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The Memo: Trump's future includes several paths

President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE will likely never admit that he lost the 2020 election, but the attention of the political world is shifting to what he will do after leaving the White House.

It’s a tricky subject among those close to Trump, who don’t want to draw his ire for acknowledging that he was defeated by President-elect Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20.

Trump will clearly try to maintain his relevance after he leaves office. There are a number of overlapping roles he could play in order to do that: likely candidate in 2024, a GOP “kingmaker” for that race if he does not end up running, and a major media presence.

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“I would certainly expect we will continue to see him do some sort of rallies and I expect we will see him try to make news,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant. “He will certainly try to advance controversies, which he did before he was president and which there is no reason he can’t do after he has been president.”

Conant added with a laugh that he did not expect Trump to retire to enjoy a quiet life. “I don’t think he is going to take up painting,” he said, a reference to the hobby former President George W. Bush took up after leaving the White House.

Trump is widely expected to keep alive the possibility that he might run in 2024, whether he ultimately does so or not.

Floating the idea of a 2024 Trump campaign is the easiest route to retaining his political capital. It is also a path that he has easily enough funding to pursue — in the month after the election, Trump raised about $170 million.

It is also in the interest of various Trump aides and friends to talk up a 2024 bid. Since he launched his first presidential bid in 2015, Trump has drawn into his circle a number of figures who had been on the periphery of Republican politics. Their relevance is tied up with the idea of a future campaign at least as much as is the president’s. 

There has been some speculation that Trump could even announce a 2024 campaign on the day of Biden’s inauguration. The gambit would be intended to steal some of the spotlight back from the incoming president, and Trump has never been concerned by whether his behavior transgresses established rules or etiquette. Trump filed paperwork for his 2020 reelection effort on the day of his inauguration in 2017.

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An actual 2024 campaign is far from certain, however. Before his 2016 campaign, he had flirted with presidential bids in 2012 and, for the Reform Party, in 2000, before backing away. One GOP source put the chances of him running again “between 70 and 80 percent” but said that Trump’s real aim was to “control the conversation.”

The most obvious way to do that, at least in the short term, is to find a media platform beyond his Twitter account.

He will have no shortage of willing takers. One of his more well-founded boasts is that he is good for TV ratings, especially among conservative viewers.

Rumors that Trump would start his own media outlet flared in late 2016, at a time when he was expected to lose that year’s election. This time around much of the speculation is on whether he would affiliate himself with an existing network.

Fox News would seem an obvious choice given its audience. However, Trump has recently sought to promote two smaller rivals, Newsmax and One American News (OAN). Trump and Newsmax Media CEO Chris Ruddy are friends. 

“The president understands that he needs to still engage his base, and the best way to do that is with a media platform,” said Brad Blakeman, a former member of President George W. Bush’s White House and a strong Trump supporter. “So I suspect the short-term plan is to get a home, a platform for him to have regular contact with his base.”

The right kind of media platform would also be lucrative — always a consideration of Trump’s, and likely to remain so given that he faces potentially worrisome debts. The New York Times revealed in October that Trump had personally guaranteed more than $400 million of his companies’ debts, and that about three-quarters of those debts come due within the next four years.

Trump referred to his debts as “a peanut” during a televised town hall shortly before the election.

One of the key questions — unanswerable for now — is the extent to which Trump’s presidential controversies have harmed his business brand. 

In the years before his run for the White House, his business dealings were increasingly built around licensing his name — a process helped along by his fame from NBC’s “The Apprentice” — rather than actually constructing buildings himself. Whatever reputational damage he has incurred over the past four years would likely have an adverse impact.

A presidential memoir is another possibility for Trump.

In the political arena, no one doubts that Trump’s influence over the GOP will remain profound.

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Despite his defeat — and his divisiveness in the nation at large — he is the most popular Republican in the country. Even if he does not run again, any 2024 contender will not want to wind up in his cross-hairs.

If he runs again, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell “he is without question the favorite” to become the nominee.

For now, O’Connell added, “he is essentially freezing the 2024 field because they are all wondering what he is doing,”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.