KELSEY: Hi. I'm Kelsey (ph) from North Dakota. I am currently hiking up the Little Muddy River to find a geocache that hasn't been found since 2009. You're listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST, which was recorded at...
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
It is 1:44 Eastern on Wednesday, November 10.
KELSEY: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. As for me, I will have found this geocache and off to my next geocaching adventure. Enjoy the show.
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MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: What's a geocast (ph)?
DETROW: They're, like, things - little, like, things that are hidden, and you get the - I think I have this right. You get, like, the GPS location. You have to go hike and find it. Then you, like, take a picture with it, or there's a prize inside. But they're all around you, Mara. You just don't know.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: We just got a new hobby for Mara (laughter).
LIASSON: Oh, it's like a scavenger hunt.
DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
PARKS: I'm Miles Parks, and I cover voting.
LIASSON: I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
DETROW: And future geocacher, maybe.
DETROW: So we are here. Miles, you cover this every day. Mara, you've been doing a lot of big-picture reporting on it. Today we are going to check in on one of the biggest ongoing stories we're all following. And those are attempts to undermine and discredit and, in many states, put new restrictions on the elections that are at the heart of this country's democracy. Democrats have been sounding the alarm loudly about the fact that they think this country is in a constitutional crisis.
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ANGUS KING: One of our great political parties has embraced the idea that our last election was fraudulent, that our current president is illegitimate, that they must move legislatures across the country to fix the results - to fix the results of future elections.
DETROW: That is Maine Senator Angus King. He's an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. He was speaking on the Senate floor a few weeks ago.
Mara, you just put a big story on the air about all of this. What are the specific worries that King and so many other people have about what could happen in the next two elections, specifically 2024?
LIASSON: Yeah. Well, there's a whole kind of cascading list of things they're worried about. I mean, one of them is that there'll be tremendous voter suppression, people will be purged from the voter rolls.
But then the real worry is that there'll be election subversion, meaning that Republicans have passed laws in these states that allow Republican state legislatures to basically put their thumb on the scale of a close election and make it so Republicans can't lose a close election. Partisan political actors would be put in the right jobs where they could decertify ballots. And ultimately, the state legislatures, based on their role that the Constitution gives them, get to choose electors...
LIASSON: ...And that they could send to Congress electors in favor of the Republican candidate, regardless of what happened to the vote in their state - and at that moment, assuming there's a Republican House of Representatives, Speaker Kevin McCarthy or whoever it is, would simply certify the Electoral College results for the Republican candidate. It would all be perfectly legal, but it would be the end of American democracy.
DETROW: These are things that a few key people in a few key places stopped from happening last time around. But a lot of those people's moods have shifted, and a lot of those people have been replaced by people who seem much more willing to do this next time around.
LIASSON: Right. And remember, this is exactly what Donald Trump asked election officials in key states, like Georgia or Arizona, to do. He asked them to send alternative slates of electors to Congress so that he could overturn the results of an election that at least 62 judges had determined to be fair and free of fraud.
PARKS: I thought it was really interesting, too. Reuters did an analysis a few weeks ago that looked at the Republican candidates in five battleground states who were running for the office of secretary of state, and 10 of the 15 Republican candidates at this point for those offices in those states have voiced sympathy for the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. So there will be a lot of Republicans on the ticket in 2022 and 2024 who have made it very clear that they would be open to overturning an election.
DETROW: Miles, what are the specific thing - I mean, you have spent so much time talking to, interviewing, getting to know, you know, county election administrators, statewide election administrators. What are the things that they're most worried about right now?
PARKS: You know, the only reason that all of these fears exist, the fears that Mara just kind of laid out, are because Republican voters, the majority of Republican voters, believe the lie that Donald Trump should be the rightful president. And so I think election officials, when they're looking ahead to 2022 and 2024 - how can we fight back against that?
It comes back to education. It comes back to communication with voters, because the only way that any of those scenarios work is if a majority of Republican voters do believe that stuff, or otherwise politicians aren't able to behave that way.
LIASSON: Well, not only do a majority of Republican voters believe that stuff, Donald Trump, on a daily basis, is putting out the message that his election was stolen from him, which is not just something that undermines faith in democracy - because the sanctity of the ballot is the core value of a democracy - but also, it's tactical. If you think the last election was stolen from your guy, then that pretty much makes it legitimate to do anything necessary to win the next time, including stealing back the election.
You know, Donald Trump just spoke to a big group of House Republicans. This was on Monday night. He now has a new formulation about that insurrection. It's no longer a false flag attempt by antifa. He says the insurrection happened on November 3, the false election, you know, the fraudulent election. But January 6, those events were justified. They were just a protest.
So this is a big effort by Donald Trump, who is the leader of the Republican Party, who spoke in front of a group of Republican House members. And their message, their basic, core message for 2022 and 2024, is that the election of 2020 was stolen from Donald Trump - completely false.
DETROW: Just a fact check around that, which we need to do, even though I think it's very clear to most of our listeners. January 6 was, of course, a violent and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol aimed at trying to stop the certification of the presidential election.
So we have established this baseline of real and legitimate worries about what's coming down the line. Mara, you said so many Democrats see this as an existential problem, as an existential crisis. And yet, there are very little tools for them to do anything about it. On one hand, a lot of these things are happening in state legislatures completely controlled by the Republicans. And Mara, on the other hand, yet again talking about this because it's such a key storyline, Democrats do not seem to be willing to change any Senate rules to pass any federal laws dealing with this.
LIASSON: Yeah. This is the real problem for Democrats because they didn't make any gains in state legislatures in 2020. They lost seats in the House of Representatives, and they only got a 50/50 Senate. They just don't have the votes on any level to pass the kind of federal legislation that would protect elections.
One thing they could do is carve out an exemption to the filibuster to pass any number of these voting rights bills with 50 votes only. But as long as Joe Manchin doesn't want to carve out an exemption to the filibuster for constitutional issues, just like exemptions to the filibuster have been carved out in the past for budget bills and Supreme Court nominees and other nominees, that's not going to happen.
So Democrats don't have the votes. They are challenging these things in court. They're trying to contest these elections for positions like secretary of state or county clerk or state legislature, you know, but there's not that much they can do because they don't have the votes. And all this is being done legally.
DETROW: Before we take a break, Miles, I want to ask you one more thing about something you said a few minutes ago. You talked about local election officials saying, really, just kind of information and education is the best counter. I mean, how optimistic or pessimistic are the people you talked to that that can actually happen?
PARKS: I wish I could tell you that there was a lot of optimism that things are going to be different going forward. But I do think that there is a lot of political science research that points to this idea that what candidates say has the biggest kind of effect on how voters feel about how an election went. And so, no, I don't think there is a terrible amount of optimism from county election officials that they are going to be able to fight a megaphone from a national political candidate, but I think they're also in this position of, like, what else can we do?
DETROW: All right, a lot more to talk about - we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
OK, we are back. Let's talk about how all of this could play out in the actual elections. Mara, Miles, was talking about the role that candidates play.
LIASSON: Right. And yes, candidates play a really important role. But as long as Republican candidates run on the lie that somehow elections are only legitimate when they win, it's going to be really hard. And avenging the 2020, quote, "stolen election," for which there's no evidence, is a motivator for Republican voters. Actually, it's the No. 1 message.
In Virginia, which a Republican just won the governor's race fair and square, Glenn Youngkin never admitted that the 2020 election was legitimate until after he had come through the Republican primary. The point is that you're never going to hear anything from Republican candidates that will contradict what Donald Trump says every day, which is, the only election I can lose is one that's stolen from me.
DETROW: You made this good point in your story, though, that the Virginia results, on the other hand, shows that Republicans can win races without doing all of these things. And yet the party is super-tethered to this lie and won't give it up.
LIASSON: Right. But look; for a party that's only won the national popular vote once since 1988 - has to rely on either minoritarian institutions or things like election subversion and voter suppression to win. Yes, it's possible for Republicans to win fair and square. They just did that in Virginia. But what all these laws are doing - they're like an insurance policy. If the presidential election in Arizona or Georgia is close in 2024, they now have put in place the mechanisms for making sure they don't lose a close race.
PARKS: How can Democrats or how are Democrats going to combat this, you know, in 2022 and 2024? Because up to this point, they have been really unsuccessful at being able to communicate to their voters about the kind of in-the-weeds issues when it comes to elections.
I've been reporting over the last week about this failure on the part of the Democratic Party to pass election reforms in New York last week. New York was a - you know, went for Joe Biden by more than 20 percentage points in 2020, and yet the state voted not to pass no-excuse absentee voting, which we know is very popular among Democrats. And so there is a disconnect. Democrats seem to say that they are prioritizing these sorts of issues, and yet there's been a failure to act at the local state level on them.
LIASSON: Right. And, you know, you can say New York, the problem isn't as urgent for Democrats, but it's a good test case, you know...
LIASSON: ...For something that they supposedly believe in. Look; Sarah Longwell, who's an anti-Trump Republican who does a lot of focus groups, she was in my story. And basically, she said, look; if there's not going to be a policy solution, if Joe Manchin is not going to agree on a carve out for the filibuster so you can pass some voting rights laws, the only solution is political. Democrats simply have to win more races.
SARAH LONGWELL: So right now, Trump is going around endorsing candidates who, for the most part, bolster and repeat his claims that the election were stolen. They also say openly that they would potentially not certify the 2024 elections depending on how they turn out. And so you have to beat candidates like that.
LIASSON: And this just adds to the mountain of problems that Democrats have right now when they're looking forward to the next cycle.
DETROW: Right, going into an election where a lot of these voting restrictions will be law and going into an election cycle where, at the moment, there are massive headwinds of a strange economy filled with inflation and many other things working against the party right now.
LIASSON: Yeah. It's hard to see the optimistic scenario here for Democrats and for people who care about democracy. Let's face it.
DETROW: All right then. I kind of want to, like, do an early Can't Let It Go after this conversation. But, I mean, the fact is this is a real storyline. This is probably the most important thing happening in politics, and we are going to keep having these conversations going forward. So I'm appreciative of both of your reporting, even though I'm going to be in a really bad mood after the taping of this podcast.
PARKS: Sorry, Scott.
LIASSON: That's why they call me Marapocalypse (ph).
PARKS: I haven't heard that.
DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.
LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
DETROW: And apocalyptic bringer of doom - thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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