As US president Donald Trump continues to fire off frivolous lawsuits and baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the presidential election, he looks increasingly like a madman unable to face reality.
But there might be a dark method to the madness.
While publicly Trump is still railing against invisible enemies, privately he is plotting his next move as a private citizen.
The former reality TV star has been hit with scathing criticism from both sides of politics for his unprecedented efforts to subvert the country’s democracy.
But the daily pantomime of grievances from the US president will likely play a crucial role in brining his loyal supporters along for the ride as he seeks revenge on critics and flirts with another run at the White House.
According to an extensive report by the Washington Post, Trump is telling his advisers that he wants to remain an omnipresent force in the US political and media landscape.
Part of that plan is to keep open the possibility of a 2024 presidential run.
There has been speculation that Trump could announce a run once his exit from the White House is set in stone, or possibly on Joe Biden’s inauguration day, but Trump’s thinking on the matter is reportedly fluid and unsettled.
Former Trump adviser, Sam Nunberg, told the Washington Post it would allow the president to freeze other Republican presidential hopefuls.
“It would be a fool’s errand to declare you’re running for president at the end of this year, but on the other hand, to keep your hold over the party and fight Republican legacy hierarchy so that they can’t erase you from history, it’s important to remain a front-runner in this process,” he said.
“He’s highly competitive,” he added. “It’s pretty cool to be elected in 2016 — it’s historic — but it will be the comeback of political comebacks to regain in 2024.”
As Australian journalist Richard Cooke predicted on election night, a situation where Biden does not have control of the senate could leave Trump to loom large over Washington, almost governing by proxy as the Republicans heed and cower to every Trump tweet.
A weak Biden win with a Republican senate could leave Trump as a kind of ‘media president’ who would still run much of the country.
— Richard Cooke (@rgcooke) November 4, 2020
The prescient prediction from Cooke looks more likely by the day.
Trump weighing money-making schemes
In the meantime, the president, who is said to have as much as $US400 million in loans due in coming years, will need find a solid revenue stream.
While there has been lots of chatter about Trump launching his own TV network to possibly rival Fox News (he is now very mad at the network), the expectation is he will go down the path of least resistance – i.e. less work.
According to people close to Trump who spoke to the Post, the president has been exploring ways to make money for relatively little effort, such as giving paid speeches to corporate groups, selling tickets to rallies and charging for TV appearances.
He is also reportedly toying with the idea of writing a score-settling memoir of his four years in the Oval Office.
Whatever eventuates, Trump’s plan looks set to keep the Republican party under his spell.
As one adviser put it, he thinks anyone who wants a future in Republican politics will have to “kiss the ring”.
This perception is precisely why a majority of Republicans have stood by quietly while Trump has sought to undermine the country’s electoral system with lies and conspiracies.
One-time ally slams Trump’s legal moves
Those who are not still vying for re-election, however, are speaking out. Former New Jersey Governor and one of Trump’s staunchest allies, Chris Christie, is the latest to excoriate the president over his public wailings which don’t match the protestations he is making in court.
“Quite frankly, the conduct of the president's legal team has been a national embarrassment,” Christie said Sunday (local time) on the ABC.
“They allege fraud outside the courtroom, but when they go inside the courtroom, they don't plead fraud and they don't argue fraud,” he said.
“I have been a supporter of the president's. I voted for him twice, but elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn't happen.”
Trump’s court tactics a ‘toxic sideshow’
Trump’s continued shrieks of election malfeasance may have played well in front of television cameras and on right-wing talkback radio for Trump’s loyal supporters.
But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges have uniformly rejected their claims of voter fraud and found the campaign’s legal work amateurish.
In a scathing ruling over the weekend, US District Judge Matthew Brann — a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania — compared the campaign’s legal arguments to “Frankenstein’s Monster”.
In a stinging rebuke to the Trump team’s efforts to disenfranchise voters in Pennsylvania, he said the president’s lawyers offered only “speculative accusations,” not proof of rampant corruption.
Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who specialises in election law, called the Trump lawsuits dangerous.
“It is a sideshow, but it’s a harmful sideshow,” Levitt told AP.
“It’s a toxic sideshow. The continuing baseless, evidence-free claims of alternative facts are actually having an effect on a substantial number of Americans. They are creating the conditions for elections not to work in the future.”
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