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For Republicans, There's More At Stake Than Just A Midterm Victory


Both political parties in this country have a lot at stake this November. Some Democrats say their very survival is on the line while for President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress, the prize on election night is not just to stay in power but to stay relevant. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: If Republicans hang onto their majorities in the House and Senate, their approach to governing will be validated. They can continue to confirm judges, take another whack at Obamacare, help President Trump shut down the Mueller investigation. On the other hand, says former Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor...

ERIC CANTOR: If the Republicans are unable to maintain their majority in the House, Democratic rule no matter who their speaker is will be very much in opposition to a Trump White House.

LIASSON: Just the way the Democrats in Congress saw President Obama's legislative agenda die the minute Cantor and his fellow Republicans took over when they won the House in 2010.

CANTOR: Look; it's no fun to be in perpetual minority - I can tell you that - and especially in the House, where simple majority gives you almost absolute power to, again, set the agenda and get bills across the floor. That will greatly affect the willingness for some who have been at it for a long time and make the decision whether maybe they should retire or not.

LIASSON: Cantor thinks more Republicans will head for the exits if they lose. But Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, has a different prediction about how Republicans will react if they lose the House.

KARL ROVE: I think they will be both miserable and emboldened. They'll be miserable because they're in the minority. They will be emboldened because look; if the Democrats take it by a narrow margin, there will be deep divisions within the Democratic Party.

LIASSON: And Republicans, who are experts at opposition, will do their best to exacerbate those Democratic divisions. There will be other changes in store for Republicans if they lose one or both houses. President Trump, without control of Congress, could decide to triangulate. He's already talked about making deals with Democrats on infrastructure, for instance. And that could leave congressional Republicans on the sidelines. Trump has never hesitated to throw an ally under the bus, says Doug Heye, the former communications director for the RNC.

DOUG HEYE: It could be bad for Republicans if he tries to do that. But it could be good for Trump for his own personal political goals. I think the challenge for a lot of Republicans is what is good for Republicans and what is good for Trump are not necessarily the same thing.

LIASSON: And something else will happen if Republicans lose big in November. Their ranks in Congress will get smaller but also whiter, older, more male and much more conservative - in other words, more like the Trumpian base of the party. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says even if the Republicans lose, even if they privately blame Trump for their loss and even if he casts them aside to make deals with the Democrats, they'll have no choice but to stand by him.

NEWT GINGRICH: The Republican Party, first of all, is going to be the Trump party. You know, he's consistently at 42, 43, 44, 45 percent approval 'cause he's at 88 or 90 or 92 percent among Republicans.

LIASSON: So Gingrich says Republicans will have no choice but to become even more committed to Donald Trump after November.

GINGRICH: The first thing they'll say the morning after the election is we are dedicated to the election - re-election of Donald Trump. And that becomes the overriding goal.

LIASSON: And if they manage to hang onto power in Congress, Republicans will still have the task of showing the country they can govern. That means funding the wall, replacing Obamacare, overhauling Medicare and Social Security, accomplishments that eluded them over the past two years. And if they keep the House, they'll certainly have a narrower majority, making it all even harder. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.


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.