by Jeff Carlson
In a surprisingly brazen article, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,” Time magazine chronicles a myriad of pre- and post-election actions taken by a loose coalition of Democratic operatives, grassroots activists, mainstream media, tech companies, and corporate CEOs before and after the 2020 presidential election.
According to the article, the effort consisted of “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.”
In the post-election days, the author refers to this disparate grouping of players as a “conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs” resulting in an “informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans.”
Although the words “cabal” and “conspiracy” are used to describe the sweeping activities of these groups, collectively referred to as the Shadow Campaign, the article’s author takes pains to note that these efforts weren’t aimed at “rigging the election; they were fortifying it.”
Indeed, throughout the article, there is the repeated claim that these efforts were made not with the intention of subverting the election, but rather as part of a heroic grassroots movement intent on salvaging our democracy and preserving the integrity of this and future elections.
“The scenario the shadow campaigners were desperate to stop was not a Trump victory. It was an election so calamitous that no result could be discerned at all, a failure of the central act of democratic self-governance that has been a hallmark of America since its founding,” the article reads.
Although the article treats the actions taken by this “Shadow Campaign” as necessary steps towards saving our democracy, a more objective reader of events might make the case that our democracy was actually trampled underfoot.
According to the players in this saga, the perceived threat to our democracy was so consequential that it would require “an effort of unprecedented scale” and a measure of cooperation heretofore not seen during an election process. And one that would encompass a surprisingly broad coalition of interests that would include “Congress, Silicon Valley and the nation’s statehouses.”
As the article notes, the efforts of this cabal “touched every aspect of the election” including our election laws. These groups engaged in a unified legal front to “change voting systems and laws” at the state level, often unconstitutionally bypassing state legislatures and shifting power to the states’ governors in the process. Conservative efforts to fight against this process were euphemistically termed as “voter-suppression lawsuits.”
The terminology and framing of issues bring us to a peculiar characteristic of the article. It’s written as though 75 million Trump voters simply don’t exist—as though a nation was somehow wholly united against a self-imposed second term of a Trump presidency. There is no acknowledgment that President Donald Trump enjoyed support from a large segment of the population. When the term “voters” is used, it’s always in reference to those who were voting against Trump and for Biden.
Other than a few short paragraphs, the reader could be forgiven for thinking the election was ever even in question.
While an intense focus on the Trump campaign is present in the article, there’s an almost surprising lack of discussion regarding the Biden campaign. As the article states, the Shadow Campaign was “separate from the Biden campaign and crossed ideological lines.” Indeed, Biden is mentioned in the article only a handful of times and never in direct relation to anything he or his campaign was doing to prepare for the election.
Media Framing, Online Efforts and Tech Companies
In tandem with the focus on Trump, there is another almost unifying theme of gaslighting that traces its way throughout the article. Any activity, position, or response from conservatives or the Trump administration was automatically labeled and then framed as inherently nefarious, even villainous. Meanwhile, a notion of false nobility was attached to every action taken by the left.
Pre-election warnings from the Trump campaign “and his henchmen” on the risks from an unprecedented shift to mail-in ballots were, according to the article, designed to “spoil the election.” Conservative legal pushback against the unconstitutional changes to state election law was termed as “spurious.” Despite being the legal instigators, the article stated that “Democratic lawyers battled a historic tide of pre-election litigation.”
Meanwhile, information from the right was repeatedly deemed to be “Trump’s lies,” “conspiracy theories” or “Bad actors spreading false information.” According to the article, these efforts, along with “the involvement of foreign meddlers made disinformation a broader, deeper threat to the 2020 vote.”
In contrast, when leftist organizations such as the Voting Rights Lab and IntoAction created “state-specific memes and graphics” designed to claim that mail-in voting was safe and not subject to fraud, their actions were framed as “battling bad information.” Nor was this any small effort. As the article notes, these memes and graphics were “widely disseminated by email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok” and were viewed “more than 1 billion times.”
Another focus of this campaign was to convince the public that election results would be delayed, perhaps for a number of days. These efforts were designed to condition the voting public to not expect, or even accept, an outcome on election night. As the article notes, the “organization’s tracking polls found the message was being heard: the percentage of the public that didn’t expect to know the winner on election night gradually rose until by late October, it was over 70 percent. A majority also believed that a prolonged count wasn’t a sign of problems.”
Perceptions and information are crucial in an election and in recognition of this, Democratic operatives “successfully pressured social media companies” in advance of the election. These efforts were largely successful as large numbers of conservative accounts were deplatformed and crucial stories that might injure the Biden campaign were suppressed, while the media relentlessly attacked the Trump campaign.
While acknowledging the involvement of technology companies in the effort, the article portrays the resulting suppression of information and conservative deplatforming in a positive light. When stories such as the ones regarding Hunter Biden’s business activities in China were dismissed or simply not covered by the mainstream media, these tactics were labeled as taking a “harder line against disinformation” in an ongoing effort to “fight viral smears.”
There is a side question raised by the participation of the tech companies in online suppression. If accounts were deplatformed from places such as YouTube and Twitter purely for political ends, does this not raise the specter of a meaningful breach of fiduciary duty to the companies’ stockholders?
Mail-In Ballots and Shadow-Campaign Funding
These groups also engaged in large-scale “national public-awareness campaigns” designed to convince Americans that “the vote count would unfold over days or weeks” as an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots were systematically flooding into our electoral system.
With 100 million mail-in ballots sent out in an effort to get “millions of people to vote by mail for the first time,” the coalition recruited “armies of poll workers” to deal with the influx of absentee ballots. Large amounts of money would be required to deal with the processing and in preparation for this, the group “helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding.”
This money had two material sources. The first, surprisingly, came from the first round of COVID-relief packages in March 2020. As the article notes, activists lobbied Congress in March 2020, “seeking $2 billion in election funding.” This effort was led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Although the group didn’t get anywhere close to their lofty $2 billion goal, they were still wildly successful. When the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act passed in March, it contained “$400 million in grants to state election administrators.”
From there, the informal group turned to private funding for additional sources; Silicon Valley tech companies were the primary focus. According to the Time article, an “assortment of foundations contributed tens of millions in election-administration funding. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative chipped in $300 million.”
These contributions were framed as an effort to fill “funding gaps” left by the federal government, while ignoring that it was Democratic operatives who were pushing the mail-in vote efforts.
Indeed, focus groups were held by the Voter Participation Center (VPC), designed to “find out what would get people to vote by mail.” Several months later, the VPC would send out ballot applications to “15 million people in key states.” The group followed up with mailing campaigns and digital ads urging these targeted voters to “not wait for Election Day.”
These efforts were historically successful and transformative. As the article notes, “In the end, nearly half the electorate cast ballots by mail in 2020, practically a revolution in how people vote. About a quarter voted early in person. Only a quarter of voters cast their ballots the traditional way: in person on Election Day.”
The Left’s Control of the Mobs
There are several material admissions made in the article, not the least being that the left actually did control the activities of groups such as Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and others that rioted throughout the election year. As the article notes, “Many of those organizers were part of [Mike] Podhorzer’s network” the man credited in Time’s article as being “The Architect” of the entire election effort.
The article notes that more than 150 liberal groups joined the “Protect the Results” coalition and stated that “The group’s now-defunct website had a map listing 400 planned post-election demonstrations, to be activated via text message as soon as Nov. 4. To stop the coup they feared, the left was ready to flood the streets.”
There’s another unspoken admission here as well. The trigger for the pre-planned riots was a Biden loss, not a “stolen election.” Or said another way, the left would determine what comprised a stolen election only by its outcome.
This matter was further highlighted in a recounting of election night events after Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden. Angela Peoples, director for the Democracy Defense Coalition, told Time that “We wanted to be mindful of when was the right time to call for moving masses of people into the street.”
But after Fox called Arizona for Biden, a decision was made to “stand down.” As Podhorzor noted, “They had spent so much time getting ready to hit the streets on Wednesday. But they did it … there was not a single Antifa vs. Proud Boys incident.”
In other words, Podhorzor and his crew effectively controlled the actions of Antifa and Black Lives Matter—if not completely, then at the very least during these critical moments and days.
The Importance of Fox’s Arizona Call
The description surrounding election night, while short, is telling and raises further questions. Despite the overall tone of the article, it seems clear that Democrats thought they had lost the election in the later hours of Nov. 3th, 2020:
“Election night began with many Democrats despairing. Trump was running ahead of pre-election polling, winning Florida, Ohio, and Texas easily and keeping Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania too close to call.”
According to the article, the “liberal alliance gathered for an 11 p.m. Zoom call. Hundreds joined; many were freaking out.” While Podhorzor was speaking, Fox News “surprised everyone by calling Arizona for Biden.”
The Fox News call changed everything. As the article put it, “The public-awareness campaign had worked: TV anchors were bending over backward to counsel caution and frame the vote count accurately. The question then became what to do next.”
There is another related item of note as well. Podhorzor was sharing his data regarding a “Blue Shift”—the term used to describe a late surge in Democrat votes from mail-in voting—with “media organizations who would be calling the election.”
One analyst, described as a “member of a major network’s political unit who spoke with Podhorzer before Election Day” told Time that having access to Pordhorzor’s data and being able to “document how big the absentee wave would be and the variance by state was essential.”
Arnon Mishkin, an outside contractor and a Democrat, was the individual at Fox who reportedly made the call on Arizona at 11:20 p.m. New York time. According to one report, “No announcement was made until anchor Bill Hemmer, reviewing the latest status of an electoral map that was looking positive for Trump, glanced at the southwest, where the decision desk had left its yellow check mark on Arizona awarding the state to Biden.”
After making his call on Arizona, Mishkin stated that Trump was “likely to only get about 44% of the outstanding votes that are there.” Mishkin was wrong. Trump got a significantly higher percentage of the remaining votes, and although the Arizona call ultimately stood, it was far closer than Mishkin had forecast. Indeed, there’s currently a parallel audit underway in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county.
While voters on the right protested in seemingly unorganized groups, the left appeared to be far more prepared. At roughly 10 p.m. local time on election night, a bus carrying Republican election observers arrived at Detroit’s TCF Center. The article provides a rather biased description, stating that Republican observers “were crowding the vote-counting tables, refusing to wear masks, heckling the mostly Black workers.”
When the Republican observers arrived, Art Reyes III, leader of ‘We the People Michigan’ “sent word to his network.
“Within 45 minutes, dozens of reinforcements had arrived. As they entered the arena to provide a counterweight to the GOP observers inside, Reyes took down their cell-phone numbers and added them to a massive text chain.”
Election boards were another “pressure point.” Activists called “attention to the racial implications of disenfranchising Black Detroiters. They flooded the Wayne County canvassing board’s Nov. 17 certification meeting with on-message testimony.” Detroit’s vote was certified by the Republican board members.
Finally, the pressure on state legislatures was intense. On Nov. 20, Trump invited the Republican leaders of the Michigan legislature to the White House. According to the article, a “full-court press” was launched by the left and “Protect Democracy’s local contacts researched the lawmakers’ personal and political motives.”
Reyes’s activists rallied at departure and arrival terminals for the Republican state lawmakers’ trip to D.C.
The final step in certifying the Michigan vote was a vote from the state canvassing board, which was comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats. “Reyes’s activists flooded the livestream and filled Twitter with their hashtag, #alleyesonmi. A board accustomed to attendance in the single digits suddenly faced an audience of thousands.”
The vote was certified 3-0, with one Republican abstaining.
Shadow Campaign Wants You to Know
The in-your-face detailing of events in the Time article leads to one somewhat alarming conclusion. The leaders of the Shadow Campaign want you to know what they did. Whether this stems from hubris or a position of power isn’t entirely clear, but there are some important people who were willing to contribute to this article. And to be openly quoted.
In addition to Podhorzer, Norman Eisen is quoted at several points in the article. In addition to recruiting members for the Voter Protection Program, Eisen is one of the architects and authors of two Brookings Reports that were written during the Mueller investigation.
Brookings produced a 108-page report, “Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump,” authored by Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Eisen, on Oct. 10, 2017. They followed up with a 177-page second edition on Aug. 22, 2018, which also came with a lengthy appendix.
Eisen, a senior fellow at Brookings, served as White House special counsel for ethics and government reform under former President Barack Obama and is the founder of CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics) in Washington. Eisen, according to his Brookings profile page, advised Obama “on lobbying regulation, campaign finance law, and open government issues,” according to his CREW bio. He also served as the ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014.
Eisen and Berke were later retained by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) on a consulting basis as special oversight counsels to the Democratic majority staff.
As Nadler noted in an announcement, the two men had a particular focus on reviewing Mueller’s investigation and would be advising the committee. It also appears Nadler intended for the two lawyers to question Attorney General William Barr, who ultimately declined to attend the hearing—leading to a Democratic vote to hold Barr in contempt.
Ill-Fated Jan. 6 Rally
On Jan 6, thousands of Trump supporters came to D.C. for what would be an ill-fated rally, culminating in an assault on the Capitol building. The fallout from this event would be severe and the full effect has yet to be fully determined.
The new administration, along with many in Congress, appear to making domestic terrorism threats a top priority. Biden’s newly installed U.S. Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas has stated publicly that “one of the greatest threats that we face currently on our homeland … is the threat of domestic terrorism.”
Despite the expectations of many, there didn’t appear to be a material presence of counter-demonstrators from the left at the Jan. 6 rally.
The author of the Time article appears to have been in continued contact with members of the “Shadow Campaign,” including Podhorzer, the group’s “architect.” On the morning of Jan. 6, Podhorzer texted her, noting that the activist left was “strenuously discouraging counter activity.”
His message concluded with a “crossed-fingers emoji.”