Instead, Trump—and his all-powerful Twitter feed and fundraising list—might become the party’s most reliable megaphone and kingmaker, akin to the role Sarah Palin played in 2010 amid the rise of the Tea Party after her 2008 defeat as John McCain’s running mate. In that sense, it’s possible that the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential race would actually be the most MAGA-friendly GOP primaries yet, conducted almost entirely on a stage designed by Trump himself, with supplicants parading through Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring and an entire generation of GOP stars molded in his image. And that’s even before considering the Trump family’s direct influence—say a titanic Ivanka vs. AOC campaign in New York for Chuck Schumer’s Senate seat in 2022 or Donald Jr.’s campaign for Congress (or even the presidency) in 2024, as he becomes the next-generation MAGA standard-bearer.
This path of influence might prove one of the most stable visions ahead, assuming a relative level of normalcy from a man who has time and again demonstrated anything but. In fact, this entire piece and its imagined premise of a Trump post-presidency assumes that Trump and those around him at least superficially, if not graciously, accept a loss and that he is content to just grumble loudly from the political balcony à la Statler and Waldorf in The Muppets.
There are darker visions and scenarios in which Trump never does accept a 2020 defeat, is pushed reluctantly from the White House in January, and moves to assume some more explicit mantle of a wronged leader-in-exile. Al Gore, after his acrimonious defeat, traveled across Europe and grew a beard, rather than setting up an opposition government in the lobby of the Willard Hotel across from the White House. But imagine if he had wanted to contest the election long past inauguration day?
Imagine that on January 21st Kayleigh McEnany begins broadcasting regular press briefings from the Trump Hotel a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House; picture the 45th president hosting congressional leaders in a replica Oval Office reconstructed inside his hotel to plot GOP strategy and rail against the injustices done his supporters, using Twitter to stoke ongoing protests and MAGA-nation resistance across the country and touring to show up at boat parades and host his signature rallies. What if Trump wakes up each day attempting to explicitly—not just passively—undermine a Biden domestic policy at home and foreign policy overseas? He could go as far as even appointing his own “shadow cabinet,” fundraising off his aggrieved fan base as they underwrite his most loyal aides like Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, who would also be out of office alongside Trump and casting about for how to chart their own political future. They could hold their own political meetings, press conferences and appear every night on Fox to stir the national political pot.
Rather than being able to focus on combating the pandemic and restarting the economy, Biden could find himself consumed on a daily basis by responding and batting away Trump’s latest conspiracies and complaints, and the nation consumed by an unprecedented roiling, low-grade political insurgency unlike anything the country has ever experienced. One open question, though, is how much hold does a defeated Trump end up having on the nation’s attention as time goes by? What seems wild on January 21 might become background noise by late February. As one media expert said to me, “The question is how much people stop listening to him?”
A Media Venture (But Not An Empire)
Almost no matter his approach to his successor—merely disgruntled or actively hostile—Trump will surely want to be listened to, which is why he might look for a platform to keep himself in steady communication with the national movement of the disaffected he’s fostered over the last two years as he seized and remade the Republican Party.
“He should go…