US elections: What could be next for Donald Trump?

11:17 am on 10 December 2020

Analysis - Donald Trump yesterday sounded more defeated than usual.

US President Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on November 27, 2020.

US President Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on November 27, 2020. Photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images / AFP

"Hopefully the next administration will be the Trump administration," he told reporters.

Yet hope is all the president has left.

In January, after more legal cases tumble in the courts, Joe Biden will take office and Donald Trump will have to clear his belongings from the White House.

But what next for the man who styles himself as the ultimate winner?

He's yet to publicly address the question, but the consensus in Washington right now is that he'll run again in 2024; his narcissism would seem to demand it.

Such a move would not be unprecedented in American politics - in 1892 Grover Cleveland became the first president to serve two non-consecutive terms - but that was 1892.

Trump's refusal to concede in 2020 would make perfect sense if he were to later campaign on an "I was cheated" platform.

He cannot afford to be seen as a loser - "I'm 2-0" he boasted earlier this week, in the presence of a wrestling champion who compiled a 117-1 record.

Yet part of his cult is simply wrapped in his being president - without the title, much of his strength and immunity dissipates.

And four years is a long time in politics.

Between now and 2024, he'll face further investigations into his business practices, probes into his finances, and a landslide of legal fees.

A few weeks before the election, a bombshell New York Times investigation exposed the precarious state of the president's finances, and the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of debt that will soon come due.

His reputation may not be able to survive the blows.

Another issue will be how much the Republican Party attempts to distance itself from him.

Right now, Trump is the Republican Party - after his top-down presidency, the subservience of many top party officials and members of congress will dwindle.

It's already beginning to happen - in the past few weeks we've seen two of the president's most loyal allies, attorney general William Barr and former governor Chris Christie, step out of his enormous shadow.

US Attorney General William Barr and US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on 26 November 2019 in Washington, DC.

US Attorney General William Barr is considering stepping down from his role before President Trump's term ends next month, according to US media speaking to sources. Photo: AFP / 2019 Getty Images

Away from office, Trump's public comments will become even more off the wall and factually dubious - and many in the party will want to distance themselves from his conspiracy theories.

Yet he has a devoted following that cannot be shrugged off, and Republicans will be less inclined to alienate a significant portion of his 74 million voters.

Like him or not, his brand of populism is a phenomenon.

Many would tune into Trump TV - should he head down that path.

Insiders are already speculating the future former president will launch his own television channel - an Oprah-style network dedicated to running pro-Trump propaganda 24/7.

He may even purchase One America News or Newsmax - channels that already exist as such - and are far more bootlicking than Fox News.

Since 3 November, both have faithfully repeated verbatim Trump's rigged election claims, and risen in popularity because of it, thanks to conservative viewers desperate to piece back together their hearts.

In fact, the echo chamber that is Newsmax for the first time yesterday confirmed a ratings win over Fox News in a certain time slot.

Both One America News and Newsmax have never been regarded as formidable cable TV competitors - they still look like they're run by high school media clubs - but in the past few weeks have developed a faithful base of support.

And if he doesn't start Trump TV, it's inevitable he'll be a constant fixture on conservative shows, even putting his grievances aside to return for a regular slot on Fox News.

He has enjoyed too much of the spotlight for too long to turn it off.

Perhaps he'll return to reality television.

Perhaps he'll launch a new version of The Apprentice to select the next Republican nominee.

He also enjoys hosting rallies too much to stop - even if he doesn't run again in 2024, the campaigning will never end.

He has always revelled in his celebrity, and sought to increase and maximise his exposure as much as possible.

And so the least likely scenario is that Trump returns to focusing on his real estate ventures.

Or perhaps the least likely scenario is actually that he flees America.

During one of his final pre-election campaign events, he told a crowd, "Could you imagine if I lose? I'm not going to feel so good. Maybe I'll have to leave the country. I don't know."

We know he loves to play golf in Scotland.

Yet the idea of exile doesn't quite fit with a man whose reputation is tied up with being a fighter.

No matter the facts.

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