The most immediate concern, of course, is vengeance. Trump is preoccupied this weekend with attacking Republican governors who he sees as not doing as much as they should be to overturn their states’ elections to reinstall him as Dear Leader Because Reasons. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who is now being accused by Trump “lawyer” Sidney Powell of taking money to rig the election against Trump, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who called Joe Biden the “president-elect” on live television despite Trump insisting that every member of the Republican Party pretend that Biden didn’t win, so as to better prop up Trump’s anti-reality propaganda claims.
Trump has been threatening to campaign against Republicans who have wronged him even after he has left office, so this may be an interesting first test of those capabilities. Trump television labrador Sean Hannity and other pro-fascist pundits are eagerly following Trump’s lead in bashing Kemp, especially. Things may be different when Trump has fled to Mar-a-Lago, or they may not. One gets the feeling that Hannity, especially, finds Trump so enormously useful that he will let Trump dictate his show’s compulsions for years to come. Their relationship is, shall we say, fuhrer-ous.
Whether he has won or has lost, however, Trump genuinely believes himself to be the fascist leader of a Republican Party that has been remade around his own perversions, and both he and his allies have taken extraordinary steps to purge the disloyal and reality-based from both government positions and from positions in the Party’s leadership. Trump loyalist Ronna Romney McDaniel, the current Republican National Committee chair, has made it known that she intends to run to keep her position in January—with Donald Trump’s support. While she herself insists that she does not intend to use that post to help ensure that a Trump 2024 presidential run is boosted over that of any would-be Republican challengers, everyone who has allied themselves with Trump has proven to be unrelenting liars and few members of the party, if any, actually believe her.
That leads, then, to the elephant in the, er, elephant: Trump does seem quite interested in running for the presidency again, in 2024, or at least pretending to. The New York Times outlines some of the steps Trump has taken to keep Republican Party control in his own short-fingered hands for at least that long, and the difficulties the party will have in removing him. By diving down even into state Republican Party officials to install loyalists, Trump’s allies have attempted to ensure there is simply nobody of consequence left in the party who could stand up to him, even if someone wanted to.
That power, especially if abetted by a Trump-loyal party chair like Romney McDaniel, means the likely kneecapping of any Republican who imagines themselves a presidential contender, in 2024. They are all hostage to Trump’s own decision to run, or not to run. And it’s in Trump’s interest to “run” for the nomination whether he’s sincere about it or not. Trump is not relevant unless he expresses a desire for additional power; if there is anything Trump absolutely must have, as an addled malignant narcissist obsessed with nothing else, it is relevance.
Trump needs to run for office to maintain relevance. He also needs it to continue raking in cash from his base of compulsive deplorables; while he may not be able to spend that money directly on himself without risking jail time (not that such niceties were observed when he was running his now shut-down family “charity”), it will remain an essential resource for Trump’s myriad legal defenses. Expect Trump to bleed those campaign funds to pay whatever bills need paying, and approximately forever.
It’s absolutely assured, then, that Trump will at least go through the motions of a new presidential run, and likely before Biden has even assumed office. This will sabotage every other Republican contender, depriving the party of even the pretense of “moving on” from their fascist moment. It may or may not work to exacerbate the right-wing terrorism already threatening to erupt after Trump’s loss, but Trump will not give a flying damn about that.
In the end, however, Trump is Trump. He can operate only within the narrow limits of his own ability, and cannot, literally cannot, learn new tricks. He is played out.
The Washington Post gives us its own look inside Trump’s orbit and head, and there are no particular surprises. The Post confirms that Trump has told “confidants” that he may announce a 2024 campaign “before the end of this year.” And it gives an honest appraisal of what’s coming next.
“Trump also has been exploring ways to make money for relatively little work,” says the Post, “such as giving paid speeches to corporate groups or selling tickets to rallies. In addition, he may try to write a score-settling memoir of his time as president and appear on television, in a paid or unpaid capacity.”
Yeah, that sounds about right. Trump will do what he literally always has done: Find ways to make money without having to work, mostly by licensing his name to the highest bidder. We’ll likely get a new Book of Eternal Grievances, thanks to some ghostwriter willing to listen to him drone on for however many hundreds of hours that will take, which will be inflicted on us as pseudo-autobiography. And, most importantly, Trump intends to give shouting speeches to adoring crowds from now until eternity. It’s his thing. Without it, he would wither and die like that plant you just brought home.
What all this does mean, however, is that America’s fascist moment has not yet passed. It will continue, and with the same leader. The fascist moment will go on a speechgiving tour. The fascist moment will license itself to pillow brands and to miracle cures. The fascist movement may invent a new burger. But it will be back. There is nobody in Republicanism who will shut it down, and especially not after Republican lawmakers proved to each other, countless times, that if they were to stand up to condemn Trump there would not be a person among them who would rally to that side. They are loyalists not because they admire anything about Trump, but because their cowardice leaves them without any other option.
It is not hard to imagine every Republican that imagines themselves the next president will abandon those dreams, rather than face Trump’s insults. The 2016 crop of opponents, which included Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, shapeshifted into Trump sycophants seemingly effortlessly. The Republican Party is itself broken, no longer conservative but willingly ridiculous, deplorable, and fascist.
If there is to be opposition to a fascist return from the conservative right, it will come from a new party with a new name. Republicanism itself cannot, and will not, provide it.
There is another possibility, however, and it is one that the media is not piping up on except as hints and asides. Trump is facing unprecedented “legal” troubles because he is in unprecedented legal jeopardy. Journalists have uncovered a small mountain of apparent frauds and tax dodges, and ones that cannot be pardoned no matter how egregiously Trump misuses the ability. Attorney General William Barr has put the brakes to numerous investigations of Trump’s associates, many of which directly implicate Trump and his own family; those investigations are likely to resume, once Barr is removed from his post.
If Trump intends to stage a 2024 rematch, there is a nontrivial possibility he will be doing it while under indictment, or be recording his campaign speeches from a nation without an extradition treaty with the United States. The man is a walking crime spree. The Mueller report made it quite clear that he lied to investigators; the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn indictments have made it clear that Trump himself was either personally directing their criminal actions or was at least being made aware of them.
It’s not likely all that will be going away. But we cannot assume it, and it’s not a given. If America is going to turn back a tide of conspiracy-peddling, state-sponsored propaganda, political purges, in-office political crimes and cover-ups, calls for ethnic cleansing, violence on behalf of Dear Leader, and the rest of the fascist agenda conservative media worked diligently towards long before Trump himself captured the movement for his own self-absorbed ends, there will be no deus ex machina that does it for us. The U.S. conservative shift towards fascism did not require Trump, and it is certain to outlast him.