Not content with trying to rain on President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, outgoing President Donald Trump has signaled he may seek to recapture the Oval Office four years from now and is building a campaign war chest to that end.
At a White House Christmas party Tuesday for members of the Republican National Committee, he said cryptically of his tenure: "It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years."
Meanwhile, he has indicated to friends that he will buck tradition by not inviting Biden to the White House before his inauguration, nor will he attend the swearing-in of his successor. As for the other tradition of the departing president leaving a note to his successor in the Resolute Desk, one can only guess.
There is even speculation that Trump may announce his intentions for 2024 before or on Inauguration Day, which itself is expected to be a much lower-key event than usual, in deference to public-health precautions around the coronavirus pandemic. A counter-inauguration rally in Washington for Trump’s faithful cannot be ruled out, given his compulsive need for public adoration.
In any event, the wheels are already turning on a fundraising campaign in the guise of funding his continuing and highly dubious legal fight against certain states certifying Biden’s victory. The president and his lawyers continue to make unsubstantiated claims of vote fraud, but even Trump’s habitually subservient attorney general, William Barr, after a long review reported he had "not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election."
At the same time, the Justice Department revealed that Barr in October had appointed a special counsel to examine the FBI investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign, a move critics see as the attorney general putting his hand on the scales on behalf of the president. But Barr’s sudden open declaration that no credible fraud had been found in November’s election was a major blow to Trump’s relentless insistence that the election was "rigged" against him.
Whether this development will erode the near-solid support of Republican worthies who had fallen in line behind the president remains to be seen. To date, most have appeared to conclude it would be too risky politically to oppose Trump’s grip on their party.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to ply his faithful with conspiracy talk, all the while accepting and cashing their checks. According to The Washington Post, the Trump political operation has raised more than $170 million to maintain his legal lost cause as more states confirm Biden’s victory. The Electoral College will meet on Dec. 14 and formally resolve any doubt.
If indeed Trump is determined to seek a comeback in 2024, no apparent or logical GOP challenger has yet emerged. Trump’s hint of a well-financed campaign to regain the Oval Office may be enough to freeze any such presidential rival in place for most of the four years to come.
Much of course will depend on whether Joe Biden is able to restore normalcy to governing the country over that time. If so, that achievement in itself may be the best antidote to another Trump nightmare.
Jules Witcover is the author of "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power." He wrote this piece for Tribune News Service.