For more than a decade, the Susan B. Anthony List and the American Principles Project have pursued cultural and policy priorities from the social conservative playbook, backing laws to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat could be detected and opposing civil rights protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people. From their shared offices in suburban Virginia, they and their affiliated committees spent more than $20 million on elections last year.
But after Donald J. Trump lost his bid for a second term and convinced millions of Americans that nonexistent fraud was to blame, the two groups found that many of their donors were thinking of throwing in the towel. Why, donors argued, should they give any money if Democrats were going to game the system to their advantage, recalled Frank Cannon, the senior strategist for both groups.
“‘Before I give you any money for anything at all, tell me how this is going to be solved,’” Mr. Cannon said, summarizing his conversations. He and other conservative activists — many with no background in election law — didn’t take long to come up with an answer, which was to make rolling back access to voting the “center of gravity in the party,” as he put it.
Passing new restrictions on voting — in particular, tougher limits on early voting and vote-by-mail — is now at the heart of the right’s strategy to keep donors and voters engaged as Mr. Trump fades from public view and leaves a void in the Republican Party that no other figure or issue has filled. In recent weeks, many of the most prominent and well-organized groups that power the G.O.P.’s vast voter turnout efforts have directed their resources toward a campaign to restrict when and how people can vote, with a focus on the emergency policies that states enacted last year to make casting a ballot during a pandemic easier. The groups believe it could be their best shot at regaining a purchase on power in Washington.
Their efforts are intensifying over the objections of some Republicans who say the strategy is cynical and shortsighted, arguing that it further commits their party to legitimizing a lie. It also sends a message, they say, that Republicans think they lost mostly because the other side cheated, which prevents them from grappling honestly with what went wrong and why they might lose again.
Some also argue that setting new restrictions on voting could undercut the party just as it was making important gains with Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to be impeded by such laws.
“Restricting voting is only a short-term rush. It’s not a strategy for future strength,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, one of the Republican Party’s most prominent election lawyers, who has criticized Mr. Trump and other members of the party for attacking the integrity of the voting process.