Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s Politics Chat. The transcript below has been edited slightly.
Sarah (Sarah Frostenson, Politics Editor): The Washington Post on Sunday released leaked audio from an hour-long conversation with President Trump had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where he urged the Republican to “find” enough votes to reverse the Georgia result and declare him the winner.
That story made headlines as it is by far Trump’s most brazen attempt to beat November’s results, although it is hardly his first time trying. Trump has tried repeatedly to cast doubt on the election result since Biden was declared the winner on Nov. 7, citing false claims of election fraud and countless unsuccessful lawsuits to start trying to overturn the election. And now as Congress prepares to vote on January 6th to confirm the election results on what is largely a ceremonial, low-key affair, A group of GOP senators is planning a protest voteeven though it is doomed.
There is no question that this is bad for democracy – polls have shown a record number of Americans distrust the election results – but let’s discuss some of the biggest ramifications of this push to delegitimize the results, in addition to whether or not this is Trump’s role as endangered the de facto party leader once he leaves the presidency.
What do you initially see as the greatest consequence of all of this?
Perry (Perry Bacon Jr., Senior Writer): I think the greatest potential danger is that in elections where they get fewer votes, Republicans will make baseless and exaggerated allegations of voting irregularities and fraud, and try to dismiss or reject the results to reverse. No choice is done perfectly, but using minor problems as an excuse to invalidate the result is a big problem. You cannot have democracy if one of the main parties cannot admit defeat.
I am very concerned about this in connection with these Georgia Senate runoffs. If Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both won their races, it would give the Democrats total control of Congress. Will Republicans be able to accept losing these races if they do? Or will there be endless lawsuits designed to keep Ossoff and Warnock from sitting?
julia_azari (Julia Azari, Professor of Political Science at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight employee): Biggest consequence: This divides the GOP and deepens the dilemma for Republicans (and possibly Democrats) how to deal with the other party. Because can they continue to thread the needle to argue that the other party’s constitutional and political views are unlawful but the trials are legitimate and so they sometimes win? Or, as Perry suggests, will the other party’s victories not be tolerated?
I don’t want this “both sides” – obviously it is not the Democrats who are creating the current situation, but I think this creates potential dilemmas for them as well as to how they treat the idea of legitimate opposition.
Sarah: What are some of the dilemmas you think Democrats face, Julia?
julia_azari: Take the debate over how Democrats should react to this news. It’s a question of whether The House should consider impeachmentwhich I suspect they probably won’t. On the one hand, I’m not sure the impeachment would get much public support, and there are many other issues that Congress needs to work on. On the other hand, however, it leaves the impression that such norm violations are reluctantly tolerated.
I think it will stay that way even after Trump leaves office. You will have Democrats who want to go ahead and not want to increase the level of party political disagreement. And you will have others who want to be accountable for some of the laws that they believe were broken by the last government.
Sarah: That’s a really good point, Julia. One thing we saw after the 2016 election was a sharp drop in the percentage of Democrats who thought the elections were fair and accurate, but nowhere near as sharp as the drop we saw among Republicans here in 2020. So you and Perry is right – how the parties deal with losses and what that means for voter confidence in democracy – is for me the biggest consequence of that.
But maybe you all disagree? Should Democrats become more concerned with Trump’s behavior for the reason Julia cited – that this behavior otherwise appears to be reluctantly tolerated?
julia_azari: Well, the fact that COVID-19 continues to pose a real challenge to the country presents Democrats with a bit of an issue because if they feel like they are too focused on the Trump administration investigation, that’s how they see it out ignoring the pandemic and its aftermath. But when Democrats try to make this less public – by summoning subordinate officials, etc. – they may be accused of not being transparent enough.
The effect of this non-standard administration is not only to break these unwritten rules, but to behave in such a way that the entire system of common practices does not work. That makes things especially challenging for Democrats.
Perry: Questions about what the Justice Department von Biden, Congress Democrats and Attorney General are doing about Trump’s behavior remain open. If there was any criminal activity, it shouldn’t be above the law. Perhaps there are some hearings in Congress – and maybe even indictments from the DOJ and / or the Attorney General – that involve some Trump staff, and maybe Trump himself. I don’t expect Biden to talk that much about Trump, but other actors might consider.
Sarah: What’s the endgame here for Trump and Republicans? When he called Raffensperger, Trump admitted: “I know this call is going nowhere.” I know we can’t talk to the president’s state of mind, but what can we point out? Why Has the refusal to allow the election become Trump’s dominant stance?
julia_azari: Well, it goes well with this idea that “Complaints Policy“Have grown into a somewhat successful brand – especially in a place like Georgia that has a story of Suppression of racist voters informs about the context and where democratic victories are particularly linked to the mobilization of Black voters.
However, I don’t see how helpful such a split within Congress Republicans is to the GOP in the long run.
Perry: Trump has lied and cheated in many different places in his life. That’s just the truth. So it’s nothing new to insist that he won an election that he lost. He likes to push and push people and see if they uphold their ethics or bow to his will. For the Republican Party, part of that is just the trajectory they were on anyway, even without Trump at the helm. If you are Writing voter laws against blacks with “surgical precision” (Republicans of North Carolina), This makes it difficult for offenders who have served their election time (Florida Republicans) and Gerrymandering in a way that almost makes fun of majority rule (Wisconsin Republicans) then baseless allegations of electoral fraud aimed at disqualifying black votes in particular are just a more aggressive move in an anti-democratic direction.
But part of it is directly linked to Trump. Elected and aspiring Republican officials know he is deeply connected to the party base. So aligning with Trump means aligning with the party base. That is why you see Georgia Senator David Perdue attacking the Secretary of State in the face of that phone call for leaking it, and not Trump for what he said.
julia_azari: I think the intersection between what Perry and I said is this: “The future of the Republican Party is the division between those who say the quiet part out loud and those who don’t.”
A key difference is that the Republicans won national majorities with the quiet part. That is no longer the case. Per Rep. Thomas Massie, who along with six Republican colleagues wrote a LatvianOccasionally, pointing out the need to keep the electoral college comments on, the megaphone can at least win over a multitude. Matt Glassman, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University, says:
Sarah: If Glassman’s whip count is right, we’re still talking about a small wing of the GOP, right? In other words, it is possible that the battle for Trumpism may fragment the party, but that the movement may be losing power?
Questioning the integrity of election results has clearly become a litmus test or a show of loyalty for those in the GOP, but some senators like it Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney speak out against it. Do you think it possible that Trump will ruin his ability to become party chairman after the presidency?
julia_azari: Well, our readers should be excited for my upcoming piece in which I bring up this question!
But to give you a little foretaste: I think political scientists would phrase this question like this: “Can right-wing populism be compatible with participating in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic democracy in which you sometimes lose, even if you claim to really represent? the constitution and the people? “The problem is that one wing of the Republican Party has been bypassing the answer to that question for decades.
Perry: Having covered the GOP in the Trump era for the past six years, I will always bet on the more extreme wing of the party that carries the day. The fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not recognize Biden’s victory until mid-December was extraordinary. If I had told anyone this in 2015, they would have thought I was crazy.
The moderate voices in the Republican Party are not well organized, not affiliated with the party base, and have no truly convincing leaders, while the more extreme voices in the party are Fox News, Newsmax, the One America News Network, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, and Trump. I see little chance of the Republican Party changing its general direction even if Trump himself resigns.
Would you bet Sasse would win a battle for the soul of the Republican Party against someone whose last name is Trump?
julia_azari: I’d probably bet a small amount that it’s possible, Perry, especially since Sasse seems like a pretty seasoned politician and the Trump kids aren’t.
Still, I don’t generally disagree, but I wonder about the sustainability of everything. I think I have some questions about what counts as “moderate” – especially considering the GOP as a political scientist and Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein has been saying for a long time, is post-political.
Perry: When I say moderate, I mean people like Romney or Sasse, who are quite conservative on politics but generally avoid white identity politics (attack on Black Lives Matter or immigration reform) and who are totally in favor of democratic norms and Insert values. Moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Larry Hogan are basically no longer among the top Republicans.
Sarah: This is exactly what Lee Drutman, contributor to FiveThirtyEight, set out in his article Why There Are Few Moderate Republicans Left, Perry.
Given the positive results of the polls for the Republicans, one of the things I learned from the 2020 election was that many voters rejected Trump, but not necessarily the Republican Party, which made it a little harder for me to understand the extent to which the GOP has lost moderate voters .
At the same time, I find it hard to see a Romney, Hogan, or Sasse win the Republican nomination for 2024, given the current momentum taking place in the GOP – a largely ceremonial, low-headline vote on certification of the electoral college results for example, has now become an important topic. However, I’m not sure, at this point in time, we can see the success of Trumpism in the future. For example, I think the Democrats will face some real tests over the next four years as to whether they can keep their grand umbrella coalition of moderate and very liberal voters happy, and this could create opportunities for more middle-class or moderate Republicans.
Perry: I’m not sure who will win the 2024 nomination. I have no idea. However, in the short term, I think Trump, like his political style, will have a huge impact on the GOP.
I just don’t see an easy way for Republicans to get off this ramp.
julia_azari: This is kind of an excuse, but I need to think more about the costs and benefits to different Republicans. I will withhold predictions for 2024 until I get a feel for what politics is like in the Biden administration. And according to my earlier comment on how Trumpism changed the unwritten rules for everyone, I am much more unsure of what this will be like now when Trump is gone than in previous administrations.
Sarah: Much probably depends on how the Senate outflows play out tomorrow, and as you both said, I really have no idea how “Trumpism” plays out now. For example, I don’t know if Trump does a lot of damage … or if he’s the future of conservatism in the US.
But can we at least agree that the permanent consequence of this could be an escalation of the oppositions of the parties if an outcome is controversial?
I’d say we’ve seen an increase in it over the past decade, but it has mostly been about more procedural matters. as the Senate change rules to judicial appointments, and make it one more partisan affair. But now we have this extreme example – to contest a free and fair election. That increases the stakes, no? And it seems like partisan fighting could get a lot worse.
Perry: I’m not sure if I would say that there will be an escalation in the antagonisms of the parties, at least not yet. I think it’s a change on the Republican side. For example, I don’t expect Biden to fight his defeat for two months if he loses significantly in 2024 with a large margin of choice (not a state with 500 votes).
julia_azari: I agree, Perry. However, I think it is possible for Democrats to come under pressure to adhere to norms and be “reasonable” while responding more forcefully to norm violations.
Perry: However, I am careful to suggest that we are seeing escalation on both sides as I think we are really only seeing large escalations on the GOP side. And I’m worried it could get worse. For example, if Republicans were to control the house now, I would be very concerned about this election certification issue.
julia_azari: For me it comes down to a question of sustainability and possible divisions among Democrats on this issue. But to be clear, I don’t see any of them support the scenario you described, Perry. But I could start to see them play a little more “constitutional hardball”.
Sarah: Yes, I think Julia comes to what I meant. I definitely don’t want this to be “both sides”. But I think what Julia raised earlier, that the mechanisms for expressing legitimate opposition are being pushed aside, leaves the Democrats in a difficult position as Trump’s policies have challenged the way the entire system works.
julia_azari: My main point here is that the parties are not self-contained, and I don’t think the Democrats have really found the answers to some of the questions that arise from the norm-breaking behavior of the Republicans (which again is a situation that the Democrats don’t have done) create).
Perry: Julia comes to an important and complicated question here, and we’ve seen what would turn out to be whether Democrats should add judges to the Supreme Court as Republicans rushed to nominate Amy Coney Barrett before the election.
Biden was clearly uncomfortable with this, but the party activists really pushed him on the matter. What are Biden / Democrats doing with what we’ve seen over the past two months?
Biden is basically ignoring Trump in this pre-inaugural period, suggesting that Republicans will work with him. And I can’t tell if he 1) pretends, 2) is clueless, or 3) Republicans will actually work with him. But Biden’s theory of the case, and how other Democrats approach this issue, not to mention how the two parties interact on the matter, will be interesting. I really don’t know the answer to that question.
Sarah: I agree. It will be interesting to see how Biden and the Democrats are working on it – or if Trump’s policies have turned everything upside down.