Will post-POTUS Trump be the new Palin and slide slowly into insignifigance, or will he lead an actual right-wing insurgent movement that can cause genuine trouble? Or maybe both?
What we know: Right now, Trump appears to still be denying that he lost while simultaneously planning his comeback. He has grudgingly agreed to vacate the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden, but no one expects him to concede. Michael Cohen predicts he’ll spend Christmas at Mar-a-Lago and just not bother to return to Washington. There are also credible stories that he is planning to begin his campaign for 2024 at a big rally to be held during Biden’s inauguration. It’s also the case that a significant percentage — as high as 80 % in some polls — of Republican voters believe Trump’s claims of election fraud and do not consider Biden’s election to be legitimate.
All of these elements could destabilize U.S. democracy, especially if they continue for very long. (See Uri Friedman, The Atlantic, The Damage Will Last.) The question is, how long will they last? It’s possible that once Trump is out of the White House and no longer dominating nearly every news cycle he’ll slowly fade away.
A lot depends on news media. I have read in several sources that Trump fully expects to continue to dominate news media after he’s out of office because Joe Biden is boring. Maybe, but IMO the major media outlets are mostly going to be glad to be rid of him. It’s been gratifying to me that most news media has been quick to point out that Trump has no evidence of election fraud. Maybe they’ve learned something.
See Martin Longman, How Trump Killed Political Blogging, at Washington Monthly.
Political blogging was born in the Bush years, peaked under Obama, and mostly died in the Trump Era. The decline is partly explained by the mainstream media adopting some of blogging’s strongest features and hiring some of its talent—think Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent. But the most important factor is that straight journalists finally internalized that it’s part of their job to tell the reader when they’re being lied to.
The mainstream media didn’t see it that way when the topic was invading Iraq to deal with Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. The political press corps was tentative in combating Birtherism and the Tea Party’s response to the election of a black man. At times, they were still somewhat credulous and deferential with the Obama administration. Yet, it was Trump’s flurry of incontrovertible falsehoods that led the Washington Post to put the famed “Democracy Dies in Darkness” banner up shortly after his inauguration. Today, after four years of covering his presidency, straight news reports are blog-like in the way they chop down lies and contradict official statements.
Martin Longman compares news coverage of George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq to their coverage of Trump.
I try to imagine what it would have been like in 2002-03 if the Washington Post had written, “Bush said he planned to invade Iraq and said, without evidence, that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons. His foreign policy team has been widely mocked – and the United Nations inspectors have contradicted almost every claim as they’ve scoured the country in vain looking for weapons of mass destruction.”
However, even this year there was still a lot of “normalization” of Trump going on. See Aaron Rupar, Vox, NPR’s sanitizing of Trump’s Milwaukee rally shows how he’s broken the media from January 15, 2020. IMO the pandemic and Trump’s failure to respond to it changed something; it was a bridge too far. Mainstream media is done normalizing Trump, it seems.
Trump will still be the darling of One America News and Newsmax, but as I wrote earlier this week, those are rinky-dink outlets with no influence among powerful people. Will Fox News, the New York Post, and other Murdoch media continue to promote Trump? There’s been lots of reporting that Rupert Murdoch is no Trump fan, and much of the Murdoch media’s coverage of Trump’s post-election shenanigans has hardly been deferential to Trump. On the other hand, Trump may still be useful to Murdoch as a means to stymie the Biden Administration.
The Republican Party also needs to make a choice. It seems to me the GOP in the long run would be far better off without him. If he really does spend the next four years running for the 2024 GOP nomination it’s going to seriously screw with Republican chances that year. In the short run, though, his followers are just too big a piece of Trump’s base to blow off. It’s hard to know what they will do with Trump. They may not know themselves what they will do with Trump.
This is all leaving out the real possibility that Trump will be indicted and tried for serious crimes once he’s out of office. If that happens, this will give the Republican Party a graceful way to cut him loose, and I suspect most of the party will take advantage of that opportunity if it arises.
By 2024, Trump may be lucky to get a gig as a guest judge on Shark Tank.