfolded. At one point on the tape, Iverson can be heard praising the GOP’s efforts while acknowledging the advantage of Trump’s defeat in the state.
“At the end of the day, this operation won more votes than any other Republican in the history of Wisconsin,” Iverson said. “What do you want, our operation turned out to be Republican or DJT supporters. The Democrats got 20,000 more than we did from Dane County and other shenanigans in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Dane. People can learn a lot from this company.”
The meeting represents another juxtaposition between what Republican officials knew about the election results and what Trump and his closest allies said publicly when they insisted the lie of stolen elections. Trump was told his Attorney General was no signs of widespread fraud, and many in his own administration – said the former president there was no substance to the various claims of fraud or manipulation — advice that Trump has repeatedly ignored.
In the weeks since the election, Trump and his allies have filed dozens of lawsuits, called fake voters and put pressure on election officials in an attempt to override the will of the voters and keep Trump in office.
It’s unclear whether the Wisconsin staff coordinated their message directly with campaign officials in Washington.
Part of the Nov. 5 meeting also focuses on Republican efforts to reach out to the state’s black communities.
At one point, the operatives laugh that Trump needs “more black votes.” Iverson also cites their efforts to engage with black voters.
“Have we ever talked to black people before? I don’t think so, he said, drawing laughter from the others in the room.
The other speaker on the recording with Iverson was identified by a source as Republican staffer Clayton Henson. At the time, Henson was the RNC’s regional director in charge of Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. They provide a kind of post-mortem analysis of the election, praising the Republican turnout and campaign efforts while acknowledging the Democrats’ solid turnout campaign.
Henson specifically cited Democratic turnout in Dane County, which includes Madison, the state capital, and is a liberal stronghold in the state. In 2020, a record high 80% of the voting-age population voted in the district, which Biden won with 76% of the vote.
“Hats off to them for what they did in Dane County. You have to respect that,” Henson said. “There will be another election in a couple of years. So remember the lessons you’ve learned and be ready to strike.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Henson said, “No thanks,” when asked to comment on the meeting.
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