The president was insistent as he left office: “We’re not going anywhere.” It had been a turbulent end of the presidency—impeachment, appalling pardons, and a lengthy dispute over the outcome of the presidential election—but he knew that he had a devoted following, and he had every intention to remain a force in politics. And not just him: His family was eager to cash in on his electoral success, too. Usually a former president laid low for a while after leaving office. He wasn’t going to do that. He’d remain a political force, and the dominant figure in his party.
But the plan didn’t go well. The president sat at his new home—he had decamped from his longtime home state—guzzling Diet Cokes and calling friends to rage about how unfairly he’d been treated and complain about overzealous prosecutors. “You get tired of listening to it,” one friend confessed.
The year was 2001, and the former president was Bill Clinton. “When a president leaves office we expect him to disappear for a while, cede the stage to the new guy, give us some time to forget why we weren’t so sorry to see him go,” Time intoned.
It’s unlikely that Donald Trump will be calling Bill Clinton up to commiserate, not that Clinton would take the call. But if somehow they connected, the two men might find they had something to discuss. Although making any statements about Trump’s relative irrelevance feels like tempting fate, he has remained unexpectedly peripheral since leaving office. You’re not imagining it. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump showed recently that Google search interest and cable-news images of Trump have both returned to roughly where they were before he ran for office. Only cable-news mentions remain significantly elevated, but even they have dropped steeply.