In Early September, Donald Trump welcomed a handful of Republican allies to Manhattan’s Trump Tower with an urgent message: He saw a “scam” happening with midterm election voting in Philadelphia and elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and he wanted conservatives to do something about it.
“During our briefing, he was concerned that 2020 is going to happen again in 2022,” says former senior Trump administration official Michael Caputo, referencing Trump’s debunked assertion that voter fraud in Philadelphia helped win Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. Caputo — who attended the meeting alongside Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko and retired CIA officer Sam Faddis — says they had a message back to the former president: “Our team encouraged him to be concerned … [Furthermore], I’m advising Republicans to recruit and train election observers and a team of attorneys to oversee historically problematic precincts.”
But it’s not just one meeting and not just Philadelphia.
In recent months, Trump has convened a series of in-person meetings and conference calls to discuss laying the groundwork to challenge the 2022 midterm election results, four people familiar with the conversations tell Rolling Stone. In these conversations, pro-Trump groups, attorneys, Republican Party activists, and MAGA diehards often discuss the type of scorched-earth legal tactics they could deploy.
And they’ve gamed out scenarios for how to aggressively challenge elections, particularly ones in which a winner is not declared on Election Night. If there’s any hint of doubt about the winners, the teams plan to wage aggressive court campaigns and launch a media blitz. Trump himself set the blueprint for this on Election Night 2020, when — with the race far from decided — he went on national television to declare: “Frankly, we did win this election.”
Trump has been briefed on plans in multiple states and critical races, including Georgia. But Pennsylvania has grabbed his interest most keenly, including in the Senate contest between Democrat John Fetterman and the Trump-endorsed GOP contender Mehmet Oz. If the Republican does not win by a wide enough margin to trigger a speedy concession from Fetterman — or if the vote tally is close on or after Election Night in November — Trump and other Republicans are already preparing to wage a legal and activist crusade against the “election integrity” of Democratic strongholds such as the Philly area.
However, Trump’s focus on Pennsylvania seems to be more about his political future than party allegiance or fealty to his celebrity endorsee. As he hosts meetings on possible 2022 election challenges, he’s also laid the groundwork for a run in 2024 — where Pennsylvania again promises to be critical and competitive. As one source who has spoken to Trump several times about a potential post-election-day legal battle over the Oz-Fetterman race puts it, Trump views a potential midterm challenge as a “dress rehearsal for Trump 2024.”
Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 and then lost it to Biden in 2020 by more than 80,000, and if the two candidates rematch in 2024, it could well be the state that picks the next president. At the Trump tower meeting in September, Trump also pushed the officials on their efforts to limit mail-in voting, the Morning Times and Semafor report. (The biggest 2022 boon for Trump’s 2024 hopes could come if Doug Mastriano — the state’s Trump-touting, 2020 election-denying GOP nominee for governor — manages to pull off an upset. But the people in Trump’s orbit, reading the same polls as everyone else, see little chance of that happening.)