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Waiting For Trump To Go

[ Posted Thursday, December 17th, 2020 – 17:49 UTC ]

What will the political landscape look like after Donald Trump leaves office? That question is on a lot of people's mind right now, for obvious reasons. Everyone who voted for Joe Biden wants the entire country to move on and move forward, obviously. But even a lot of Republicans truly hope that the post-Trump world arrives sooner rather than later. What's standing in the way, however, is Trump himself, who shows no signs of fading into the background any time soon.

Will Trump immediately announce he's running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination? Will he bide his time and announce on a more-traditional schedule (say, after the 2022 midterms)? Or is it all just a bluff -- will he decide not to run at all? Nobody knows. Probably not even Trump himself, at this point.

One of the factors usually not mentioned in all this is how the campaign finance system is set up. If Trump does make good on his threat to hold a rally on January 20th to compete with Joe Biden's inauguration, and Trump uses it to throw his hat right back in the ring, then he'll have to form an official campaign apparatus and solicit donations for it. But the rules for campaigns are a lot stricter than they are for what Trump already just set up -- a "leadership PAC." Money give to a PAC can be used a lot more freely than campaign cash, so Trump's accountants and legal team might just convince him that this is the smart way to go, at least for now. This would mean he'd only get to tease the idea of running at his rallies, but he certainly knows how to do that sort of thing effectively, so it wouldn't be that big a reach for him.

Will he eventually either get tired of the idea, or be distracted by some new role (such as television personality with his own opinion show, either on Fox News or on one of the other ultra-conservative networks)? Maybe just complaining loudly from the sidelines will keep him happy and pay his bills. He certainly knows how to do that, too, because before he took his infamous escalator ride, that's what he was doing anyway. All he'd have to do is go back to doing so, except this time he'd be a professional gadfly instead of an amateur one.

Either way -- if he ultimately does decide to run or if he's content to just yell at everyone from the sidelines -- he's going to have an enormous impact on the Republican Party for probably at least the next four years to come. Most GOP politicians are already terrified of Trump's wrath, or more precisely terrified at the effect Trump has on their own voters. So the party seems almost destined to be nothing short of a pro-Trump party for the next few years. Which is a big problem for all the Never-Trumpers.

All the Republicans who essentially turned their coat this year and helped Joe Biden beat Trump are now reportedly wondering what to do next. Should they continue to go after Trump's most fervent followers in the Republican Party? Should they try to convince sitting Republicans to work with Biden to get good things done? Or should they just bite the bullet and make the attempt to form their own political party?

That last one is pretty drastic, mostly because it never seems to work out in America. Third parties come and go, and normally they form to follow one charismatic individual (think: Ross Perot, or Ron Paul). Here, the situation is reversed. Trump's already taken over the Republican Party from within, and what the Never-Trumpers really want is a party that is not just a personality cult. They're problem is that they have no real idea how many voters would respond to such an option. If they formed, let's say, the "Constitution Party" (or whatever), and even recruited a bunch of sitting GOP congressmen and senators to join it, would any of the voters follow them? Or would it be a very short-term experiment that crashes and burns? Most third parties do, after all. We haven't seen the rise of a truly viable, long-lasting new political party since the Civil War, after all. So why would this time work out any differently?

The Republican Party right now exists only to feed Trump's ego and assuage all his many complaints and rages. That's really it. "The election was stolen!" he whines, so all other Republicans have to echo him: "The election was stolen!" -- whether they really believe that to be true or not. Trump vents about something bizarre, and they've got to back him up or else face his online wrath. The core platform of the Republican Party is now nothing short of: "Whatever Donald Trump wants, he gets." That's pretty pathetic, but it's also largely true.

It's also pretty dangerous, because nobody knows what bugaboo Trump is going to chase next. It's impossible to tell what will set Trump off. The only thing that seems certain is that he'll be carrying a gigantic grudge against Joe Biden and the Democrats (that one seems like a pretty safe bet). But whatever Trump wants, he gets. So whatever crazy windmill-tilting he chooses to engage in is going to consume the Republican Party, at least for the first few years.

There are really only two things that could change this: Trump loses influence, or Trump dies. If Trump dropped dead in a month, then maybe the fever would break and Republicans would go back to their standard agenda and issues. Even that's not a certainty, though -- there are multiple Trump family members who are also eyeing politics as a future hobby. Maybe there'd even be an internecine power struggle between them all, beginning right after the funeral. So even the death of the Dear Leader might not change things as much as some people now think. And Trump certainly looks like he could easily stick around for another 10 or 15 years -- it's not like he's on his deathbed or anything.

The only thing that will cause Trump and Trumpism to fade away is if his fan base shrinks to the point where it's no longer an overwhelming threat to all the other Republicans. As long as a majority of Republican voters still strongly support him, the party has no hope of getting beyond him in any way. But that could actually fade, over time. Say Trump gets a television show and is on the air every night. It'd be lots of fun for him, because it'd stroke his ego in all the right places. But what would happen if, after a spectacular launch, Trump's show starts to slip in the ratings? He will be out of power, so he will have much more limited opportunities to effect any real change in politics. He won't command the attention of any other media networks, either, at least not in the way he does now. Trump would be relegated to the company of Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs. Both have their fans, but nowhere near as large a following as Trump has been enjoying for four years. Will Trump settle for such a smaller audience? And what happens when people just get tired of his same old schtick over and over again?

There are two other big ways Trump could lose influence as well. Once Joe Biden becomes president, Trump's Twitter account will revert back to the status of "private citizen" once again. And that means Twitter will be free to police him as often as necessary. They carved out a blanket exception from their content rules for public figures, on the theory that even if the president of the United States is lying or saying something threatening (or any of the rest of the usual Trumpian online antics), it was still "newsworthy" and therefore couldn't be banned. But as a private citizen, they will be free to take any and all action against him they deem fit -- up to and including shutting down his account for good. Without Twitter, Trump may still be able to reach a large audience online, but it'll be a lot smaller than before.

The other way Trump could be silenced is if he's in jail, of course. But even if this does actually happen, it's not going to happen any time soon. Please remember that Trump is the ultimate master of using every trick in the book to delay legal proceedings against him. He'll file motion after motion and appeal after appeal, and drag any court case out so long that he could run for president again before he has to sit in a courtroom to answer for anything.

Trump losing influence and losing his own power base is really the only thing that's going to save the Republican Party from continuing to be nothing more than a personality cult, though. The only problem (for Republicans, mostly, but really for all of us) is that nobody has any idea how long that will take. His base is pretty fervently committed to him now, and so far shows no signs of deserting him at all. If that continues after the election, then Trump will be the ultimate GOP kingmaker at least until the midterms. All GOP candidates will be required not just to kiss his ring, but to wholeheartedly support whatever Trump's rage-of-the-day happens to be about. In other words, exactly what we have now.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Waiting For Trump To Go”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    In paragraph 7, please change "They're problem is" to "Their problem is." It hurts my eyes real bad.

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    The Republican Party right now exists only to feed Trump's ego and assuage all his many complaints and rages. That's really it.

    Well, Biden is apparently, looking for Republicans to appoint to his administration so that he can fantasize about it looking like America and him being the President of Everybody. I hope this terrible idea does not come to fruition. The only way it could be good is if he appoints a sitting GOP senator from a state with a Dem governor to be Ambassador to Planet Nine.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Sure Trump has played our system of so-called justice all his life. But there are a staggering number of legal and financial issues facing him. Do you think he'll get much better legal representation than his "elite strike force" of lawyers who are 1 win 59 losses last I checked? What top drawer lawyer is going to sacrifice their career for this un-American wannabe Dictator? Lots of Repugs hate Trump, to boot, so when the knives come out there will be a lot of blood.

    And (shhhh!) we still have the Deep state on our side.

  4. [4] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Red Hat = Sucker!

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    If Trump does make good on his threat to hold a rally on January 20th to compete with Joe Biden's inauguration, and Trump uses it to throw his hat right back in the ring, then he'll have to form an official campaign apparatus and solicit donations for it.

    What? Anyone can announce a rally and then spew word-salad at whoever shows up, without actually having a campaign for anything -- even if the word-salad sounds as though they're saying they do.


    I still think there's too much emphasis being put on Trump. The problem is the millions of people who like everything Trump stands for, and constitute a majority of Republican primary voters. They'll still like it after he's gone.

  6. [6] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    For some reason, I've been putting a lot of hope on the idea that Twitter will shut him down. I don't know why, as they have benefited tremendously from the free publicity his tweets give their platform. Maybe they're sick of him, too, by now?

    Another angle you didn't explore is the possibility that much of the press and media might decide to just, well, ignore him. Sure, his personal outlets will continue to cover him, from Fox to the weird ones. But if the regular, respectable political press simply don't cover or report his outrageous, ridiculous, pathetic, or criminal commentary on the Biden administration, I suspect he'll be surprised, hurt, angry - and unable to do anything about it, as his protests will equally go uncovered, or noted on an inside page in the second section (and equivalent space in media platforms). He is, to a very large extent, the creation of the mainstream media, and they have the power to make him largely go away from the actual political discourse and governance of the country starting this winter.

    And the Biden administration could certainly help here, by letting all the right people know who gets the inside access to actual Washington information and face time - people who readily admit in public that Biden is the legitimate president, and who publicly don't give ex-President Trump the time of day in their campaigning or their reporting.

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