It all finally caught up to Donald Trump.
Trump, who built a brand on projecting indestructibility, has been branded as something he despises: a loser.
Trump, 74, was born into a wealthy family, built a global business (with a few bankruptcies along the way), became a reality TV star and then won the presidency with no political experience. It allowed the braggadocious businessman to craft his own legacy: Success against all odds.
But now investigators are examining whether Trump improperly inflated assets, evaded taxes and paid off women alleging affairs in violation of campaign finance laws. Women have filed lawsuits accusing him of harassing and assaulting them. Lenders are looking for hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to be repaid.
And he’s lost the legal immunity the presidency confers on him. He’s lost the White House’s bully pulpit. He may lose the GOP.
So Trump must plot how he can make the money he will need, keep the attention he craves and evade the authorities probing him. And according to Republicans familiar with the situation, he has already started doing that.
He could start his own conservative network or invest in an existing one, such as Newsmax, whose majority owner is a close friend, Chris Ruddy. Another option is One American News Network, a Trump-praising outlet he frequently praises. Then there’s Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns local TV stations across the country.
Or maybe Trump launches his own political party. People in his orbit were already teasing another run for president against Joe Biden in 2024 in the days before the race was called.
The chatter alone is central to keeping the Trump brand alive as he faces down lawsuits, debt collectors and criminal investigators. He’s also stirring up chatter with lawsuits and recount demands contesting the election results.
“When have you had a president, with the exception of Nixon, who faced at the moment they leave office these gargantuan shadows?” said presidential historian Michael Bechloss, recalling the possible indictments that loomed over Richard Nixon when he resigned the presidency during the Watergate scandal.
But first, there are some business decisions Trump must confront now that Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival, on Saturday was declared the winner, securing the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Trump needs to decide whether to resume running his namesake company, which comprises more than 500 businesses, including hotels, resorts and golf clubs. The Trump Organization is presumed to have lost millions of dollars during the coronavirus outbreak, and Forbes estimates that Trump’s net worth dropped $1 billion during the global pandemic.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio said Trump has been savvy about exploiting media opportunities throughout his life, whether it’s the New York tabloids or “The Apprentice.”
“I think it’s inevitable that he has a media platform,” he said. “Now the opportunity to broadcast is available to almost anyone at almost no cost. I think people would watch Trump bloviate spontaneously from any outlet. That’s going to appeal to him immensely.”
In 2016, when Trump expected to lose to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, he had planned to start a media company, according to a Republican.
But now that he’s served as president, some Republicans said he will be tempted to keep himself in politics, whether that’s through the GOP or his own party.
Not everyone in the Republican Party will welcome him. The GOP is torn between conservatives who passionately support Trump and moderates who are eager to distance themselves, but held back due to fears over backlash from Trump’s base. The direction the party shifts could be based on whether Trump fades from political relevance after leaving office, the way former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush did.
“He’s brought people out the party needs to capture certainly, but do they stay without him?” said a former Trump aide. “The party needs some of him, but not all of him.”
Even if the party doesn’t want all of Trump — or even some of him — that wouldn’t stop Trump from barrelling ahead with another White House run. After all, the GOP didn’t really want him the first time around. Mick Mulvaney, who worked as White House chief of staff until this year and now serves as special envoy for Northern Ireland, even predicted Trump would do just that.
“I would absolutely expect the president to stay involved in politics and would absolutely put him on the shortlist of people who are likely to run in 2024,” he said in an event hosted by the Institute for International and European Affairs, an Irish think tank.
Trump, who spent decades teasing a White House bid before finally running in 2016, plowed through a first term marred by an impeachment trial, omnipresent investigations, back-biting leaks, tell-all memoirs from ex-staffers, prominent resignations and firings and crisis after crisis of his own making.
But his turbulent time as president is not necessarily a liability for future political ambitions. Instead, the bigger factor could be the litany of problems he will face after leaving office.
While in the White House, Trump has been largely protected from facing criminal charges, given a longstanding Justice Department precedent not to indict a sitting president. But once he leaves, he’ll have to grapple with a series of investigations that might directly implicate him.
The New York Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether Trump and his company misreported assets on financial statements used to seek loans, tax breaks and economic benefits.
And the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, is still probing Trump’s payoffs to two women to keep them quiet during the 2016 campaign about extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump’s ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, already went to jail over the payments, which violated campaign finance law. Trump himself was implicated in the scheme, with prosecutors saying he directed Cohen to make the hush money payments. There has long been speculation that Trump could face charges in the case after leaving office, although it’s far from certain he will.
Vance’s inquiry may also be broader than the hush money payments, possibly including a probe of tax crimes and bank and insurance fraud, according to court filings.
Since both probes are state — not federal — investigations, Trump can’t pardon himself on the way out the door.
Still, no president has been charged with a crime — aside from Ulysses S. Grant, who got arrested for speeding in his horse and buggy — and it’s possible Trump would be given special dispensation as a former president. And notably, Nixon got a preemptive pardon after his resignation from Gerald Ford, saving the ex-president from any legal troubles.
Separately, Trump’s finances are about to become a focal point.
Trump has to pay back $421 million in loans that he has personally guaranteed, much of it to foreign creditors, most due in the next four years, according to an investigation in The New York Times detailing his personal and business tax returns. The investigation also found Trump attempted to secure a $72 million refund from the IRS in 2010 by claiming $1.4 billion in losses in 2008 and 2009, triggering a years-long audit that could cost him millions in back taxes.
Yet Trump has, again and again, evaded, side-stepped and shrugged off legal, financial and personal woes.
Trump has survived an impeachment trial, numerous accusations of sexual misconduct and thousands of lawsuits. While he has been through adversities of his own making — bankruptcies, settlements with authorities over alleged malfeasance at his charitable foundation and the now-shuttered Trump University — he has always remained unbowed.
Trump biographer Tim O’Brien said Trump has been isolated from the consequences of his actions his whole life because of his wealth, celebrity and presidency. That could extend to his post-presidency: “Will he yet again get another break because of these life preservers that have always been floating under his arms?”