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How Trump Campaign Is Readying For Election Results

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More than a hundred million people voted before the polls opened across the country this morning. That was far from the finish line. Another 50 or 60 million more Americans expected to vote today, and they can still make the difference in the presidential race. Well, let's talk more about what is at stake, and we start with NPR's Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So to pull this off, Donald Trump would need a come-from-behind victory. What does the key to that victory look like for him?

LIASSON: The key is turnout, turnout, turnout. He needs the kind of miraculous recovery he had from COVID. It is possible. The Trump campaign's goal is to turn out huge numbers of Republican voters today to make up the deficit that they have in the early voting and mail-in voting. It's possible that they can do this. We know from polls that large numbers of Republicans say they plan to vote today on Election Day. Large numbers of Democrats said that they planned to vote early and by mail, and it appears that they did. Republicans are also motivated by Donald Trump, saying for weeks and weeks that mail-in votes are fraudulent. So if they can accomplish that, get maybe 60% of the Election Day ballot in places like Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, that's how he can win.

KELLY: OK. Mara Liasson, let me ask you to stand by for a sec because I want to bring in another voice. I will note that elsewhere on the show, we will hear from the deputy campaign manager of the Biden campaign. Right now we are going to hear directly from Trump campaign headquarters. Steven Cortes is senior adviser for strategy. He is with us live from Trump headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Mr. Cortes, welcome. Steve Cortes, you with us?

STEVE CORTES: Yes, thank you. Good afternoon.

KELLY: You're here.

CORTES: Can you hear me?

KELLY: Good. Good. Good.

CORTES: Yeah.

KELLY: Well, I was going to start by saying congratulations on surviving the campaign. It's been a long one, and you've got the finish line in your sights tonight.

CORTES: That's right. Now, you can imagine people - I will be honest. People are a bit tired here but, at the same time, incredibly enthused.

KELLY: Yeah. How confident are you that Trump will win?

CORTES: Listen. We are confident. We're not arrogant. We're not complacent. That's for sure. But we are confident. We like the momentum. The momentum is moving our way both in terms of public polling as well as private polling. And it's moving our way also in terms of enthusiasm for Election Day voting. So what we're seeing so far - and admittedly, a lot of this information is anecdotal about today rather than statistical. But what we are seeing in Trump-heavy areas where the president is popular - the early signs in particularly Florida and Pennsylvania that turnout is really surging there.

KELLY: So...

CORTES: And we know from hard data polling that our people overwhelmingly do want to vote in person on Election Day. So this is obviously just a massive day for our base.

KELLY: OK, so you are buoyed by what you're seeing today. I am asking in part, though, because the president himself has sounded not quite so sure. I noticed when he came out to your headquarters today, he told reporters that he hopes it's going to be a great night, but - and I'll quote - "it's politics, and it's elections, and you never know." He's talked in recent days about how embarrassing it would be if he lost to Biden. And I wonder, what is going on here? Is he managing expectations, or is he really worried?

CORTES: No. Listen. I don't think he's doing either, quite frankly. The president believes he's going to win. And when he came here to headquarters today, it was a wonderful thing for him to do. Of course, he's incredibly tired after the barnstorming he's done in recent days. But he made the time to come here...

KELLY: Yeah. He was losing his voice a little bit, which he acknowledged.

CORTES: ...And losing his voice, yes, which I am a little bit as well; I understand that - but came over here to thank our staff. And listen. He is - I will say this. I think because his role campaigning is essentially done at this point, I think he was reflective in a way. And then that's why he sounded almost a tad bit philosophical. But that does not reflect any kind of indecision or any kind of lack of confidence.

You know, we love where our campaign stands right now. We believe statistically - and this is - you know, now I can talk hard data. We know statistically that the Democrats have exhausted practically all of their high-propensity voters, meaning they all voted either by mail or early in person. So we also then conjecture from there that they have very little to gain today, whereas if we have strong turnout, we have a massive amount. You know, some of these polling places...

KELLY: Well, I mean, I will inject that Democrats see multiple paths to victory, so they obviously have a different take on this. But let me ask you this. If it does look like it's going his way tonight, will the president wait until the votes are counted before declaring victory? - asking because there have been suggestions he might not, that he would declare victory prematurely to try to shape the narrative.

CORTES: Once it is clear that we are winning, he will declare victory. That is - and that is the norm, by the way...

KELLY: What's your benchmark for clear?

CORTES: ...Because - well, I mean, we'll see - we'll know once we get to it. But once it is clear that he has won, then we would declare victory. I want to correct something, too, that - Mara Liasson said something that's just completely incorrect in the introduction here. She said that we are - that we view mail-in voting as fraudulent. That is not correct. We are totally in favor of absentee voting, a voter requesting a ballot, getting it...

KELLY: The president has said repeatedly...

CORTES: ...Sending it back...

KELLY: ...That mail-in voting will lead to...

CORTES: No, he has not.

KELLY: ...Widespread fraud - his quote.

CORTES: No, he has not. What he has said is that we don't believe in universal vote by mail, and that is a critical difference...

KELLY: OK.

CORTES: ...Where live ballots are sent out to literally every single voter on a roll. We know how inaccurate voter rolls are. So the kind of thing that Nevada is doing we have strenuously objected to. We have never said that people can't absentee vote, and we believe a lot of our supporters did. And we respect that and support it.

KELLY: One more question to you - and I acknowledge your - the point that you're making here. You know, you acknowledge that, obviously, we're not doing universal mail-in voting. There are voters in lines as we speak right now. But let me ask you this. If the president loses - and I understand that's a hypothetical that you don't want to consider, but if he loses, will he concede? Will he commit to a peaceful transfer of power?

CORTES: Look. The president - when the president leaves office, when his tenure is done - and I believe that's going to be in four years - of course he will leave office. You know, I don't believe that's going to be in a few months. I think that's going to be in four years.

KELLY: Steve Cortes - he is Trump 2020 campaign senior adviser for strategy, talking to us there from Trump headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Thank you very much for taking the time.

CORTES: You bet. Thank you.

KELLY: And I do want to note again, elsewhere on the show, we were talking with a senior member of the Biden campaign. Mara Liasson, you were listening in to that just now. What leapt out at you?

LIASSON: Well, I will say that when Steve Cortes clarified what the president said - he doesn't object to all mail-in ballots, just universal, unrequested mail-in voting - that's generally what the Trump campaign will tell you the president meant. But that isn't what the president says. He often talks about mail-in voting without making that distinction.

KELLY: Right.

LIASSON: But, you know, I take that as a correction. What I heard was - to hear the president, Donald Trump, described as a tad bit philosophical - that's new. And I do think the president showed a little bit of ambivalence - maybe you could even call it realism - that losing was a possibility. Normally, he just says, I can only lose if it's stolen from me. So that's something new from Donald Trump.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, how do you rate what you just heard there from Steve Cortes in terms of the confidence of the Trump campaign heading into these final hours of voting?

LIASSON: I think the Trump campaign is hopeful that they can do what Republicans have done in the past, which is turn out massive numbers of voters, more voters than the Democrats think they can turn out on Election Day. And we've seen elections in the past - 2004, certainly 2016 - where the Democrats felt they hit their targets, but Republicans did better. And that's what the Trump campaign wants to do today.

KELLY: And last thing real quick - you heard me push him there on whether the president will concede and commit to a peaceful transfer of power if things do not go his way tonight.

LIASSON: You didn't get an answer.

KELLY: We are still pushing for an answer.

LIASSON: (Laughter).

KELLY: That's not a question they want to answer tonight...

LIASSON: You didn't get an answer. Yeah.

KELLY: ...At Trump headquarters. All right.

LIASSON: You didn't get an answer.

KELLY: Mara Liasson - she's with us all night tonight. Thank you very much. That's our national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOFILZ'S "DULCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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