Presidents who leave office in the modern era recede from public life, often happily so. They write memoirs, plan their library, and pick up new hobbies. As a courtesy, they give the sitting president space to govern without catapulting themselves into the national conversation. Donald Trump will be different: He isn’t going anywhere.
Even after his defeat, the soon-to-be-former president, who feeds on attention, will make sure that he’s not deprived of any of it. From his exile at Mar-a-Lago, he’ll phone in to favored TV anchors and radio hosts to carp about the election results. If he’s not banned from the platform, he’ll use Twitter to keep up a running commentary on incoming President Joe Biden. He might start a new media venture or tease his base by vowing to run again in 2024. Whatever he does, he’ll remind a nation that rejected him after one exhausting term that it can’t easily forget him. “There is nothing about him that goes gently into the night,” Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University and a presidential historian, told me. “He has bathed in the fountain of real power, and he’s going to want to again. He doesn’t want to become a third-rate, has-been figure.”
Or an even bigger target for prosecutors. No small part of his return to private life will be spent fighting a range of legal threats and investigations into his business dealings. So far, Trump has staved off the Manhattan district attorney’s efforts to get eight years’ worth of his tax records in a case that has been winding through the courts. D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. has suggested in court filings that his office is investigating Trump’s business activities. Separately, the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, has embarked on a civil probe into whether the Trump Organization inflated its assets to obtain bank loans.