The interregnum-before-the-transition seems to be calming down – not enough for the federal government to actually respond to (or even acknowledge) the COVID-19 crisis, of course, but enough for Noted Republicans to Furrow Their Brow Earnestly. Sen. John Cornyn, for example, has apparently stopped waiting for Puerto Rico’s 0 electoral votes to be registered and has acknowledged Biden’s incipient presidency. Cornyn is #2 in the Senate before Mitch McConnell, who was too busy holding last-minute votes on judges to express a preference. For his part, early this morning Trump tweeted a simple, plaintive “I WON THE ELECTION!”, to which Twitter immediately appended a somewhat droll correction, “Multiple sources called this election differently.”
Histrionic tweets aside, Biden’s ascension now appears to be a foregone conclusion, short of a military coup, Biden’s falling to COVID, or the sweet merciful meteor of death coming to take us all. No doubt literally everyone reading these words, including myself, wish fervently that finally, then, that is the last time we will ever, ever EVER have to hear from the distinctive voice of Donald J. Trump.
HA HA HA HA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA hee.
The Trump administration being what it is, pretty much everyone is leaking what Trump is planning to do once he finds himself outside the Oval Office; specifically running for President immediately (it worked for Grover Cleveland) so that he can keep doing those rallies he loves so much, and also, you know, calling in to his favorite media shows where they dote on his every word and throwing out random conspiracy theories just to keep everyone entertained – ideally on his own television network. In his own words, “it’s the Trump Show, and it’s a number one hit!” (EVERYTHING to Trump is about television, because Trump cannot read.)
For this to happen, there are a few wolves at the door that need dispatching, and some of them will need to be shooed away in the next two months. How (or if) Trump is capable of doing this will dictate if his post-Presidential attire is a silk suit at Mar-A-Lago, or an orange jumpsuit at Rikers Island.
First, his legal liability, which is considerable. Trump appears to have a long-running tax case with the IRS which could turn into a fraud conviction (since, as famously noted, Trump er, hasn’t actually PAID any tax since approximately forever). There’s also the many crimes committed while in office, including obstruction of justice, accepting emoluments from foreign leaders, and the minor detail of trying to coordinate his 2016 campaign with Russian operatives. (As Mueller notably detailed, Trump didn’t actually succeed at this, but this is primarily because his people were too stupid to successfully coordinate anything.) The Steele Dossier, which has been widely (and mistakenly) debunked for the one way-out-there reference to watersports, lays out the case for Trump’s open collusion in great detail, much of which has yet to be disproven.
All this is to say that Trump is absolutely going to want a Presidential pardon. There is a minor problem here in that Trump is actually the President, and legal opinion generally holds that a President cannot pardon themselves. This is a question Trump has asked advisors repeatedly FOR NO REASON IN PARTICULAR, and he may well try to do it anyway and try to litigate it to death. Other options are less likely: the much-mooted quick resignation to allow Vice President Pence to sign the pardon will almost certainly not happen, because it would absolutely 100% be the end of Pence’s political career. Trump may try to get Joe Biden to do it, because where other people have shame Trump has gummy bears, but that is, to put it gently, unlikely to happen (Biden’s base would justifiably explode in rage). He thus may just leave without any pardon and just assume he can fight off any federal prosecution. It’s not a safe bet, but Trump is not a smart man.
Even if he does get a get out of jail free card, the fine print reads “only good for Federal offenses”, and two teams of New York prosecutors are already well along in cases (state tax fraud and, most likely wire fraud involving the Turkish Halkebank). Trump is going to have a legal team on speed dial for the foreseeable future. He will need to pay them. In advance.
That brings us to the second wolf (inside Trump there are two wolves, it was a really bad transporter accident), that Trump is broke. In fact, you have a LOT more money than Trump does, and that includes your student loans, because Trump owes somewhere south of a billion dollars. He does have considerable assets – it’s a good bet he’s never going to set foot in any of his New York buildings ever again, so they seem like easy sales – but they aren’t terribly liquid (who wants to buy office buildings this year again?). Some have theorized Trump could “write” a book, in the same way he wrote other books before the Presidency (by yelling at a ghost writer for a week and then taking credit for the sales), but let’s be honest – Trump’s fans, like the man himself, aren’t big readers. No one’s going to buy a Trump post-presidency book looking for big surprises or juicy scandals. They already know what he’s going to say because he can’t shut up on Twitter for more then 15 seconds.
So that leaves Trump’s true love and the thing that resurrected his career – television. He flirted with One America News during most of his presidency, but it turns out he’s almost certainly leaving them at the altar for even more conspiracy-driven Trump-ride-or-die Newsmax. His lawyers are already discussing the future with Newsmax head Chris Ruddy, which is convenient since Ruddy spends most of his time at Mar-A-Lago. Turning Newsmax into Trump TV means that he’ll lose his dominating call-in privileges at Fox, but undoubtedly he’ll come up with new outrages weekly to get “earned media” (the news talking about him for free) regularly. It will be outrageous. He’ll probably embrace QAnon. Hell, he may BECOME Q. He’ll accuse Biden of eating babies and Kamala Harris of holding a witches’ coven, and his viewers will eat it up. He’ll be running for President every day, and the news will feel honor bound to put Kayleigh McEnany on air every day talking about how Biden’s new tax plan is Maoist Marxist Socialist Pookie Leninist.
All this can be torpedoed in the next two months if Trump goes truly off the deep end. And by this I mean the truly apocalyptic grim worries – provoking a riot and then having DHS storm troopers gun it down, starting a war for funsies, inviting the FSB over to have a look at the newly declassified CIA archives for a $1B entry fee, that sort of thing. If Trump manages to make himself so truly toxic that he is left with only his hardest core base of Nazis, grifters and groypers, he won’t be able to support himself financially. Ironically, this is probably the best assurance we have that he WON’T do any of this (and not, say, sanity.)
And we will never be free of Donald Trump. Until he falls over dead of some easily preventable disease and someone much worse takes over. My money’s on Tucker Carlson.