I have been wondering about Trump’s political future. These are the possibilities:
- He decides not to run again for the presidency.
- He runs for the presidency again in 2024 but loses the nomination to another Republican.
- He runs and wins the nomination but loses the election.
- He runs and wins the nomination and the presidential election.
What are the pros and cons and likelihoods of each?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.