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Politics Chat: Trump's GOP Support May Be Waning As He Contests Election Results


NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now.

Good morning, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Global health experts are feeling pretty hopeful but caution we need to nail the rollout of the vaccine, as we just heard there. But the president is holding up the transition to the administration that will be largely responsible for that rollout. And yesterday, while there was a virtual G-20 session on the pandemic, President Trump was golfing.

LIASSON: Right. He didn't participate in that. He has focused not on curtailing the pandemic, but only on vaccines and mostly on talking about how successful he's been in getting the vaccine ready in record time. And that's true. As you just heard, this has been a remarkably successful trial. But the rollout is going to occur mostly on President-elect Joe Biden's watch. And the problem is, if there's no cooperation, if Biden is still prevented from getting access to government data and money and cooperation, it's going to be hard for him to hit the ground running at the end of January and have this rollout be successful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The stated goal of all these lawsuits the Trump campaign and President Trump's allies are forging ahead with is to throw out votes and overturn election results and keep Donald Trump in the White House. Most of the comments from Republican officials that we've seen, often without names attached, say that they are going along with it to mollify the president. Some, like Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, accepted reality just in the past few days. But President Trump doesn't seem to be listening. What do you think is really going on with this delayed concession and transition?

LIASSON: Well, the president wants to run again, perhaps in 2024. He needs the false narrative that he won in order to keep his rock-solid hold on the Republican base. Also, he needs to keep the false narrative going to monetize his brand. He has hundreds of millions of dollars of debt coming due. So that is understandable. He's still talking about state legislatures and the Supreme Court flipping election results in four states. That probably won't happen.

But the thing about the Republican response to this - either silence or very rare statements - you mentioned Pat Toomey, who said flatly in a statement, Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Now, that - it is amazing that a simple statement of fact would be such a significant political event. Liz Cheney, who is a member of the Republican leadership in the House, said, quote, "Trump should respect the sanctity of our election process" - also an extraordinary statement. And she got immediate pushback from Trump in a tweet, basically accusing her of being a warmonger.

But I think for the Republican senators there - and members of Congress, there are two motivations. They're afraid of Donald Trump, afraid of the base, worried that he could turn Republican voters against them. But also, mostly, maybe they are fine with Donald Trump's efforts to kind of kneecap Joe Biden, delegitimize Joe Biden before he's even inaugurated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you think Trump is trying, if not to remain president, then paint a President Biden as somehow illegitimate.

LIASSON: Well, yes, that's how he came - don't forget. That's how he started his political career - by painting Barack Obama as illegitimate because he falsely claimed he wasn't born in the United States. Yes, Donald Trump is thinking about his next act. Remember, his brand is about never, ever losing, always, always winning. And he needs to keep the false narrative going to not just delegitimize Biden, but also keep himself relevant. He's going to be the most important factor in the Republican Party for as long as he wants. So this is about the future, not just the immediate present.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, we saw some Michigan state lawmakers meet with the president, then release a statement saying they didn't know of any new information that could change the outcome of the election in Michigan. But then the Michigan Republican Party requested an audit of the vote in the county where Detroit is. How do you read all that?

LIASSON: Well, requesting an audit is - that's part of the rules. It's unlikely that the audit would overturn enough ballots to change the outcome of the election. But what I take away from the Michigan Republican Party saying there's no way this election can be overturned is that if Donald Trump is a stress test on democratic institutions, some of them - state canvassers, local officials, judges all over the country - are holding up rather well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, thank you very much.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.