As a former president, will Donald Trump loom behind his successor like a shadow, blasting out criticism of Biden administration actions via Tweet and TV and in general serving as leader and rallying point for the Republican opposition?
Of course he will. At least, at first. President Trump does not seem like someone who will take up oil painting after he leaves office, as did George W. Bush. He’ll continue many of his current political activities – rally-like appearances, short televised interviews with favorite hosts, Twitter blasting – from Mar-a-Lago, or wherever he lands.
Given his grip on the GOP base, attention will have to be paid to his musings. The real question is whether that grip will endure after Mr. Trump loses the presidency’s bully pulpit.
After all, in terms of legislative policy congressional Republicans already don’t much listen to the White House. The Department of Defense authorization bill is set to pass both Senate and House by large margins despite the president’s threat to veto the bill. To this point GOP leaders have flat ignored Mr. Trump’s erratic positions on further coronavirus relief legislation.
Mr. Trump’s personal position in the party may weaken as well. Yes, that’s hard to imagine now, given that he’s supported by a vast majority of GOP voters. But the ambition of others could undermine him. There is a whole tier of party figures, from ex-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to Sen. Tom Cotton and even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who may see themselves as 2024 candidates. If Mr. Trump truly wants to be America’s shadow president, he may have his own side, as well as a rival in the White House, to contend with.
Mr. Trump’s presence as the party’s titular leader might become an impediment to other Republican wannabe candidates, after all – particularly if he insists that he’s going to run again in 2024. He’ll suck up big donor cash for Trumpian political purposes while relegating the others to a second-tier struggle, a sort of glorified veepstakes competition. They might not even be able to travel to Iowa or New Hampshire to test political waters – something some are already quietly doing – without being asked if they’re being disloyal to Trump.
Will there be a quiet quasi-conspiracy to ease the former president aside? Again, that’s hard to see now, given his popularity. But a couple of years is a long time in politics. The Republican Party hierarchy could look very different in 2022 than it does today.
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