Most ex-presidents spend their time out of office playing golf, getting their libraries in order, making well-paid speeches, writing even more lucrative memoirs and biting their tongues about what the next guy is doing. Other than the golf, the road ahead for Donald Trump, a president who has never adhered to his office’s norms, will be unlike any other.
We know where he will not be when his term ends at noon on Wednesday — he’s the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to decline to attend his successor’s inauguration. But there is no clear answer yet on what he plans to do next. Even where he plans to live is potentially up in the air — though Trump says he’s moving to his Mar-a-Lago private club, some of his Palm Beach, Florida, neighbors are challenging his ability to live there full time.
In the near term and possibly longer, Trump’s post-presidential options will be circumscribed by the fallout over his Jan. 6 speech egging on the crowd that would go on to storm the U.S. Capitol, including a historic second impeachment. If he’s convicted at the upcoming Senate trial, he’ll almost certainly be barred from ever running for federal office again. For now, some of Corporate America’s biggest names are shunning the businessman president, “de-platforming” him on social media and cutting him off from certain professional and financial services. Tens of millions of his fellow citizens will continue to revile him, rendering the Trump brand toxic to half the country and harming prospects for his real estate, hotel and golf resort empire.
But tens of millions of other Americans are likely to form a durable base of support, making Trump a political force for years to come regardless of whether he seeks the presidency again. Deprived of his @realDonaldTrump megaphone and other online platforms, the former president will have to think of new ways to mobilize — and possibly monetize — his loyal followers. Though Trump will likely be frozen out of mainstream media opportunities, he could launch his own endeavors focused on his conservative base, perhaps a Trump network to go head-to-head with Fox News or a Trump social media site to compete with Twitter.
Of course, that’s assuming he’s not completely consumed by court battles once he leaves office. Even before the Capitol riot, he faced several lawsuits and potential criminal investigations. His unfounded claims of election fraud and possible incitement of the riot have only added to his legal risk. There’s a very real possibility that Trump could wind up in jail.
It’s probably not wise to count out Trump though. Widely dismissed after his 1990s Atlantic City casino bankruptcies, he came back strongly a decade later on “The Apprentice.” Then, when his ratings began to wane, he latched on to the racist birther conspiracy about President Barack Obama and built a new, right-wing audience that ultimately carried him into the White House. Even his defeat by President-elect Joe Biden was by a much narrower margin than polls had predicted.
As for that presidential library, normally a gleaming monument to a leader’s achievements? There are no public plans yet, but comedian Luke Thayer and former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci have made some suggestions in their spoof djtrumplibrary.com site, including a “Lie to America” exhibition and a “grift shop.”
Before the Capitol riot, it looked like Trump would remain the Republican Party standard-bearer, either running for president himself again in 2024 or acting as kingmaker in the GOP field. He was also expected to exact revenge against a long line of Republicans who crossed him, most notably Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who refused to try to overturn Biden’s election win in the state.
But some believe Jan. 6 changed all that.