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Week in politics: What Iowa results can tell us about New Hampshire

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A record close for the S&P 500. Is the enthusiasm flowing from the trading floor to the breakfast table? That in a few minutes, but first, the voting part of this election year is finally started - Iowa caucuses this Monday past. New Hampshire votes in a Republican presidential primary this coming Tuesday. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: At long last, actual votes. Does Donald Trump's win in the Iowa caucuses tip anything to you about New Hampshire?

ELVING: Trump's easy win in Iowa was what we expected - half for Trump, half for all the others. So even though turnout was way down from last time, the one big story out of Iowa was Trump. Will that sway New Hampshire to follow suit? Perhaps. But the Granite State has often been rocky ground for the Iowa winner. The results can be different, even contradictory. Some people like to say New Hampshire corrects Iowa, or at least edits it. So we'll see if Nikki Haley can breathe new life. Trump has been treating her like a threat this week. Still, it's hard to imagine anything that would keep Trump from wrapping up the nomination as early as March.

SIMON: And yet, Trump is on trial in almost as many states as he's running for the presidency. At some point, some court is going to deliver verdicts. What are the implications and complications you see for the campaign year?

ELVING: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next week on Trump's eligibility to be on the ballot, given his role in the January 6 riot at the Capitol. Was it an insurrection? Was it something Trump was engaged in? Some believe the answers to those questions disqualify him from federal office for life. But will this Supreme Court come down on that side?

Meanwhile, Trump is involved in two trials in New York that could cost him tens of millions of dollars, even hundreds of millions, and several criminal cases in state and federal court that could lead to felony convictions. Now, some polls say that would not affect Trump's hardcore supporters at all. They might even be catnip for them. But Trump also needs votes from beyond his hardcore base, and some polling suggests a court conviction might make at least some of his past supporters reconsider.

SIMON: Lights are still on in the U.S. government for another couple of months. How did Congress avoid the shutdown?

ELVING: Mike Johnson, the current speaker of the House, did what he had to do. He took the deal approved by the Senate and put it on the House floor, where it passed easily because it had support from Democrats as well as Johnson's own Republicans. How about that? Seems like a bipartisan success story, doesn't it? But similar moves by Johnson's predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, cost McCarthy his job last year. So far, the party rebels who went after McCarthy have not made a move against Johnson. But a shutdown will loom again in March, and the stakes will be even higher.

SIMON: Ron, elsewhere in the program today, we ask NPR correspondents from around the world about the state of democracy. And they say there has been an erosion in democracy in many parts of the world they cover, and America is less respected as a democracy since January 6, 2021. Do you think voters in America share that opinion?

ELVING: Today is January 20, Scott. We are one year out from the next inauguration day. Unprecedented numbers of Americans now say democracy is under pressure or under threat here in our country. A clear majority in both parties expresses anxiety about the survival of democracy. Republicans say democracy was wounded in 2020, asserting the election was stolen or compromised because, well, Trump says it was. Democrats point to Trump's statements about being a dictator, at least for a day, if elected again. And even independents worry that the culture wars and partisan animosity have reached a point of no return.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.