Donald Trump's Republican Doubters Warn Of "Lame Duck" Limits : The NPR Politics Podcast Donald Trump's GOP critics have begun to suggest that Republicans should nominate a fresh face, someone eligible for reelection after 2024. It's the kind of pragmatist argument that doesn't usually sway voters — but it does hint that party strategists are worried that Trump's poor standing with independent voters would against cost them the presidency.

This episode: political correspondent Susan Davis, senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Learn more about upcoming live shows of The NPR Politics Podcast at nprpresents.org.

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Donald Trump's Republican Doubters Warn Of "Lame Duck" Limits

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SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Hey there. It's Susan Davis from the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. The news is out. We're finally going back on the road. And Houston, we're heading your way very soon. Join me, Asma Khalid, Tamara Keith, Domenico Montanaro and Ashley Lopez at Zilkha Hall on Thursday, September 15. You can find more information about tickets, including discounted student ones, at nprpresents.org. Thanks to our partners at Houston Public Media. We hope to see you there.

EZEKIEL: Hi. I'm Ezekiel (ph). I'm five.

GIGI: I'm Gigi (ph).

DAVIS: Aww.

GIGI: I'm almost three.

CLARA: And I'm Clara (ph). We are calling from...

EZEKIEL: Jamestown.

GIGI: California.

EZEKIEL: You might hear airplanes, helicopters and fire trucks.

CLARA: They're fighting a fire near our highway.

GIGI: This podcast was recorded at...

DAVIS: 12:07 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7.

EZEKIEL: Things may have changed by the time you hear this.

CLARA: But we will still be in the middle of this California heat wave.

EZEKIEL: Thank you, Cal Fire.

CLARA AND GIGI: Thank you hotshot crew.

EZEKIEL: Here's the show.

GIGI: Here's the show.

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DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: My god.

DAVIS: It is hot in California.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Maximum cuteness.

MONTANARO: But they are so cute.

DAVIS: They are so cute.

MONTANARO: That is awesome.

DAVIS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

LIASSON: I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

DAVIS: And it's good to be back with y'all. I've been off for a few weeks. I've been out of the news for a minute, so it's good to get back into it.

MONTANARO: It's the same.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: The more things change, right?

MONTANARO: Yep.

DAVIS: Speaking of - former President Donald Trump, he continues to tease the idea of another presidential run. Here he is at his Pennsylvania rally over the weekend.

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DONALD TRUMP: And we're leading Biden and everyone else, including the Republicans, by record numbers in the polls. So I may just have to do it again. You'll be staying tuned.

(CHEERING)

DAVIS: But according to our latest polling in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, most Americans don't actually want to see that happen. Six in 10 Americans say they don't want Trump to run in 2024, including 67% of independents and a quarter of Republicans. So, Domenico, that sounds like it's a pretty complicated path back to the White House for Donald Trump.

MONTANARO: I mean, look, he's always had trouble with independents. To me, that's the headline here. If two-thirds of independents are saying, no, don't run, that makes it really, really hard and I think really hard for Trump to make the argument that he's the most electable Republican that's out there, you know? But we have to look at what his hold on the base is. I mean, two-thirds of Republicans say, yes, he should run. And, by the way, if he's charged with a crime, this number of 61% only goes up marginally to 65%. And Republicans only drop marginally. Sixty-one percent of Republicans still say he should run even if he's charged with a crime.

DAVIS: I mean, Mara, that to me seems to be a really critical point here because winning a general election and winning the nomination are two very different challenges. And while there is some Trump fatigue in the country, you know, he still is the Republican candidate that seems to have the clearest path to the nomination because of that support.

LIASSON: Well, this is the big problem for the Republican Party. They don't have a big enough overlap between their base and the center of the American electorate. And this is the problem with issues - abortion, guns. This is the problem with Trump - super popular among the base, not so popular with independents and swing voters. And that means that what the base wants is going to prevail. But that doesn't mean that's best for the party. If you are a political party, you want your base to overlap with the center of the American electorate. You don't want it to be really far off to the right, which is where Republicans are right now. And that's a real problem. They could nominate someone who's extremely popular with the base and unelectable in a general election.

DAVIS: Domenico, I want to make sure I understand one of your points. You know, the former president is facing any number of investigations. We have no idea if he will be charged with anything. But what this poll is telling us, that if he is charged with anything, it really isn't going to have much of an impact on the way voters think of him?

MONTANARO: Right. You know that question that everyone asks us, whether it's our family or whether it's, like, people who don't cover politics, like, will this make any difference?

DAVIS: Yeah.

MONTANARO: Right? They'll always ask this. And I feel like we're stuck in "Groundhog Day," and that's because we are. I mean, the 61% is unchanged from right after the 2020 election. The same number of people, essentially, are saying that they don't want Trump to run again. So not much budges things here because views of Trump are so locked in. He's intensely loved on the right, and he's intensely loathed on the left.

DAVIS: Mara, obviously, 2024, let's put that aside for a second. We're still looking at 2022. And one of the dynamics of the midterms has been how much the former president has tried to stay relevant, has tried to be a kingmaker. And in a lot of ways, I could argue he's been pretty successful at that. The party's been remade in his image. You know, NPR has been tracking the endorsements he's made in races, and Trump-backed candidates are doing pretty well, at least in terms of winning their primaries.

LIASSON: Yes, at least in terms of winning the primaries, and then, as we just talked about, we'll see if they can go ahead and win the general election or if they're seen by the voters as too extreme. To me, the biggest impact that Trump has had in the primaries is that so many of the candidates that he endorsed are election deniers.

DAVIS: Yeah.

LIASSON: There are dozens and dozens and dozens of Trump-backed election denier candidates who are now running in general elections for positions like secretary of state and governor, positions that will directly affect the counting and certifying of the vote next time.

MONTANARO: And let's look at this by the numbers. I mean, as Mara says, you know, there were dozens and dozens of election deniers who were endorsed by Trump. Almost all of who Trump endorsed were people who are election deniers. And he endorsed more than 200 Republicans across the country for the Senate, House, top state executive offices across the country. And when you look at how those endorsements fared, he's pretty powerful in a Republican primary. Ninety-nine percent of Trump-backed incumbents won. Ninety-one percent of Trump-backed candidates in open Republican primaries won. Only 40% of Trump-backed challengers to current officeholders won. So what do you make of those numbers, right? The power of the incumbency is really big. It's really strong. But you also understand why a lot of Republicans who said, you know, if I'm in office now, do I want to cross Trump even if I disagree with him?

DAVIS: Yeah.

MONTANARO: We saw a lot of candidates who did that in the House, for example, who wound up losing. So if you're an incumbent, why would you cross Trump politically? You know, if you think about it strategically, why would you cross him if you could be one of those 99% of incumbents who wind up winning with his backing?

LIASSON: Yeah. And, you know, the other angle to this is that Democrats wanted the Trump-backed candidates in many cases to win because they thought that they'd be more easy to defeat in a general election. Now, that's a risky strategy. Beware of what you wish for. You just might get it. But the fact is that this is something - these candidates not only are looked at as not so electable by the Republican establishment but also by Democrats who in some cases intervene to help them.

DAVIS: To me, it is interesting if you're looking at, I think more specifically about the Senate, where a lot of these Trump-backed candidates have won their primaries but are facing really competitive general elections in November, especially in a year that should, you know, by the other metrics, be good for Republicans - looking in Georgia, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio.

LIASSON: Yeah. And you see the real tension between the overall fundamentals, which are favorable to Republicans, and candidate quality, which matters a lot in Senate elections. This is why you have Mitch McConnell, who is a very sober Republican, saying that his party might not get the majority back because of candidate quality.

DAVIS: All right. Let's take a quick break and we'll talk more about Donald Trump in a second.

And we're back. And Domenico, you did some recent reporting on one of the constitutional hurdles Trump would face if he does decide to run again. It's a little thing called the 22nd Amendment. Explain.

MONTANARO: Well, we know that a president can't serve more than two, four-year terms. That's sort of set in stone or set in the Constitution. It's in this 22nd Amendment, but it's not that long of a time that it's actually been in place. It was ratified in 1951. It was largely a response from Republicans who are upset that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had sort of bypassed this tradition that presidents had of serving only two terms since George Washington because they didn't want somebody to be elected four times, for example, as FDR was, who they disagreed with. They wound up being sort of in this strange bedfellows partnership with Southern Democrats who are upset with Truman's liberal economic policies, sort of continuing FDR's policies, as well as him pushing forward with a civil rights program. So you kind of - like all things in politics, they come back to money and race.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: But when it comes back to Trump, as all things in modern politics seem to do...

MONTANARO: Right.

DAVIS: When you apply it to him, this means if he does decide to run in 2024, he can only serve one four-year term.

MONTANARO: Right. And, you know, look, you've got people - you know, I published this story. And people are like, you really think Trump is going to only serve four more years or - well, he's bound by the Constitution to only serve four more years. Whatever he tries to do is a different situation. But there have been actually efforts since the 1980s, after Ronald Reagan served his second term - people have been really pushing to actually eliminate the 22nd Amendment, to repeal it. And it's actually been a bipartisan effort.

LIASSON: Domenico, do you think that the fact that Trump could only serve one more term would help him or hurt him in an effort to get the nomination or win the general election?

MONTANARO: Well, it's interesting. I'd want to hear your thoughts on that, too, because I personally think that you're starting to see - and I'm hearing privately from Republicans who are trying to make the case that - why would you vote for a guy who only has four more years when you could have somebody else who's not as disliked by independents, like we talked about in the first part here, and who could potentially serve eight years rather than somebody who'd be a lame duck after a couple of years and not be able to serve a further term? I think that's going to become an argument that some Republicans start to use against Trump, at least privately, to try to pull people away from him. Although, we see his hold on the base is pretty strong.

LIASSON: Yeah. No, ordinary voters don't think in those terms, but I do think it's a powerful argument to use against him.

DAVIS: Well, it does seem that it gives people that might also want to run for the Republican nomination - there's a lot of ambition in the Republican Party. It seems to me like it's a way that you can run against Trump tactically...

MONTANARO: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...But not personally, which is, like, a really hard space for Republicans...

MONTANARO: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...To find. And this gives them an opening to do that.

MONTANARO: That's an interesting point, too. I really like Trump...

DAVIS: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...Nikki Haley might say...

DAVIS: Wish we could have eight years...

MONTANARO: Wish we could have eight years...

DAVIS: ...But we can't.

MONTANARO: ...But he's bound by the Constitution...

DAVIS: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...Unfortunately.

DAVIS: Yeah.

LIASSON: Yeah, too bad the Constitution...

DAVIS: Always getting in the way.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: Domenico, thanks for that. And we should note, we will have more poll numbers coming out tomorrow. They'll be available at npr.org. We're going to leave it there for today. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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