President Donald Trump leaves the podium after speaking at the White House on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump leaves the podium after speaking at the White House on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Trump defied gravity; now falls back to earth, future TBD

  • Associated Press
  • Saturday, November 7, 2020 10:16am
  • Politics

By Jill Colbin and Zeke Miller | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, who defied political gravity with his extraordinary rise from reality star and businessman to the presidency, has fallen back to earth.

In the end, his flurry of raucous rallies, an unprecedented turnout operation and sheer force of will could not overcome the reality of his enduring unpopularity and a raging pandemic that has killed more than 236,000 people in the U.S. and thrown millions out of work.

Yet Trump’s acerbic brand of politics — his Twitter taunts, his vindictive drive to punish enemies, his go-it-alone approach to the world — made its mark across the far reaches of the government and beyond. And his better-than-expected election performance against Democrat Joe Biden suggests his impact is likely to resonate for generations in politics, governing and policy, even in defeat.

It remains to be seen what Trump intends to do after his term ends on Jan. 20. Retreat to the golf course? Launch his own television network? Lay the groundwork to run again? And how fiercely will he try to contest his fate?

“I would absolutely expect the president to stay involved in politics. I would absolutely put him on the short list of people who are likely to run in 2024,” Trump’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said in an online interview with the Institute of International & European Affairs. “He doesn’t like losing.”

Trump retains the megaphone of his Twitter account, a far-reaching Fox News platform and the unflinching backing of his loyal base of supporters, who may never accept his defeat after he spent months insisting there was no way he could legitimately lose and even falsely claimed premature victory.

President Donald Trump, center standing, participates in a round of golf at the Trump National Golf Course on Saturday on Nov. 7, 2020, in Sterling, Va. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump, center standing, participates in a round of golf at the Trump National Golf Course on Saturday on Nov. 7, 2020, in Sterling, Va. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

On Saturday, Trump declined to concede to President-elect Biden, instead promising unspecified legal challenges to try to overturn the outcome of the race.

Until a successor emerges to lead Republicans — likely not until the resolution of the 2024 Republican primary — Trump remains the de facto head of a party that he has reshaped in his image.

“Even in defeat, Donald Trump has exceeded expectations and helped other Republicans do the same,” said GOP consultant Michael Steel, who has worked on Capitol Hill and for campaigns. “He will remain a powerful force within the party.”

Still, Trump’s loss is likely to spark a reckoning over how much of Trumpism the party should embrace going forward, especially given that Republicans could retain control of the Senate and won additional seats in the House.

Had Biden won in a blowout, that would have put “wind at the back of a lot of Republicans who said character counts and the Republican Party should never put its faith into someone who pushed boundaries liked Donald Trump,” said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who served under former President George W. Bush.

But because it was closer, he predicted the party would likely “continue to be wracked with a split between insiders and outsiders, between the establishment and the Trump supporters who fault the establishment. And the soon-to-be former president’s role will be a huge question mark because if he decides to stay active, despite the close loss, he remains powerful and effective, especially for Republicans.”

In the meantime, it remains unclear whether Trump will accept the results of the election or continue to contest them as he spends the next three months as a lame duck president.

Those who know him well say there is little chance he will go quietly into the night.

“When Donald Trump loses there will never be a peaceful transition to power,” said Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer-turned-critic Michael Cohen. He predicted Trump would do everything in his power to claim the election was “stolen from him” by Democrats or other forces, just as Trump tried to sow discord as the votes were being counted.

Cohen said Trump was also likely aware that after losing the presidency he might “be served with a plethora of lawsuits, both federal and state.” Trump is already facing lawsuits that accuse him of sexual assault and defamation, and his Trump Organization’s finances are being investigated by New York’s attorney general.

Barbara Res, a longtime Trump associate who recently wrote a book about her experience working with him, speculated the president might leave the country before Biden’s inauguration and perhaps pursue his own media empire.

“He could put on whatever he wants. He could say whatever he wants. It’s almost like having Twitter explode into everything else,” she said.

As for the future for Republicans, Steel said the party would likely look to leaders who combine elements of Trump’s populist agenda with policies that appeal to a broader swath of the electorate.

“The challenge will be identifying the popular, durable, and practical parts of his agenda and marrying them to policies and arguments that appeal to the broader electorate that the party will need to win at the national level in the future,” he said.

Under Trump, the Republican Party fully embraced the populist wave set in motion by the Tea Party rebels in earlier years, shifting its focus from free trade and trickle-down economics to trade wars and an isolationist foreign policy.

His rise broke open a new path to the presidency, driven more by force of personality than policy, that echoed even as he lost the Electoral College vote. His nativist message and stoking of “culture wars” proved the power of the politics of division and hastened a generational political realignment.

While he deepened his reach with white rural and working-class voters with his economic and racial grievance-stoking, he also turned off college-educated voters in the cities and suburbs with his sometimes crass rhetoric and endless tweets.

Still, many Republicans believed he would have won reelection had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic and a widespread belief among voters that he mishandled it.

Some top GOP leaders believe that while so-called “Never Trumpers” may celebrate the president’s defeat, it is unlikely Republicans will be able to repudiate him completely, given how his stances on trade, immigration and foreign policy have resonated with voters and how close he came to clinching a second win.

It remains unclear, too, whether those who have flocked to the party because of Trump will remain engaged once he is no longer on the ticket.

The race for the 2024 Republican nomination has already quietly begun behind the scenes. A wide range of candidates are testing the waters, from moderates like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, to firebrands like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and former Trump officials like ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has become a particular favorite with the president’s loyal supporters on the campaign trail, meaning the Trump name could endure.

Fleischer said the party would likely be looking for someone with the blunt outspoken voice of an outsider who would at the same time refrain from going “so far that your tweets push people away that want to be for you.”

Many of Trump’s supporters see his influence continuing.

“We started something that is going to go on for generations,” said Chris Haluck, 56, looking out over a crowd of thousands at a recent Trump rally in Pennsylvania that she’d attended with her 17-year-old daughter.

Indeed, as Trump has traveled the country, his campaign has inspired a new generation of supporters who have been organizing their own events outside the campaign infrastructure.

They include “Loud Majority Long Island,” which has been drawing thousands to car parades in New York, a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Matt Vereline, who joined fellow group members at a recent Trump rally, said that even if Trump loses, the group intends to continue its efforts, with a focus on local politicians, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We want to oust Cuomo, of course,” he said. “And we want to oust de Blasio. We’re going to try to organize.”

More in Politics

Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, left, and Democrats Patrick DePoe, center, and Kevin Van De Wege, all candidates for state Commissioner of Public Lands, met before the Port Angeles Business Association on Tuesday to discuss their priorities for leading the Department of Natural Resources. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)
Fires are top priority for Commissioner of Public Lands hopefuls

Candidates want to increase state harvests

League of Women Voters sets candidate forum schedule

Hopefuls for state seats, county commissioner position invited to debate

From left to right, State Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, state Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, Port Angeles attorney Graham Ralston and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, all candidates for Washington’s 6th Congressional District, appear before the Port Angeles Business Association on Tuesday to answer questions about their priorities for serving in Congress. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)
Congress hopefuls meet for a forum

Candidates to focus on bipartisanship

Clallam PUD candidates cite costs as top priority

Three hopefuls line up for six-year board position

More candidates join local races

Third declares for state Senate seat

Packed races begin to emerge

Political hopefuls file intent to run

Heather Dudley-Nollette.
Bayside director to run for Jefferson County commissioner

Heather Dudley-Nollette seeks District 1 seat

Port Angeles City Council hopefuls Kate Dexter and Travis Berglund answer questions during a Port Angeles Business Association forum Tuesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)
Port Angeles mayor to run for county commission

Dexter has supported climate action plan, affordable housing

Emily Randall, left, and Hilary Franz.
Stalwarts take sides in race for Kilmer’s seat

A growing constellation of Democratic Party influencers are choosing sides in the… Continue reading

Online learning keeps rising among state’s K-12 students

Online learning for Washington’s public school kids is here to stay. That’s… Continue reading

Jefferson County turnout tops in state

More than half registered voters handed in ballots

Battle narrows to Biden and Trump

Tuesday’s primaries give each the delegates needed for a November contest