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Why President Trump Refuses To Concede And What It Might Mean For The Country

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Joe Biden won the presidential election. President Trump lost the election. Counties and states are starting to certify results of Biden's victory. The Trump campaign continues to mount legal challenges, and they continue to fail. But even though his defeat is clear, the president refuses to concede. Well, we want to talk more about why and what it might mean for the country. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here for that.

Howdy, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: The president insists he is challenging the results because he really believes he won. Really? With all the facts pointing otherwise, is there more to this?

LIASSON: I think there is more to it. Donald Trump's brand is about being a winner, about never, ever losing. Remember, he's always come out of every loss, like his bankruptcies or failed businesses, somehow making himself look like a winner. This election is the biggest, most public loss he's ever suffered. So the stakes for his political future and his ability to continue to monetize his brand are very high.

There is a kind of method to his madness. He needs to create this false narrative to be able to walk off the stage without admitting he lost so he can maintain political viability, maintain a firm grip on the base of the Republican Party, especially in case he wants to run again. But there are also real consequences to that. He's - his refusal to concede defeat or to accept a peaceful transfer of power, to spread these false conspiracy theories, are hurting Americans' confidence in the most basic element of our democracy, which is free and fair elections. We know from polling that growing numbers of Republicans feel that - believe that Trump won the election and it was stolen from him.

KELLY: Another theory making the rounds that I want you to speak to, Mara - some of the president's defenders - in fairness, even some conservatives who don't seem to particularly like President Trump - they have argued, look; Democrats never accepted Trump as the legitimate president. Democrats in their hearts didn't really accept the 2016 outcome, this argument goes. So what is the difference? Mara Liasson, what is the difference?

LIASSON: I think there is a difference. He has a absolute right to contest this as long as he wants in the court. But what happened in 2016 - Hillary Clinton did not challenge the legal outcome of the election. She called Trump and conceded even before the networks had called the 270 electoral votes for him. She did win the popular vote, but no one says that Trump didn't win under the rules of how America elects its president. He - it was the legitimate president. They might not have liked him. He lost the popular vote. But that's different than what's happening now.

You know, Trump allies, even down to some local Republicans in Wayne County, Mich., actually resisted certifying the results before reversing themselves last night. They appeared to be making actual attempts to undermine legitimate ballots cast in heavily Democratic, racially diverse cities. So a lot of Republicans are now saying, hey, you've got to put up or walk away. Don't let the perception settle that you're a sore loser just trying to overturn a fair election.

KELLY: What is at stake for the president here, for Donald Trump personally?

LIASSON: I think there's a lot at stake. You know, he has mused privately about running in 2024. He's setting up a super PAC that would fund his expenses for that. There also are a lot of consequences for the Republican Party as it tries to chart its future. Put aside all the other Republicans who want to run in 2024, which they really can't do as long as he's out there saying he might. But, you know, the debate about what is Trumpism post-Trump has been going on since 2016, but it can't really continue as long as Trump is on the stage. You know, it's - there's that old country music song - how can I miss you when you won't go away? And right now, the Republican Party stands for whatever Trump wants at a given moment.

But there are also some perils for Trump himself continuing to aggressively contest the results of this election. And his allies have been saying, don't look like a sore loser. They're charting a path for him to coming back in 2024, which includes a graceful concession, cooperating with Biden, maybe giving a farewell address with a kind of MacArthur-esque (ph) pledge - I shall return.

KELLY: Well, in the more immediate future - look ahead with us because one way or another, January 20 is coming. President-elect Biden will become President Biden. Do we know quite what to expect from President Trump at that point?

LIASSON: No, we don't. There are a lot of questions. We don't know what it's like to have an ex-president who's not quietly off the stage. That's kind of the final democratic norm for presidents - to gracefully give your successor a chance, a sign of respect for the voters and the outcome of the election. But we have every reason to believe that Trump will be tweeting every day, even as a private citizen. He might create his own streaming digital platform as an alternative to Fox. Maybe he'll launch his 2024 campaign. We don't think he'll weigh in in a detailed way on policy debates, but he may try to maintain his dominance in the media.

KELLY: Maintain dominance in the media.

LIASSON: Yep.

KELLY: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you for your reporting.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.