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The five ways Trump will claim he’s ultimately the winner, even if he loses

One thing is guaranteed as the US goes to the polls: should Joe Biden take the White House, President Trump will not go quietly. Here are the five narratives we’ll hear a lot of over the next few years if the Democrats win.

Irrespective of whether Donald Trump loses the election, one thing is certain: with 87 million Twitter followers, Fox & Friends on speed-dial, an insatiable need for attention, and influence over an enduringly loyal base of the Republican Party, he will remain a fixture in our lives until the entropic heat death of the universe. Rather than go gentle into that good night, there are five ways in which Donald Trump will develop a narrative that he was, ultimately, the true winner.

1. “If it wasn’t for Covid, which we handled fantastically by the way, I would have easily won a second term, and everybody knows it…”

He will claim that everything was going great, across all metrics and all demographics, at the beginning of 2020, and that he was coasting to re-election. The 401(k)s were up, as was the stock market. Voters consistently awarded him favourable marks when it came to the economy, which was, in his view, the greatest economy in the history of the country, or the world. The betting averages had him as the favourite, he was leading in key battleground state polling, and he was registering well among typically Democrat-leaning African American and Latino voters.

He will conveniently gloss over the fact he and his party had just been comprehensively demolished a couple of months earlier in the midterm elections, ceding the House of Representatives to Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats, and that his approval ratings were mired in the low-forties, where they had been for almost the entirety of his presidency.

Trump will also neglect to mention that only about a third of Americans have a 401(k) company-sponsored retirement plan, stock ownership has fallen since 2006 to only about half of Americans, and it wasn’t yet determined, in late February, who his opponent was going to be in the presidential race, so he had the airwaves, the bully pulpit, and fundraising largely to himself.

Still, President Trump will argue ad nauseam, and ad infinitum, that he was coasting to a deserved second term, when he was taken out by a “Chinese plague” that the media wouldn’t acknowledge his efforts to contain, and that the country had more or less rounded the turn on by the time of the election.

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2. “You know what didn’t happen? I got out before I could become just another Washington hack…”

Trump will also develop a theme that it was fitting, almost stylish for him to have swept in and just as dramatically swept out of politics, rather than become a creature of Washington, a career politician or a lame duck, like so many of his predecessors.

He has always lived his life in a dynamic way, moving, as talk-show host Sean Hannity once phrased it, at “the speed of Trump,” racing from one opportunity, escapade, and venture to another. It was entirely in keeping with his character that he should serve one term and not get bogged down in the establishment “swamp,” like career hacks Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, who, as he made clear during his campaign, had languished in the Senate for decades and barely accomplished anything. Better to be like one-term US president James Polk – a dark horse who does what he wants to do and then bails before things start to feel old.

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3. “Nobody did more to change the Supreme Court than me, and I only needed four years…”

He will claim that no president in modern history has done more to reshape the Supreme Court than him, and that adding three court justices was a feat none of his three immediate predecessors had managed in their eight years in office.

Given that the Supreme Court has lifetime appointees, he will argue his legacy of transforming the judiciary is likely to last a generation, and he has essentially achieved greater change and exerted a more enduring long-term influence than the hamstrung, conventional and ponderous two-termers who came before him. Significant Supreme Court decisions in the coming years will be followed by tweets, appearances, Fox news call-ins, and other media victory laps.

Serving one term, therefore, is a secondary consideration to the notion that he took hold of the presidency, on his first attempt, shook things up on behalf of conservatives and evangelicals, delivered on his pledge, and then some, and then left the country in good hands, with conservative priorities at the fore, for decades to come.

In this sense, then, serving the one term, and then flying back to Mar-a-Lago, was really quite decisive. He came, he saw, he conquered. You’re welcome.

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4. “My economic policies – Republican economic policies – made the greatest economy in history…”

He will claim, as will conservatives generally, that supply-side / trickle-down / Reaganomics / right-wing libertarianism / laissez-faire policies, whatever you want to call it, was revealed as the true, ideal form of governance.

An agenda supporting a decentralized economy based on economic freedom, low taxes for the wealthy, property rights, deregulation, and free markets was proven by Trump to be the real deal. Whether he inherited an economy of consistent growth and job gains, or whether the number of jobs gained in the last three years of the Obama administration was, in fact, higher than the number of jobs gained in the first three years of the Trump administration before the onset of Covid are more or less incidental facts.

These should not get in the way of a simpler narrative: that cutting taxes for the wealthy, deregulating the economy, and driving up deficits was the proven way to go – and would have remained so had it not been for the deleterious effects of unsanitary wet-markets in Wuhan.

From now, until the sweet release of death, we will hear Republican candidates argue that right-wing economics are the proven model, and that we need to get back to how things were in the Trump heyday of 2018/19.

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5. “Everyone is telling me I should run again…this is what I’m hearing, this is what people are saying…I’ll keep you in suspense…”

He will claim to be the most influential post-president in modern history, and therefore, while no longer in the Oval Office, he will have the loudest and most heeded contrarian voice about the goings-on of the succeeding administration.

His base, which has loved him with almost preternatural depth and constancy, will follow him on Twitter, will proudly wear MAGA caps and other merchandise to conservative gatherings for years to come, and, as the largest, most monolithic block in the Republican party, will still shape conservative ideals.

This will allow Trump to function as a kind of leader of the opposition, similar to the active role played in parliamentary democracies around the world. Trump will break precedent, ignoring norms of decorum. He will tweet, give speeches, and generally opine on a constant basis, undermining and patronising his successor, with his base egging him on. And all of this will carry an implication: with a splintered field in 2024, he could quite feasibly run again for the Republican nomination.

Though it would be unlikely, it will be a threat he will constantly invoke, keeping media attention on him, maintaining his global profile as an influential figure, and adding to his celebrity profile and relevance in business.

He will be 78 in 2024: the same age as ‘Sleepy Joe’ now. He has stated, multiple times, that he is, “the youngest person…there’s no one as young as me…” The moment the economy begins to splutter, there will be constant reminders about how great things were before “Covid, Covid, Covid…”  

Prospective Republican candidates will pay court, soliciting his endorsement. Primaries and midterm election rallies will be MAGA events, with fond, nostalgic crowds clamouring for their president, the man whose inevitable second term was unfairly snatched away by the Chinese plague. To Republicans, he will be a Margaret Thatcher after her removal: a constant, unignorable, ever more eccentric presence.

To a potential new nominee, or certain senators, he will be like Teddy Roosevelt hectoring his hapless successor, William Howard Taft. After every State of the Union or Oval Office address, attention will inevitably, with morbid curiosity, turn to his Twitter musings. The option of being able to run again is the perfect scenario for Trump, as it plays to his natural strengths: hype, hints, teased announcements, branding, and, of course, never-ending b***shit rhetoric about “the art of the comeback.” 

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