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Politics chat: Trump wants to return to the White House at all costs

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Donald Trump wants to be reinstated as president. Yes, he's running for that office again, but he's not ruling out other means. In a statement he posted online yesterday, Trump called for, quote, "the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution" to make up for his 2020 election loss. That's where we'll start this Sunday with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Glad to have you with us this morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

RASCOE: So a former president, the highest constitutional office in the land, is saying that he is willing to terminate the Constitution to regain that office. That is not something that can be ignored, right?

LIASSON: No, it's not. Trump posted this weekend on Truth Social, which is his social media company, his platform. He posted the usual lie that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, but then he went on to say, quote, "A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution." So even for someone who is a norm breaker like Donald Trump, this is a pretty profound norm to undermine.

RASCOE: And, I mean, so you have House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who wants to be speaker of the House come January when Republicans take control and has said that one of the very first things Republicans will do with their majority is read the Constitution out loud on the House floor. So what does McCarthy have to say about what Trump is proposing?

LIASSON: Nothing yet. We've had the White House condemn Trump's remarks. Some Democrats condemn it, but pretty much silence so far from Republicans. They usually don't like to criticize Donald Trump in public, even though after Trump's dinner recently at Mar-a-Lago with an avowed white supremacist antisemite, more Republicans were willing to criticize him, but Trump seemed to invite a Republican reaction. He also posted this weekend - he said, "Wonder what Mitch McConnell and the RINOs" - that stands for Republicans in name only - "are thinking now."

RASCOE: Well, I want to play something billionaire Peter Thiel said. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER THIEL: You know, I think one thing that should be made - distinguished here is that, you know, the media always is taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally. And so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment or things like that, the question is not, you know, are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China? What they hear is, we're going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.

RASCOE: I mean, that was at the National Press Club in October of 2016. The thing is that after Trump won, the fact was he did want a big physical wall. He did move to keep people from Muslim-majority countries out of the U.S. And, you know, after January 6, you know, he was saying that, you know, he didn't - you know, he wasn't conceding. And there were real consequences to that. Like...

LIASSON: That's right. I think the lesson we've all learned is to take Donald Trump seriously and literally. I think that was a phrase first used by journalist Salena Zito. And the problem for the Republican Party is they have a Trump problem. He's the front-runner for the nomination in 2024. He could easily win in - against a crowded field of opponents. He fires up the Republican base, but he also fires up the opposition, maybe even more. And Republicans don't have an ideological or moral or ethical problem with Trump. They're just worried that now, he's so far out of the mainstream that he is looking like a loser to them.

RASCOE: I mean, Tuesday is the final day of voting in the runoff elections in Georgia. The big race is - on the ballot is for the U.S. Senate, of course. Is there less at stake now that we know which party will control the Senate?

LIASSON: Yes, there's less at stake because the majority of the Senate is not hanging in the balance on that runoff in Georgia, but there's still a lot at stake. A 51-41 majority, if the Democrats should win that race, means that Vice President Harris doesn't have to be up on the Hill all the time breaking 50/50 ties. It means that Joe Manchin is no longer the center of the universe for Democrats. It also means the Democrats in the Senate, if they should win the Georgia runoff, actually get majorities on committees. Committees don't have to be split down the middle. And, of course, politically, if Herschel Walker, Trump's handpicked candidate, loses the Georgia runoff, it will be another blow to Trump's role as kingmaker of Republicans.

RASCOE: And you meant 51-49, right?

LIASSON: I meant 51-49. Yes.

RASCOE: Yes. That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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.