On Wednesday, Donald Trump became a former president, ensconced in Mar-a-Lago, blocked by Twitter and nowhere near the nuclear football. After 11 jarring weeks and five dead including a police officer, Joe Biden took the oath of office. The will of the people had finally been done.
As he departed Washington DC, Trump announced, “We will be back in some form.” His statement is both warning and prediction. Out of sight will not mean out of mind. The calendar, Trump, and his family will all see to that.
The Senate will soon grapple with Trump’s impeachment trial. Come the 2022 midterms, the spectre of Trump’s 6 January 2021 call to arms will continue to haunt. Beyond that, the Trump brand will play an outsized role in 2024’s nominating contests.
Recent reports have emerged of the 45th president forming a third party – the ‘Patriot Party’ – and the Republican establishment gulped. A competing Trump-helmed, white working class and Christian party would likely devastate the Republican party. He remains popular with the party’s faithful at the same time as Americans with college degrees continue to desert what was once the Party of Lincoln.
Insurrection comes with a cost, to a point. Despite the bloody attack on the capitol, seven out of eight Republicans approve of Trump, according to a recent NBC poll. Beyond that, he is the top choice for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. No one else comes close.
Against that backdrop, Mitch McConnell plays with fire as he entertains the possibility of Trump’s conviction in the Senate. As fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul recently reminded McConnell: if the Senate convicts, “a third of the Republicans will leave the party”.
Still, the probability of Trump actually bolting out of the Republican party is doubtful. The wounded and disgraced former president is more prone to use the threat of forming a new party to batter the Republican leadership into submission. Already, Senator Lindsey Graham is doing Trump’s bidding.
No surprise there. If the last four years have taught us anything it is that fear works, and that Trump is more popular among the party faithful than the suits who roam the halls of Congress.
For the moment, however, they can relax. A little. In recent conversations with the Guardian, those close to Trump’s inner circle and Republican White House veterans bet against the former television reality show host forming a new party.
As one source with knowledge of Trump’s thinking framed things, in all likelihood “he wouldn’t” actually do it.
Instead, Trump would simply “hint” at going his own way in the same manner as he “tossed/dangled running for president” for more than two decades before he actually pulled the trigger in 2015.
Trump’s motivation is more a matter of “letting off steam and not letting a marketing opportunity go to waste.” And then there is revenge.
An embittered Trump would likely fan the flames of internal opposition to his Republican foes. For example, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, an outspoken advocate of impeachment, is already facing a 2022 primary opponent and a move among House Republicans to dump her as party whip.
Although former Wyoming governors and judges have recently heaped plaudits on Cheney for her “courage”, none of the state’s current elected officials have leapt to her defense. In fact, the Republican committee of Carbon County voted for her censure. By the same measure, conviction of Trump by the Senate is likely to fail.
Looking ahead, another Trump re-election run is uncertain. What he does will likely “depend on what they do to him on impeachment and how much they diss him.” Right now the ex-president sits on a mound of cash that makes toppling him even more difficult.
Yet even if the elder Trump ultimately passes on another race, his namesake Don Jr is waiting in the wings. He is the Trump child with real political chops, and his connection with the party’s base is genuine. For Don Jr, the Second Amendment is more than an applause line and he comes by his rage naturally.
A Trump World insider framed things this way: “Don Jr is like W”, the 43rd president. In contrast to Jeb, who “played the political game and lost”, George W Bush “was the purist and defender of the family honor.”
For added measure, “Don Jr is even more hardcore and has the following.” Unstated is that the 43rd president’s sense of family honor helped plunge the US into a needless war in Iraq.
The lure and comfort of dynastic politics appears have taken root among Trump and his backers. The divisions that helped propel Trump’s 2016 upset are still with us. Even from the sidelines, Trump will possess an outsized voice. Don’t let the small crowd at Joint Base Andrew fool you. The hook brings you back.
Lloyd Green was opposition research counsel to George HW Bush’s 1988 campaign and served in the Department of Justice from 1990 to 1992