Trump’s political future

I have been wondering about Trump’s political future. These are the possibilities:

  1. He decides not to run again for the presidency.
  2. He runs for the presidency again in 2024 but loses the nomination to another Republican.
  3. He runs and wins the nomination but loses the election.
  4. He runs and wins the nomination and the presidential election.

What are the pros and cons and likelihoods of each?

  1. I think this is the most likely possibility. Trump has a lot of problems, especially legal ones, that might prevent him from running again. He faces multiple lawsuits and financial problems that will plague him over the coming years while he campaigns. He is also lazy and might begin to enjoy life playing golf all the time and putting in even the minimal effort to run for the presidency may be too much for him. Against this is his ego. He is clearly sulking and seething at his loss of power and that may not let him accept the label of being seen as a loser and drive him to run again. There is also the issue of money. While holding out the possibility of running, he can continue to fundraise and then divert that money to other purposes.
  2. This is the least likely, almost zero chance. The Republican party is in his clutches and no one has a serious chance of defeating him in the primaries. If he runs, he wins the nomination.
  3. This is the second most likely possibility. Trump carries a lot of baggage now and his running again will galvanize all the forces that united to defeat him in 2020, even though he got a record number of votes. While he generates a lot of devotion, he also generates a lot of hate. When he first ran, few (including me) thought he would turn out to be as awful as he was. Now we know. The horror at the thought of him becoming president again will galvanize even those who are usually apathetic and I feel that this will be a larger contingent than the Trump acolytes.
  4. This is the third most likely possibility. Historically, the only time a US president has lost a re-election bid and then come back four years later to win is when Democrat Grover Cleveland won in 1884, lost his re-election bid to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, but then defeated him in 1892. Democrat Martin Van Buren won in 1836, lost in 1840 and then ran again in 1848 with the Free Soil Party and lost, gaining just about 10% of the vote. While I see this option as less likely than option #3, I am aware that this may be influenced by wishful thinking on my part, since the thought of another Trump administration is almost impossible to bear. Given his seething rage at losing in 2020, one can well imagine that if he does win, he will wreak havoc in his desire to seek revenge on all those whom he blames for ‘stealing’ the election from him.

Steve Coll writes that ex-presidents find their influence waning rapidly after leaving office but that other members of their party will try to build on what they left behind in their wake.

Over the next four years, the post-Trump Republican Party will seek to consolidate the President’s voters in its electoral campaigns, even if his influence is diminished. Some will try it Trump’s way. In a brilliant survey of Republican officeholders and thinkers contemplating the G.O.P. after Trump, my colleague Nick Lemann cites the example of Trump adapters such as Josh Hawley, the ambitious young senator from Missouri—a banker’s son with degrees from Stanford and Yale—who warns against “a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities.” The internationalist, business-driven Bush-Romney wing of the Party faces a reckoning for which it may not be prepared, even if Trump’s personal post-Presidency turns out to be an inconsequential theatre of rallies, tweets, and far-right talk-show appearances, staged in between legal and financial battles.

The difficult thing about predicting what Trump will do is that while one can apply a rational calculus to the various options, he is driven by greed and ego and narcissism and that makes his behavior hard to predict, especially if those things happen to pull him in different directions.


  1. Matt G says

    In the “brilliant study” Coll cites, how were they able to find enough republican thinkers to get a statistically significant sample size?

  2. JM says

    Trump’s legal problems are actually a reason he might run. He is immune to most prosecution and lawsuits while holding office. If it looks like one of the criminal prosecutions is getting serious he could feel he has no choice but to run.

    You are right that he will hold out the possibility of running just so he can collection campaign donations. He will collect for himself and for Republicans in general and then keep as much of that money as he can. He will probably keep that going until he dies now and likely an organization working in his name will go past that. Hopefully they grift so much money from the Republican candidates that they are underfunded.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    What would be truly unprecedented would be if he attempts to run for president while incarcerated. I don’t think it’s particularly likely that he’ll see the inside of prison, but lots of unlikely things have happened over the last decade.
    They might get him for tax evasion. It’s clear, though, that his followers will happily overlook a shooting range worth of smoking guns and cheerfully believe he is the victim of a political witch hunt.
    Would it be possible for him to campaign through his familial surrogates and hope to get elected so he can obtain his “get out of jail free” card? I wouldn’t put anything past the man.

  4. nomenexrecto says

    Death by hamburger?
    He’s old enough and mad enough to scorn any competent medical advice. One can only hope…

  5. mailliw says

    Trump believes he is still president, so he cannot run again in 2024 as he will have already served two terms.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    brucegee1962 @ # 5: What would be truly unprecedented would be if he attempts to run for president while incarcerated.

    Eugene Debs did that in 1920, earning almost a million votes while a “candidate in seclusion,” in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for speaking out against US participation in World War I.

  7. robert79 says

    #5 — A Trump puppet (possible one of his kids) runs for president and wins, giving Trump an immediately presidential pardon, and literally taking his orders.

  8. robert79 says

    @5, 11 — Wait… you you can run for president while incarcerated, but you cannot vote?

  9. flex says

    @13, robert79,

    Welcome to America!

    While the qualifications to get elected to a government office do vary, they rarely include having the ability to vote.
    There are a number of examples of women running for different government offices before they were granted the right to vote. I can’t think of any who were elected, but that’s not my special area of interest in history.

  10. robert79 says

    So what… theoretically… would happen if an incarcerated person were to win?

    In the case of the presidency, they could pardon themselves, I guess, but what about other offices?

  11. nomenexrecto says

    robert79: Trump could only pardon himself from federal sentences, I believe. If he were sentenced under, say, NY state law, it would get really interesting…

  12. KG says

    Democrat Martin Van Buren won in 1836, lost in 1840 and then ran again in 1848 with the Free Soil Party and lost, gaining just about 10% of the vote.

    Well no wonder! Offering people free soil isn’t much of a bribe 😉

    What would be truly unprecedented would be if he [Trump] attempts to run for president while incarcerated. -- brucegee1962@5

    A man of convictions. He stands on his record.
    (Not my own -- according to Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test it was a slogan used by, or of, Ken Kesey, when he ran for some local office after being convicted of possessing marijuana.)

  13. KG says

    What would be truly unprecedented is if he dies -- and is then nominated by the Republican Party. I don’t feel this can be absolutely ruled out.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Sfaik, the first person to run for Congress while behind bars was Matthew Lyon of Vermont, who won re-election in 1798 while jailed for criticizing President John Adams (banned by the Sedition Act). He took his seat after serving the remainder of his 4-month sentence.

    The most recent such case (again, sfaik) was James Traficant (D-OH), expelled from Congress and imprisoned for bribery, racketeering and tax evasion in 2002, who ran for re-election that year from his cell (getting about 15% of the vote in a 3-way race).

  15. friedfish2718 says

    The Donald lives rent-free in Mr Singham’s mind.
    The Trumpster hired cleaners to vacuum out the dust (the Donald is germophobe) of Mr Singham’s brain.
    Melania is picking out drapes…

  16. KG says

    Trump’s political future is the subject of speculation and commentary from all political quarters -- if only because, although he has lost the Republican Party the Presidency and both Houses of Congress, that party is still utterly in thrall to him and his lies.

    So what does it say about you that you (a) refer to Trump as if he were some kind of deity, and (b) feel impelled to add your puerile evacuations to multiple threads on Professor Singham’s blog?

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