Jimmy Carter spent the decades after he left the White House working with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for the poor.
Bill Clinton has made a fortune giving speeches, and promoted the global activities of the Clinton Foundation.
The disgraced Richard Nixon spent his postpresidential years rehabilitating his reputation, and setting himself up as the wise old man of world politics. His comeback campaign, arguably, began with the explosive TV interviews with David Frost in 1977. By the 80s he was churning out endless magazine articles and books, his opinions on politics eagerly sought by the media.
Barack Obama just published his memoirs. He also has a foundation.
What can we expect after Jan. 20 from former President Donald Trump?
If you’ve been following the news for the past two weeks, and you took it at face value, you might be forgiven for thinking Trump is heading off into a presidential retirement of unique shame, ignominy and oblivion: Shunned by all respectable people, ignored even by Republicans, and facing mounting legal battles over various actions.
I’m not so sure.
So I checked in with a few people who know more than most TV talking heads (and of course much more than I do) and they’re not sure either.
David Paleologus is a top pollster, and the director of the political research center at Suffolk University. He says the Trump brand is far from finished.
“Writing Trump off prematurely is not supported by the current data,” he tells me. “Regarding our last national poll, 30% of registered voters said that they would vote for Donald Trump in 2024, and an additional 13% said ‘maybe.’ Among Republicans 71% said yes and 16% said maybe. This is clearly enough to easily win an open Republican primary.”
“Americans,” he adds, “love political comeback stories against adversity.” (He cites examples going all the way back to Boston politician James Michael Curley a century ago, whose long political career survived not one but two trips to the big house.)
Media consultant Cosmo Macero, Boston-based partner at public affairs firm Seven Letter, says Trump’s career in politics is almost certainly over, but his career in the public eye isn’t.
Trump’s brand is “very badly damaged” among many conservative audiences by the events of the past few weeks, says Macero: Not only by the riot of Jan. 6, and his second impeachment, but also by his behavior since the presidential election, which has driven away former allies like Mike Pence, and probably cost Republicans control of the Senate.
“But with all that said,” adds Macero, “there are tens of millions of Americans who will probably never be moved off their support and admiration for Trump. Will he have a large enough political “base” to be relevant again as an elected official in Washington? I doubt it. Will those fierce Trump supporters represent enough of a market for him to monetize their devotion? I think the answer is yes.”
Trump getting back into politics would be a tall order. He’d be 78 in four years’ time (although, as President-elect Joe Biden shows, that need not be a disqualification). Even many of his supporters may be weary.
But don’t rule out a new high-profile media venture. “I don’t know what you do if you’re him, if you’ve been ‘president of the free world’ and you’ve been impeached twice,’” jokes media executive Scott Dunlop, “but then if you’re Donald Trump you’d say, ‘I could work that.’”
Dunlop is the creator of the phenomenally successful reality TV franchise Real Housewives.
He thinks Trump may find it hard to get partnerships with established media companies. After the last two weeks Trump may be a “third rail” that nobody wants to touch, Dunlop says. The Trump brand would need some rebuilding.
But Trump may not need the established media companies anyway, Dunlop adds.
“I’m sure he’s contemplated acquiring a TV channel,” he says. “He can probably raise enough capital to launch his own network.” Trump got 75 million votes at the last election, and had 80 million Twitter followers before he was booted off the channel, Dunlop points out. That’s a big potential audience. “He can go to his core.”
There has been talk he could partner with conservative channels such as NewsMax and One America News Network, which he has praised and which have been largely loyal to him even since the election.
The Trump Organization, with its real estate operations, continues anyway. Could he revive the Trump consumer brand, which in the past he has slapped on everything from ties to vodka and steaks?
Personally, I don’t think the media can do without him. The Trump name brings clicks, eyeballs and ad revenues.
Another year of high-profile “hearings” and “investigations,” with inevitable “scoops” about “bombshell revelations,” could do wonders for the bottom line of major media outlets.
“CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump,” TV legend Ted Koppel said a few years ago.
Donald Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” CBS honcho Les Moonves admitted in 2016.
New York Times Co.
stock has quadrupled since the 2016 presidential election.
Would even mainstream executives really balk at partnering with Trump if the deal is right? “At the end of the day it would come down to money,” says Dunlop. They will look at everything through the prism of the numbers, he says. If it pays, it plays. ”
He adds, “A lot of people probably aren’t going to admit they’re going to watch Trump, but they would.”
As a cynic once said, politics isn’t really about red versus blue. The only color that counts is green.
So if you think Donald Trump is “retiring,” you may want to think again.