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DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: Bannon's "Precinct Strategy" On Display In Clark County, Nevada; Civil War Expert: Trump's "Big Lie" Puts U.S. On A Perilous Path; Sen. McConnell Calls For GOP Candidates To Honor Election Results. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 25, 2022 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: News continues, here on CNN, with Jim Acosta, and DEMOCRACY IN PERIL.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you very much.

I'm Jim Acosta. And this is DEMOCRACY IN PERIL, our special series, to sound the alarm that American democracy is still very much in danger.

And tonight, we'll dig into how former President Donald Trump's forces are purging state and local Republican Party operations, across the country. It's, of course, happening at the national level too, as Trump is picking and choosing his favorite Big Lie peddlers, in key contests.

That's happening under the watchful eye of Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who was urging his party, to forget about the 2020 election, in a new interview, with CNN.

I'll have a lot more, to say about how McConnell's words are too little too late, coming up, in my Hold On segment.

The big question though, is what happens if our midterm elections, later this year, are thrown into chaos, as GOP candidates simply act like Trump, and refuse to admit defeat? The warning lights are blinking red that this could happen.

Right now, the Trump Owned Party, as I like to call it, is executing a strategy, to seize control, of the TOP, from the bottom-up, and reshape America's elections. It's been dubbed, the precinct strategy.

And guess who's the cinghiale driving this hostile takeover?


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: We're taking action. In that actions, we're taking over school boards, we're taking over the Republican Party, through the precinct committee strategy. We're taking over all the elections.

We're going to take over the election apparatus.

American citizens that are volunteering, they are now going to volunteer again - to go to become a precinct committeemen. They're going to volunteer, to become an election official. They're going to come and run for county clerk, and overthrow these county clerks. They're going to take over the secretaries of state.

We're going to take this back village by village. Precinct by precinct.


ACOSTA: "We're going to take over the election apparatus, take over all the elections," the battle cry, from Insurrection braveheart, Steve Bannon.

Bannon, who appears to have as many political lives, as he does shirts that he wears at the same time, served in the Trump White House, until he was fired, and then he was charged, in federal court, with trying to defraud Trump supporters, until he was pardoned by the former President.

He's under indictment now, for contempt of Congress, because he wouldn't honor a subpoena, from the January 6 committee.

Amazingly, he is still running a podcast, chumming the waters, in Trump World, with red meat hysteria that the election was stolen, when it wasn't. It's a lie.

ProPublica, an investigative journalism outlet, broke down how Bannon has convinced thousands of Trump loyalists, to run for positions, in local politics, influencing who serves on election boards, school boards, as well as other critical county and state party positions, stuff they think you're not going to notice.

To measure the Bannon effect, ProPublica interviewed GOP leaders, in 65 Key counties. And 41 reported an unusual increase in signups. The green dots, on the map, show where at least 8,500 new Republican precinct officers joined those county parties, since Bannon went on the warpath.

And look at this chart. ProPublica found the number of precinct committee members, in Arizona's largest county, Maricopa, surged, after Bannon issued the call for the far-right takeover, of that area's Republican Party.

Yes, Maricopa is where that bonkers Cyber Ninja audit was held that ultimately wasted everybody's time, because it concluded once again that Biden soundly defeated Trump there.

Of course, this Big Lie nuttiness is not just playing out in Arizona. Wait until you hear the twisted tale, from Nevada GOP politics.

You're about to hear firsthand from a witness to his - what happened, in his backyard, this latest episode, of a Trump tsunami, a former GOP Chair of Nevada's crucial Clark County, home of Las Vegas, where he says party leaders have been inviting the Proud Boys, yes, the Proud Boys, into the tent, until he wasn't able to stop it.

But first, let's turn to one of the lead reporters, on this massive ProPublica piece, Isaac Arnsdorf.

Isaac, thanks so much for joining us. This all sounds like a sneak preview of coming attractions, "Insurrection Two, The Sequel." At its core, what's the plan?

ISAAC ARNSDORF, REPORTER, PROPUBLICA: The plan is exactly like you said, Jim. Take over the Republican Party, from the bottom-up, at the local level.

But the reason this is important is because that local level, we have locally-run elections, in this country. That's really where the rubber meets the road. And people usually don't realize this, or don't think about this. And every state's a little different. So, it's a little hard to keep track of.

But the people, who run the polling precinct, the people who sit on the board that sets the rules, for the election, in the county, and that certify the results, in the county? Usually, they get there, through the County party.

When something weird happens, on Election Day, someone makes a complaint? It's the County party chair, who shows up, to try to resolve that. In some places, the County party controls who actually even gets on the ballot.


So, what this movement is targeting, what they're doing, by filling these County party positions, with people who believe that the last election was stolen, and they need to stop that from happening again, is they're then putting themselves, in position, to use the powers, of those county parties, to directly influence how elections are actually run.

ACOSTA: And, I mean, how influential is this Bannon podcast, this War Room podcast that he's doing, even while under indictment? I mean, are there that many Trump GOP officials, who are watching this, and following his every word? Or, is that overstating things?

ARNSDORF: Well, I talked to a number of county chairs, who all of a sudden started getting these calls, about people wanting to become precinct chairs, and really had no idea why all of a sudden, this little-known position was suddenly in such hot demand. But it was because of Bannon's show. That's where people got this idea.

And the fact is that that Bannon's podcast, even though he's been kicked off YouTube, it remains one of the most popular podcasts, on Apple's platform, in the country. And it has hundreds - more than 100 million downloads, on Podbean, which is one of the services that tracks this.

ACOSTA: Yes, it's amazing. I was checking this out, the other day, because I was curious. Can you still find Bannon's podcast, on your iPhone, and in the Apple Podcasts? And you can, amazingly, despite the fact that Bannon was instigating an insurrection, before January 6.

And what is the real-world danger that we're talking about here, Isaac?

ARNSDORF: I think one way to think about this, is if people remember the images, of people, demonstrating outside counting facilities, right after the election, in 2020, people threatening election workers, and ultimately, people marching to the Capitol.

A lot of those same people, in the months that followed, have gone into these Republican Party positions, at the county level.

And that means that next time around, by virtue of those party positions, they're actually going to be inside the room, inside the polling precinct, inside the counting facility, in a position, to influence the casting, counting and certification of ballots, in ways that they just didn't have the infrastructure, to do before.

ACOSTA: And Isaac, Democrats have not caught on to this? I mean, are they trying to stop this? Or are they trying to get in there, and make sure that, that they have their own forces standing by?

ARNSDORF: Again, I think part of what's hard about this is, everywhere is different. And people just aren't familiar with these county boards, or these - you know, sometimes it's called the Election Inspector. And sometimes, it's called the Election Judge.

And it's hard, at a national level. These aren't tracked anywhere, centrally. That's why, I was left to just, calling around. Well, what are the places that really matter? And how do we know if this is happening there? And so, it's just hard to keep an eye on, from a bird's eye view.

ACOSTA: Yes. Well, it's flying under the radar, right now. But thanks to you, and ProPublica, not as much, under the radar. So, thanks for that.

Isaac, standby. We're about to get another reminder that what happens in Vegas can happen anywhere in America.

We're talking about Clark County, Nevada, the state's largest county, where advocates, of this precinct strategy, seized control of the Republican Party. A takeover backed, in part, by the Proud Boys.

Yes, the same Proud Boys that Trump told to stand back and stand by. A stance parroted by the man now in charge, of the Clark County Republicans.


JESSE LAW, CHAIR OF CLARK COUNTY, NV REPUBLICAN PARTY: I don't know who they are. You know, when the President was asked if he'd disavow, he said no. And if the President is OK with that, I'm going to take the presidential stance, right? I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Now, we reached out to Jesse Law, multiple times, the man you just heard, in that piece of sound there. He did not get back in touch with us.

But fears of violence, forced county officials, there, in Clark County, to cancel meetings, and ultimately call in police protection, because the situation was unraveling there.

I want to bring in the former Chair of the Clark County Republican Party, David Sajdak.

David, thanks so much, for being with us. We appreciate it so much.

So, what happened? Your successor was able to gain control of the local party there, with the help of the Proud Boys? Do we have that right?


They started their own organization, an offshoot, and called it the CCRP, the Clark County Republican Party. They stormed our meeting. I happened to be outside the tent, listening to Mr. Law, instruct his followers.


And most of them didn't know who I was. So, I was standing, on the side. And heard him instruct people, to say, "Hey, just take this form, fill it out, and you're automatically a member." And that's not how the process works.

And he said, "Don't let them stop you, and just storm the doors." And that's what they did. They had about 300 people out there. And they stormed the doors. And they stole our bracelets, for voting, and forced their way, into the meeting, and just created extreme chaos. So much so that, I think, it was 13 SWAT officers had to be called in.

ACOSTA: Yes. It sounds like a little mini insurrection there in Vegas.

SAJDAK: It absolutely was. And it was bullying and intimidation at the best. And it was at the direction of the State Chairman, because Mr. Law is his personally-appointed guy. And they were the ones orchestrating it.

ACOSTA: And these are volunteer positions. Did you ever think you were going to need police protection, to do your civic duty, to get involved in local politics?

SAJDAK: No, sir, I didn't. I came to make a difference, and discuss policy, and talk about how to govern better, and to work together better. Not to have my family and my wife and myself threatened, repeatedly. And my friends and my supporters.

ACOSTA: What's that been, like? You said, you and your family have gotten threats. SAJDAK: Yes. They actually call my wife, more often than me, and tell her to go back to Mexico, and how she's not welcome here, and, in some pretty vile language.

They threatened one of my friends, who has been pretty active, and told her to get bulletproof underwear. And they threatened to kill her.

So, these are not nice people. And they're not here to govern. They're not here to talk about policy. They're not here to help.

We got our Republican Secretary of State, the only statewide officer, Barbara Cegavske, who stood up to them. And they sent the Proud Boys, to the state meeting, to censure her, because she dared stand up to them.

Because, she's there to enforce the law, not to, kowtow to one side or the other, and make things up.

ACOSTA: And we noticed that there's a Republican candidate, for Secretary of State, in Nevada, Jim Marchant, I hope I'm saying that correctly, who went on, Steve Bannon's--

SAJDAK: You are.

ACOSTA: --Steve Bannon's show. He went on Steve Bannon's show recently, and made some nutty statements, about George Soros.

Let's watch.


BANNON: You can't believe Nevada.


BANNON: Nevada, there's not amateurs. It's like the gambling. It's professional.

MARCHANT: Very professional.

Like I told you, and tell everybody, George Soros, started this, in 2004, with a machine, and a plan. And they accomplished it.


ACOSTA: Yes, David, what is going on, with your party, right now? You have people floating George Soros conspiracy theories. I guess it does go to show you that the party is heavily influenced, by the likes of Steve Bannon, and there's just no two ways about it, right now.

SAJDAK: Well, there's a number of normal moderate Republicans that are dead-set against this. But when you bring thugs and bullies, into it, it makes it very difficult, to govern, for either side.

Mr. Marchant is clearly supported by the State Chairman, and was right next to them, when they did the false electoral certification that they sent up, to the federal government, saying that President Trump won the state.

And make no mistake, I supported President Trump. I think his policies were fantastic. He did help the economy, dramatically. But this is not the way to govern. And some people are being very poorly-served. And I don't think he understands the magnitude of what's happening in the field. And this is just not a way to win.


SAJDAK: You do voter registration drives. You get out there. You work. You tell your side of the story. And you engage folks. You don't - you know? And both sides got to knock it off too, Jim. I'm sorry.


SAJDAK: But there's much on their side, as there is on our side. It needs to go back to some semblance of normal. We need to govern. We need to help the country. We need to help folks that need help, and move on.

ACOSTA: I have to respectfully disagree with you there. I mean, it was the Trump Republicans, who stormed the Capitol, Trump supporters, who stormed the Capitol, on January 6. We will get into a debate on that.


ACOSTA: But if we keep seeing episodes--

SAJDAK: They did, exactly.

ACOSTA: If we keep seeing episodes, like this, though, that you experienced, there, in Clark County, happening in other places, around the country, what are the national implications for that?

SAJDAK: I think they're important for everyone. You can't govern, by this method. And you don't win, by this method.

You're not going to get - especially, in a state, like Nevada, which is trending Democrat, I think, it's plus-four Dem, plus-five Dem, you have to have moderates. You have to have people on the other side, to win the state.

You're not going to thug your way, through a victory. And the current State Chairman hasn't won in 10 years!

If you were a football coach, you know? I don't know if you watch any of the football games, James.



SAJDAK: But a whole bunch of football coaches just got fired. I'm from Buffalo, by the way. So, please send your condolences. They played a great game.

ACOSTA: Yes, they did. They did.

SAJDAK: They didn't win.

ACOSTA: It doesn't always work out your way.

SAJDAK: I know.

ACOSTA: And Isaac, just quickly, back to you. This sounds like what you're hearing, all across the country?

ARNSDORF: Exactly. And what really strikes me about David's story, is they couldn't hold a vote. He had to shut down the meeting. The threat of violence actually prevented the democratic process from working. And in that case, it was the Proud Boys, and it was David.

But, in other places, it's QAnon followers, or Oath Keepers, or people who marched on January 6. And it's people like David, who are being forced out of the party leadership.

ACOSTA: All right, Isaac, and David, thanks very much, for what both of you have been doing, to call attention, to all of this. It's very important. We appreciate it.

SAJDAK: Thank you.

ARNSDORF: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thank you very much.

It is hard to believe. So many still believe Trump's Big Lie. But we're about to dig into why they do, and what the lack of trust, in the 2020 race, could mean, for the midterms, and 2024.

The great Donie O'Sullivan, he's on the case. There he is! He's coming up, next.



ACOSTA: Mark Twain once remarked how easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again. Mark Twain was right.

More than a year, since Trump left office, the Big Lie has only gotten bigger. As CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, shows us, it's taken on a life of its own.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you're seeing, and what you are reading, is not what's happening.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Donald Trump's relentless attacks, on the truth, has eroded faith, in American democracy, and its institutions.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): You don't trust the election officials?



O'SULLIVAN (on camera): You don't trust the FBI?



O'SULLIVAN (on camera): You don't trust the courts?


O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Who do you trust?

SEDJWICK: Trump and his supporters.


SEDJWICK: And anybody that hasn't - that when I listen to them talk, they don't turn my stomach, with the disingenuousness.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Do you have trust and faith now, in American democracy, in American elections?

JEANIE JOHNSON, FLORIDA: No. I mean, I think whoever wins, wins. I'm all about that. He will win, if he runs again. But the people that know that we were cheated, are almost at the point of saying, "I don't want to vote, because it'll happen again."

Because it'll happen again.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): What is your reaction, to hearing, from an American, like that?

BARBARA WALTER, AUTHOR, "HOW CIVIL WARS START": Well, 10 years ago, it would have been shock and disbelief. And I would have thought, "Well, she's an outlier. And she's not representative of anything larger than a fringe movement, maybe." But of course, that's not the case anymore.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Barbara Walter is a professor at the University of California in San Diego. She has studied civil conflict for years, from Yugoslavia, to Northern Ireland.

WALTER: Experts, who study civil wars, and know the warning signs, we've been talking about them. But nobody wanted to believe it.

And January 6, made it impossible, to deny and ignore, that there really was this cancer, growing, in our own country.


WALTER: There was a threat that was mobilizing.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): She warns the constant barrage of lies, undermining American elections, from right-wing media, on social media, and from Trump himself, has put the United States, on a perilous path.

WALTER: Citizens do believe what they are hearing. And if they hear it long enough, and consistently enough, and if that's all they hear? They absolutely don't think it's a lie. They think it's the truth.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Will you trust the next election?

GARY ROBERTSON: Probably not.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): But that's a terrible thing, right?

ROBERTSON: Oh, yes. It's terrible thing.

LARRY: I don't think you can trust our government anymore. It's sad. But I really don't think you can.

DAN SUDNICK: That's what Trump is all about, in making the elections in the future, fairer. So, we can believe, when you vote for somebody, that person's going to get your vote.

WALTER: You know, they're good people. They're trying to do what they think is right. It's the leadership that's cynical. It's the leadership that knows better, who's feeding them lies, consistently.

TRUMP: They always talk about the Big Lie. They're the Big Lie.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): While, just 30 percent of Americans, think there is solid evidence that there was widespread fraud, in the 2020 election, 62 percent of Republicans say so. Looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections, only 42 percent of Republicans say there's somewhat or very confident the results will be counted accurately.

WALTER: They're priming their supporters to believe that democracy isn't worth defending, because they don't want democracy anymore.


ACOSTA: And Donie O'Sullivan, joins me now.

Donie, great piece, as always.

I'm kind of curious. When you talk to these Trump supporters, do they have any ideas, for an alternative, to democracy? I guess, maybe, it's dictatorship?


ACOSTA: To Trump dictatorship?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, Jim. I mean, we've spoken to, I guess, now hundreds of Trump supporters, all across the country, over the past year, and, since the election.

And we have heard, from people, along the way, when there was a coup happening, in Myanmar last year, people, kind of, Americans, Trump supporters, looking to that, saying, "Oh, that would be great, if we had that happen here, and Trump was put back in power."

What I did notice, being at Trump's most recent rally, in Arizona, a few weeks ago, was we spent so much of the past year, hearing fantastical claims, about Venezuelan voting machines, and bamboo paper, and everything else, and that's how the election was supposedly stolen.

ACOSTA: Right.

O'SULLIVAN: The messaging seems to be a little bit more disciplined now. And we're hearing less and less of that from people, and more support, more just straight support, for those restrictive voting measures that Republicans are putting in place, at the state level.


So, what we're seeing now, is the base has been laid, where there's all these conspiracy theories, people truly believe some of them. Some of them really truly believe the election was stolen. Some of them know it's a talking point and know better.

But some people, I think, as you saw, on that piece, people literally draped, in the American flag, believing this kind of stuff. And that is now, they're giving their support, to these kind of restrictive measures, we're seeing, across the country.

ACOSTA: Well, thank you, for what you do, Donie. It's, I hope, deprogramming some people, one person at a time. But great work, as always, Donie. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

O'SULLIVAN: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Good to see you.

And Mitch McConnell is making some headlines today, for his warning, to GOP candidates, running on Trump's Big Lie.

And though that sounds good, I will argue, in just a few moments, it's kind of too little too late. Hold on for that, next.



ACOSTA: Today, we found out Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, told CNN's Manu Raju that he's encouraging GOP candidates, for Congress, to honor the election results, in this country, saying, quote, "It's important for candidates to remember we need to respect the results of our democratic process unless the court system demonstrates that some significant fraud occurred that would change the outcome." I guess, it's nice, for McConnell, to say that. And it echoes some of the cautions, to the party that we've heard from him, in the past, like when he blamed Trump, for the insurrection, but voted to acquit the former President, during the impeachment trial.

Now, I can hear all of you guys, saying, right now, "Mitch, please!" McConnell has had a year, to clean up this party. And frankly, he's blown it.


JOSH MANDEL, (R) FORMER OHIO STATE TREASURER: We need to get rid of this January 6 Commission, and replace it with a November 3 Commission.

This January 6 Commission is a total sham and waste of time. If they want to focus on something, how about focus, on the election cheating, by the Democrats?


ACOSTA: That's Josh Mandel, Republican, running for an open Senate seat, in Ohio. His main primary opponent, is J.D. Vance, who tweeted out, he's just picked up the coveted endorsement, of Marjorie Taylor Greene. All of the sudden, she's become the QAnon Kingmaker!

Don't forget, she was at the White House, in December of 2020, she said, to explore ways, to overturn the election results.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Just finished with our meetings, here at the White House, this afternoon.

We had a great planning session, for our January 6 objection. We aren't going to let this election be stolen, by Joe Biden and the Democrats. President Trump won by a landslide.

Call your House reps, call your senators, from your states. We've got to make sure they're on board. And we already have a lot of people engaged. OK, stay tuned.


ACOSTA: "Stay tuned!"

Unfortunately, for Mitch McConnell, the Trump Genie is already out of the bottle.

Apologies for the mental image, Trump dressed up, like Barbara Eden, from "I Dream of Jeannie." It was either that, or the "Trump toothpaste is out of the tube," which doesn't work either. I mean, who would buy Trump toothpaste?

But wait, there's more. Republican candidates, for Congress, are running on the Big Lie, big time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF JIM LAMON, (R) ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: If you mess with a rattlesnake, you'll regret it. But politicians never learn. They want total control. So they lie, waste our money, rig our elections, open our borders.

REP. BILLY LONG (R-MO): I was one of the first, to support Donald Trump, for President. He made America great. But the Democrats rigged the election.

BERNIE MORENO, (R) OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: An entire system, rigged against the people. President Trump says the election was stolen. And he's right.


ACOSTA: It seems like the GOP talking points, for the upcoming midterms, are already rigged, against our democracy.

You'll forgive me, for being a bit skeptical, of McConnell's appeals, for Campaign Kumbaya. He's backing Senator Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, who questioned the 2020 election results, before admitting, privately, to a Democratic activist that Trump lost.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): There's nothing obviously skewed about the results.


ACOSTA: And McConnell declined to call out Alabama Republican Congressman, Mo Brooks, who is running for the Senate, in that state, after infamously appearing, at the January 6 "Stop the Steal" rally.


REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.


ACOSTA: Now, I tried catching up with Mo Brooks, last year, in case you missed it.

But he took no names, and he kicked no ass. He just rode off on his bike!


ACOSTA: Answer the question.

BROOKS: I do not trust you all to be truthful or honest.

ACOSTA: What? It's on-- BROOKS: With anything CNN does.

ACOSTA: --it's on video.

BROOKS: See you.

ACOSTA: If you can just talk to us, for a moment?

BROOKS: Oh, you guys will lie through your teeth, any chance you get.

ACOSTA: Well? Give you the chance to come on, if you don't mind.


ACOSTA: There he goes! Bye-bye.

So no, this is not a profile in courage, from Mitch McConnell. More like a profile in calculation.

Still, more Churchillian than what we have seen, from Texas senator, Ted Cruz, who recently groveled, for forgiveness, on Fox News, for stating accurately that the insurrection was a terrorist attack.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: You called this a terror attack, when by no definition was it a terror attack. That's a lie. You told that lie on purpose.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy, and it was frankly dumb. And, as a result, it's--

CARLSON: I don't buy that. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

CRUZ: Well, hold--

CARLSON: I don't buy that for a - look, I've known you a long time, since before you went to the Senate.

You were a Supreme Court contender. You take words as seriously as any man who's ever served in the Senate. And every word - you repeated that phrase. I do not believe that you used that accidentally.


ACOSTA: It still hurts, to watch that!

Since then, Senator Tail-Between-His-Legs has been spreading this Tucker Carlson-branded manure that there was some kind of FBI plot, to instigate the attack, on the Capitol, and blame Trump supporters.

They pointed to a man named Ray Epps, who has denied all of this, something stressed by the January 6 committee. There's no proof of any of it. But Cruz has become Tucker's talking parrot, perhaps native to the coast of Cancun. Birds of a feather!


It's just another nutty Trumpy conspiracy theory. And therein lies the problem, for McConnell, and much of the Republican Party.

Check out this invite, obtained by the "Washington Post" Josh Dawsey, of an upcoming GOP fundraising event.

Yes, it's for the party's "Sring Retreat." Yes, you read that correctly. They seem to have misspelled the word, "Spring." Scheduled to speak, are Trump, the House Minority Whip, Steve Scalise, and somebody named, the Honorable Kellyanne Conway.

The problem for McConnell, and the GOP, is that it's "Sring Time," for Trumpism and the Republican Party, while our democracy is stuck, in the winter of our discontent.

Sure, Mitch McConnell. We are ready to respect the results, of the democratic process. But you guys go first.

And when we return, how the culture wars are also contributing to the erosion of democracy, by pitting neighbor against neighbor. We'll shine a light on that, next.



ACOSTA: Virginia's new governor, is asking neighbors, to tune in - excuse me, to turn in other neighbors, not for criminal activity. No. It all stems from the GOP's latest culture war obsession.

In office, less than two weeks, Governor Glenn Youngkin has already set up an email tip line, for parents, to report teachers, for teaching, quote, "Divisive" subjects.

He spoke specifically, about his concerns, over race, in history.


GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): We're going to get critical race theory and other divisive... inherently divisive teaching practices out of the schools.


ACOSTA: And this tactic of pitting citizen against citizen is not just happening in Virginia.

Recall the anti-abortion law, in Texas that the Supreme Court has allowed to remain in effect. It allows anyone, to sue another person, for helping someone, seek an abortion, in the state.

In fact, it seems Republican leaders have gone, all-in, on dividing the country, in many ways. Just listen to them.


It's past time, for America, to discard the left wing myth of systemic racism.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Biden wants to literally make millionaires, out of people, who have violated federal law.

They want to cut seven-figure checks to illegal border crossers.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Look out, Mr. Potato Head. You're next!


GAETZ: I'm sorry. I think now he's going by Potato Ex!

Mr. Potato Head was America's first transgender doll. And even, he got canceled!


ACOSTA: Maybe he shouldn't be making comments about Mr. Potato Head. It's just a thought there.

Now, this is not just empty rhetoric. The new culture wars are impacting our laws. And some experts fear, they could be weakening our democracy, just as badly as the Big Lie.

Here, to discuss, Molly Jong-Fast, Contributing Writer, for "The Atlantic," and Author, of the newsletter, "Wait, What?"

Molly, I seem to remember Glenn Youngkin campaigning, in a fleece vest, in Virginia. He was running as a different kind of Republican. I was told there was going to be a vest. Not a Soviet-styled police state, across the Potomac, from Washington.

MOLLY JONG-FAST, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC, AUTHOR OF THE NEWSLETTER "WAIT, WHAT?": Yes. It's really weird. He was elected. He wouldn't let Trump come and campaign with him. He sort of pretended to be this kind of non-Trumpy Trump.

And then, as soon as he got in there, he started, taking away masking, in Virginia public schools. He started with these teacher hotlines, where you can rat out your teacher. I mean, he's really gone full Ron DeSantis, right away.

ACOSTA: And it's not just Youngkin. A recent report shows there are dozens of new proposals, opening pathways, to punish teachers, teaching things that parents don't like. Why doesn't this upset the traditional conservative tenets of liberty, anti-censorship and freedom?

I guess, if you want to cancel your teacher, you just have to email the Governor, in Virginia, and, I guess, rat them out, in other ways, in other states? JONG-FAST: Well, Republicans have really always been sort of into canceling teachers. Remember, in the 60s and the 70s, you had a lot of banned books and libraries.

This is sort of one of those tropes that we're going back to, in this new Republican Party. I mean, banning books is never good. You never want to be on the side, that's banning books.

The good news, though, is that it is getting some kids, who might not otherwise be, into libraries. I mean, there is a little bit of excitement of the idea that there are books that are so dangerous, that if your kid reads them, they will somehow become a Democrat!

ACOSTA: That's right. Rebelling against your parents, by going to the library? I never did that one as a kid. But, we could start a trend!

And Youngkin's efforts, as we said, very reminiscent, of the Texas abortion law, where residents are turning each other in. How concerned should we be, about these laws that seem to be catching on of, citizens ratting each other out? It's like canceling your neighbor, across the street, or next door.

JONG-FAST: Well what happened with that Texas SB8 law was that the Supreme Court made a decision by not making a decision. And they said, stare decisis doesn't matter, if we agree with the principle. They sort of said this passively. "If we agree with the principle of the law, we don't care how crazy it is."

So, instead of overturning it, which a lot of court-watchers, even on the very conservative side, thought would happen? Instead, they let it stand.

So now, the message was, if you're a conservative governor, and you want to pass a crazy law, you have - remember, Trump has installed a third of the Supreme Court. So, you have a kind of blank check, to do whatever you want. And I think it - I think we're going to see more laws, like this.

And I think we're going to see these Blue states and Red states are going to be very, very different, because these Red states have no incentive to stop being Trumpy. They're just going to race and become Trumpier and Trumpier.

ACOSTA: Yes, no question about it.


All right, Molly Jong-Fast, I would never snitch on you, by the way. Just, would not happen. Thank you so much, for being with us tonight. We appreciate it. Great to see you.

JONG-FAST: Thanks for having me.

ACOSTA: And we told you, last night, about the rigging of electoral maps, the gaming of the system, for partisan advantage. It's only been getting worse, and further dividing America. But there are some possible breakthroughs, to combat new gerrymandering attempts.

A Reality Check with John Avlon. There he is, right there. He's on the case.


ACOSTA: It will still be a few more months, before all state houses, settle on their new congressional maps.

But the Brennan Center for Justice is already calling this redistricting cycle, "One of the most abuse laden in U.S. history," based on the way some states are entrenching racial discrimination, and partisan gerrymandering, into their maps.

Still, there are some notable instances, where recent reforms, and federal courts, are keeping partisans, in check.


John Avlon has tonight's Reality Check.

John, it sounds like maybe a silver lining, or some good news, mixed in here?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR, AUTHOR, "WASHINGTON'S FAREWELL" AND "WINGNUTS": There must be a pony in here, somewhere! Let's see if we can find it, Jim.

ACOSTA: Must be.

AVLON: All right, look, the rigged system of redistricting, is one of the prime drivers, of our democracy's dysfunction. And it's going on right now.

See, only once a decade, after the census, do congressional maps get redrawn. And we're once again seeing how cynical these professional partisans can be. But we are also seeing unexpected signs of hope, in places where dogged citizen-driven reform efforts, seem to be working.

Now, we're seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly, in American politics, on full display. And the jury's still out as to which one will carry the day.

Just yesterday, a federal court threw out proposed congressional maps, in Alabama, drawn by the Republican state legislature, to have only one Democratic district, out of six seats. Court annulled that's likely violated the Voting Rights Act in a state that's one-quarter Black. And that's not the only pushback.

This month, the Ohio Supreme Court threw out an even more absurd partisan gerrymander, where Republicans tried to push through a congressional map, where all the two or three seats, out of 15, would be Republican, despite Democrats actually having a registration advantage, in the state, and voters adding nonpartisan redistricting reform, to the State Constitution, in 2018.

Now, luckily, Republicans - Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, joined with Democrats, on the bench, to stop this blatant attempt, to override the will of the voters.

So yes, these reforms can work, if they're given half a chance.

Take Michigan, where "One of the country's most gerrymandered political maps has suddenly been replaced by one of the fairest," to quote "The New York Times." A ballot initiative pushed was passed over party-driven instruction.

And while the results don't benefit any one party? That's kind of the point, people. They set up a fair fight. Competitive general elections. What a concept!

It means that the politicians, running in those seats, won't simply be able to get away with playing to the base. They'll actually have to reach across the aisle, and win over the reasonable edge, of the opposition, which is how democracy is supposed to work.

But that's exactly what's been under systematic attack. The incentive system, in our politics, is all screwed up, by design. And that's why the parties are preoccupied, with these purity tests. They don't seem to give a damn, about working together, to solve common problems.

You don't believe me? Let's dig into the data. According to The Cook Political Report, there were 164 congressional swing seats, in 1997. That's a plurality with competitive general elections.

Now, fast forward 20 years later, you see that number is down to 72, with Republican safe seats skyrocketing to 195, and Democrats to 168. And if we don't do something, it's going to get much worse. Exhibit A is the cracking, Republicans are trying to pull off, in Tennessee, right now.

Now, it's important to remember that the real divides in American politics are not actually Red state versus Blue state, as much as they are urban versus rural. For example, it might surprise you to learn that the vast majority of southern cities voted for Joe Biden.

Take Nashville, it voted almost two to one for Biden over Trump. It's a fast-growing city. And so, State House Republicans are trying to push through a map that would effectively divide Nashville's Davidson County, into three districts, to dilute the county's minority vote. That's the purpose. That's the point.

And yes, Democrats play the partisan power grab game as well. Take a look at two of the 10 House Republicans, who had the courage, to impeach Donald Trump, Adam Kinzinger and John Katko.

Now, they put country over party. But Democrats, in Illinois and New York, rewarded their courage, by threatening to redraw their districts. And both men decided not to run for reelection as a result. That's a real loss for our democracy.

As these battles play out, in state after state, we should see how many of our partisan divides, are being exacerbated, by design.

It's no wonder, we've learned, in recent weeks, about how the Trump administration tried to politically influence, the census count, to benefit Republicans and redistricting. According to workers, at the Census Bureau, they were literally trying to rig the count, in their favor. That's as ugly as it gets.

The rigged system of redistricting is at the root of so much of our division and dysfunction. But we've seen that nonpartisan reforms can work, and restore more competitive seats, in Congress, which will incentivize, our representatives, to work across the aisle.

So no, election reform, isn't some wonky, distant thing. It gets to the heart of our democracy, if we have rules that reinforce our patriotic obligation, to put country over party.

And that's your Reality Check.

ACOSTA: Sounds good to me, John Avlon. Let's do it now!

AVLON: Let's do it!

ACOSTA: Let's do it!

Appreciate it so much. Thanks, John.

AVLON: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: We'll be right back.




Join us tomorrow, as we examine the secretary of state races, emerging, as a flashpoint, for the midterms. It's a very important part of all of this that you need to watch.

And "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.

How are you, Don?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: You have 2022, which is coming up. And so, we're going to see what happens with all of these laws that are taking place, across America. And then, that is a precursor to what happens in 2024.

Our democracy is in peril. The question is, can it withstand the two upcoming elections? Especially Jim, the one, coming up, in 2024, where we might have the former guy back in the mix?

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, one of the things, Don that people are sort of having a guessing game about, is whether or not Trump is going to run for president. He is essentially - he's pretending, to run for President, right now. So, it doesn't make any difference.

And one of the things that we hear Don, or maybe you hear it too, is "Oh, you guys! You're so - you're so obsessed with Trump. You talk about Trump all the time. Why?" Well, if he is the leader of the party, and--

LEMON: Trust me - trust us, we don't want to! But go on.

ACOSTA: Yes. And we don't want to. No, we would like to - but I call it the Trump Owned Party, the TOP.