Of course, Donald Trump doesn’t plan to lose Tuesday, but what’s the future if he does? From court battles to road trips with his wife Melania, potential post-White House options are as unconventional as everything else about the 45th president.
Only a couple things are near sure.
One: Trump will not settle into a quiet elder statesman role or spend much time working on that traditional presidential library.
Two: unlike many of his predecessors, Trump has lived mostly outside politics and therefore might not mind — might even relish — getting out of Washington.
“I had such a beautiful life before,” he often says wistfully.
Everything else? Not so predictable.
– Trump TV? –
As a businessman, Trump’s inclination will be to use his extraordinary fame to make money.
The name “Trump” has been his main product for years. According to his disgraced former lawyer Michael Cohen, the 2016 presidential run itself was conceived as a “branding opportunity” — until he unexpectedly won.
But instead of more real estate deals, the next move might be into media.
No one can deny Trump has the gift of the gab. At his innumerable rallies, he holds large crowds in a kind of mesmerized attention with stream of consciousness shifts from conspiracy theories to jokes to pet peeves, like his peculiarly passionate criticism of feeble water pressure in bathroom faucets.
He sounds a lot like one of America’s right-wing radio talk show hosts. He’s also got form as a successful star in “The Apprentice” reality TV series.
Could he put those skills together into a Trump television?
Trump has hinted at this in his constant complaints about Fox News being insufficiently right-wing. Viewers, he tweeted, “want an alternative now. So do I!”
And he has a potential readymade vehicle for the project in the form of openly Trump-supporting cable channels One America News and NewsMax TV — current minnows that a Trump takeover could turn into giants.
– Courtroom? Prison? –
No less plausible is a scenario where an ex-president Trump is embroiled in serious legal problems.
The fallout from his 2016 campaign’s links to Russia could easily reignite, especially if Democrats capture the Senate.
Prosecutors in New York are already probing Trump’s hush money payment to a porn star, his tangled business dealings, and mysterious accounting practices. Then there are those old rape and other sexual assault allegations.
As president, Trump is largely protected from prosecution. Once out of the White House, he’ll be vulnerable, unless a president Joe Biden pardons him in the way Gerald Ford gave the outgoing Richard Nixon a blanket pardon in 1974.
Eight Trump associates, including men who served as his campaign managers, lawyer and national security advisor, have already been indicted or imprisoned for serious crimes.
– Run again? –
In Trump’s norm-warping world, an unlikely-yet-anything-is-possible option would be seeking the presidency again in 2024.
The constitution prohibits being president for more than two terms, but there’s nothing in the way of serving two non-consecutive terms.
Virtually always, incumbent presidents either win another four years, like Barack Obama, or retire gracefully after losing, like George H.W. Bush.
The only president to pull off the comeback feat was Grover Cleveland, who lost reelection in 1888 but won again 1892, defeating the man who’d beaten him previously, Benjamin Harrison.
If Trump loses next week, the Republican party could in theory act to erase the experience from its battered collective memory. But Trump is intensely popular with a radicalized base of voters, so it would be foolish to bet against him entirely.
As The New York Times’ veteran Trump watcher Maggie Haberman asks: “What will prevent him from continuing rallies? Who controls the trove of data he’s amassed? These and many other questions will live on.”
– Hit the road? –
Or maybe, just maybe, the 74-year-old would want simply to get away from it all.
However implausible this sounds, he has dropped a few hints.
In June at the White House he mused about taking a road trip in an RV with his former model wife Melania.
“Maybe I’ll drive back to New York with the first lady in a trailer,” he said. “I think I’m gonna buy an RV and travel around with our first lady.”
Less romantic but equally heartfelt, he paused mid-speech during a rally this week in Pennsylvania to admire parked trucks.
“Nice trucks,” the president said. “You think I could hop into one of them and drive it away? I’d love to do it, just drive the hell out of here. Just get the hell out of this.”
Where would he go?
He might of course head straight to one of his golf courses or towers. But while campaigning in Florida’s famous retirement community The Villages, he joked he might join the seniors’ ranks instead.
“I’ll move to The Villages. You know what? Not the worst idea. I like that idea. I like that idea,” Trump said.
And if bingo and water aerobics classes don’t suit, there’s a more extreme option.
“I’m not going to feel so good,” he said about the humiliation if he loses to Biden.
“Maybe I’ll have to leave the country.”