WASHINGTON – If President Trump loses his candidacy for re-election, as it increasingly seemed likely on Wednesday, it would be the first defeat for an incumbent in 28 years. But one thing seemed certain: win or lose, he won’t go away quietly.
After former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr Trump spent the day trying to discredit the election on the basis of fabricated fraud allegations, hoping to either cling to power, or to explain a loss. He could find a narrow path to re-election among the states that still matter, but he’s made it clear that he won’t back down if he loses.
At the very least, he has 76 days left to use his power as he sees fit and get revenge on some of his alleged opponents. Angry at a loss, he can fire or sideline various senior officials who did not fulfill his wishes as he saw them, including Christopher A. Wray, the director of the FBI, and Dr.Anthony S Fauci, the main infectious diseases of the government. specialist in the midst of a pandemic.
And if forced to leave the White House on January 20, Mr. Trump is likely to be more resilient than expected and almost surely will remain a powerful and disruptive force in American life. He received at least 68 million votes, five million more than in 2016, and secured around 48% of the popular vote, meaning he retained the support of almost half of the public despite four years scandal, setbacks, impeachment and brutal coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 233,000 Americans.
This gives him a power base to play a role that other defeated presidents in term like Jimmy Carter and George Bush have not. Mr Trump has long toyed with building his own television network to compete with Fox News, and in private lately he has addressed the idea of running again in 2024, when he would be 78 years old at that time. Even though his own days as a candidate are over, his 88 million Twitter followers give him a megaphone for being an influential voice on the right, potentially making him a kingmaker among emerging Republicans.
“If anything is clear from the election results, it’s that the president is hugely successful and he has no plans to leave the scene anytime soon,” said former senator Jeff Flake of the Arizona, one of the few Republican officials to break up. with Mr. Trump over the past four years.
This sequel could still allow Mr. Trump to complete a second term and four years in an attempt to rebuild the economy and reshape the Republican Party in his image. But even out of office, he could try to pressure Republican senators who have retained their majority to resist Mr. Biden at every turn, forcing them to choose between conciliating or breaking through his political base.
Until a new generation of Republicans take the plunge, Mr. Trump could position himself as the party’s de facto leader, with an extraordinary database of information on his supporters that future candidates would like to hire or otherwise access. . The allies envisioned other Republicans making a pilgrimage to his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida to ask for his blessing.
“It’s not as if his Twitter account or his ability to control a news cycle will stop,” said Brad Parscale, the president’s first campaign manager in that election cycle. “President Trump also has the largest amount of data ever collected by a politician. This will have an impact on races and politics for years to come. “
Exit polls have shown that, regardless of prominent Republican defectors like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and the Never Trumpers of the Lincoln Project, Mr. Trump has strong support within his own. party, winning 93% of Republican voters. He also did a bit better with black voters (12%) and Hispanic voters (32%) than he did four years ago despite his often racist rhetoric. And after his high-energy blitz across the battlefield states, late voters have broken his way.
Some of Mr. Trump’s arguments carried considerable weight with members of his party. Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic consequences, 41% of voters said they were better than when he took office, compared to just 20% who described themselves as worse off. Adopting its priorities, 35 percent of voters named the economy as the most important problem, twice as many cited the pandemic. A total of 49% said the economy was good or excellent, and 48% approved of their government’s handling of the virus.
“If defeated, the president will retain the eternal loyalty of the party voters and the new voters he brought into the party,” said Sam Nunberg, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign strategist. “President Trump will remain a hero among the Republican electorate. The winner of the 2024 Republican presidential primary will be either President Trump or the candidate who most resembles him.
Not all Republicans share this point of view. While Mr. Trump will undoubtedly continue to speak out and assert himself in the public eye, they said the party would be happy to try to overtake him if he loses and will be seen as an aberration. .
“There will never be another Trump,” former Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo said. “Copiers will fail. It will gradually fade, but the scars of this tumultuous period in American history will never go away.
Indeed, Mr. Trump failed to replicate his runaway success in 2016 when he won an Electoral College victory even while losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Despite all the tools of the tenure, he failed to pick up a single state he didn’t win last time around, and on Wednesday he had lost two or three, with a few more on the edge.
Other presidents expelled after a single term or less – such as Gerald R. Ford in 1976, Mr. Carter in 1980, and Mr. Bush in 1992 – tended to fall back into the political shadows. Mr. Ford briefly considered a comeback, Mr. Carter occasionally criticized his successors and Mr. Bush campaigned for his sons, but none of them remained significant political forces in their party for long. Politically, at least, each of them was seen to varying degrees as an exhausted force.
The last defeated president to try and play a power broker role after stepping down was Herbert Hoover, who positioned himself to run again after his 1932 defeat to Franklin D. Roosevelt and became an outspoken leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. While he wielded significant influence for years, it didn’t earn him the nomination or change the verdict of history.
For Mr. Trump, who cares about “win, win, win” more than anything, to be seen as a loser would be intolerable. On polling day, during a visit to his campaign headquarters, he reflected aloud about this. “Winning is easy,” he told reporters and staff. “Losing is never easy. Not for me it is not.
To avoid such a fate, the president sought Wednesday to convince supporters that the election was stolen simply because state and local authorities were counting legally cast ballots. The fact that this wasn’t true obviously didn’t matter to him. He was preparing an account to justify legal challenges that even Republican lawyers called baseless and, if unsuccessful, portray himself as a martyr who was not repudiated by voters but stolen in some way or another. another by unseen evil forces.
Mr. Trump himself has a long history on the other end of fraud allegations. His sister said he asked someone else to take his college entrance exam. The daughters of a Queen’s foot doctor have claimed their late father diagnosed Mr Trump with bone spurs to protect him from the Vietnam War plan in favor of his father, Fred Trump. And his business connections have often trapped him in allegations and lawsuits.
Young Mr. Trump paid students at his Trump university $ 25 million to settle the fraud charges. His charitable foundation was shut down after authorities discovered a “shocking pattern of illegality.” He was involved in questionable tax schemes throughout the 1990s, including outright fraud cases, according to a New York Times investigation. And Michael D. Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, wrote in a recent book that he rigged two online polls on behalf of Mr. Trump.
The president survived all of this and a string of bankruptcies and other failures thanks to a life of celebrity and populist appeals that gave him the aura of a winner that he nurtured. From his time in real estate and reality TV, he’s been a part of the country’s pop culture firmament for 30 years, a recurring figure in movies, TV shows and his own books.
He was, for millions of people, a symbol of aspiration and wealth gilded with gold. He starred in a popular TV series for 14 seasons, one that introduced him to the country long before he ran for office. And once he did, his boisterous rallies tied his supporters to him in a way that underscored just how much of a cultural phenomenon he is.
For months, as his chances of being re-elected dwindled, Mr Trump told advisers – sometimes jokingly, sometimes not – that if he lost, he would quickly announce that he would run again in 2024. Two advisers said they expected he would recover. on that statement if his legal challenges fail and are defeated, a move that, at the very least, would allow him to raise funds to finance the rallies that support him.
When he looked likely to lose his original campaign in 2016, he and some of his family spoke of creating a media property, loosely designed as “Trump TV.” Some of those discussions have continued this year, according to people who know them.
“There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest polarizing political figures in modern history,” said Tony Fabrizio, one of Mr. Trump’s pollsters. “His supporters adore him and his opponents vilify him. There is no common ground for Donald Trump.
Peter Baker reported from Washington and Maggie Haberman from New York.