He will, however, continue to tease the possibility of a 2024 run — not just right now, but also for the next three years or so, perhaps right up to the Iowa caucuses in January 2024. There are a number of reasons why, but one stands above the others: As long as we think he might run, there’s still reason to pay attention to him and talk about him and act like he’s important.
While some presidents seem to enjoy the relative quiet of retirement, Trump will probably find it intolerable. From early in life, his need for attention was desperate and all-encompassing. An obvious narcissist, he requires regular public validation of his worth — his name in the papers, the cheers of his adoring crowds, those creepy North Korea-style White House meetings in which the assembled Cabinet members and aides take turns offering hosannas to the majesty of his leadership.
Come Jan. 20, he will be deprived of all of it. There will be no more rallies. Millions of Americans will cease caring about what he has to say. He will write angry, provocative tweets, yet news organizations will not write stories about them.
Meanwhile, he’ll be beset with other problems. He faces the prospect of criminal liability from cases in New York — and even if he pardons himself before leaving office, that would apply only to federal crimes. He has hundreds of millions of dollars in loans coming due. And the Trump Organization is likely to face a period of struggle.
Once he can no longer use government’s power to reward those who slip a few bills into his pocket, who would bother booking their events at the Trump International Hotel, or buy an overpriced membership at Mar-a-Lago? Now that he’s marked as one of history’s great losers, what foreign developer will want to slap the Trump name on a hotel and pay him millions in licensing fees?
So while it isn’t hard to imagine him trying to revive some pathetic version of his old scams as his need for cash becomes acute — maybe he’ll be on QVC hawking Trump-branded hair-care products — he knows enough about PR to understand that as long as another presidential bid remains a live possibility, there will be reason for the media to pay attention to him.
As will other Republicans. And that’s where he could really complicate things for his party. While it may be some time before we fully understand the legacy Trump will leave in the GOP, there are competing impulses right now for those looking to lead the party in the future.
Some (like Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska or Marco Rubio of Florida) will present themselves as the true face of conservatism, unsullied by too much loyalty to the loser ex-president. Others (like Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas or Ted Cruz of Texas) want to offer Trumpism without Trump, convinced that what the Republican base wants is a style of politics in which no goal is more important than Owning The Libs.
Whether you can achieve Trump’s success with primary voters just by being the biggest jerk around even if you have almost no charisma is something we’ll find out.
But Trump won’t risk another run. He can keep telling everyone that he really won the 2020 election and it was stolen from him by fraud (and he will, ad nauseam), but the prospect of yet another loss would be too frightening. Another run at age 78, after having been so roundly defeated this time, seems unlikely in the extreme.
Nevertheless, he’ll keep saying that he might run. And prospective 2024 Republican candidates will troop to Trump Tower to kiss his behind and seek his endorsement.
But the rest of us don’t have to pay attention to it. We can ignore his tweets and his call-ins to “Fox & Friends” (if they’ll still have him) and every other way he tries to keep a hold on our attention.
Indeed, that will be one of the great blessings of the coming years: Whatever else happens, paying attention to Trump will be not a requirement but a choice. Just imagine how liberating it will be to see him try to get us to talk about him and realize that we can just say no.