Trump Has Already Stopped being President

He seems to have taken his ball and gone home.

Washington Post White House reporter Josh Dawsey notes that, amidst all the bluster over stolen elections, something usual is happening with President Trump: he’s not talking.

The president who likes to put on a show is mostly offstage these days.

Since President Trump was declared the election’s loser earlier this month, gone are blustery speeches and stemwinder White House news conferences about the coronavirus, which never disappeared like he promised — or any other topic for that matter. Gone are lengthy call-in sessions with favored Fox anchors that often stretched so long the hosts had to push to conclude the calls.

Gone, too, are regular White House jousting matches with the press, impromptu Oval Office appearances with random guests or any pretense of being interested in many of the duties of the job.

In the 19 days since the election, 12 have included no events on the president’s schedule. He has appeared at public events four times and has played golf at his own Virginia course six times. He has taken no questions from reporters.

[…]

Trump has not left the Washington area since his loss, eschewing his annual trip to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving, where an ostentatious dinner underneath the chandeliers of his gilded Florida club was usually part family gathering, part publicity event.

The president’s lust for ratings — he has sometimes defended events such as his coronavirus news conferences by citing how many people watched them — seems to have evaporated.

Trump — known for cannonballing on the global stage with moves such as threatening to pull out of NATO — participated minimally in the virtual Group of 20 summit this weekend, speaking to other world leaders for a few minutes, looking downward at his phone during the proceedings and leaving early both days, aides and diplomats said. He skipped the special session about handling the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday — even as cases surge in the United States — and went to the golf course. He went golfing again on Sunday.

[…]

Given a chance to brag about the successful development of a coronavirus vaccine in recent days, a historic achievement for his administration, the president attacked the company for not releasing it before the election.

“I won, by the way,” he said offhandedly during a brief Friday appearance. He did not elaborate.

It is a marked sea change from the past five years, during which Trump dominated the national psyche with a constant stream of bravado: provocations, cliffhanger events, firings, rallies, tweets and controversies that often blurred one into the next. The denouement of the Trump presidency is largely playing out without Trump. He is no longer pretending to embrace parts of the job that he never liked, some advisers say.

[…]

Advisers say he is trying to figure out what to say and what to do. Unlike 2016, when Trump doubted he would win, he is genuinely surprised by the defeat, advisers say. Over the past few weeks of the campaign, advisers on Air Force One repeatedly told the president he was going to win because of the large crowds at his rallies and showed him favorable polling. Trump mused about how he would mock the pundits and his critics after the election when he won again, advisers said.

Since then, he has vacillated between delusion that he actually won, anger and deflation that he lost and a desire to keep fighting. “I don’t think he knows what he wants to say yet,” said one official who has spoken to the president and who, like other aides and advisers, spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private conversations. “It’s all over the place based on the day.”

The ship of state has no captain. For the next fifty-eight days, the country will be adrift. That’s really, really bad when you’re a global superpower. But it could be worse.

To be clear: Trump has every power of the Presidency at his disposal until noon on January 20. I would expect, at a minimum, the usual administration-ending flurry of pardons. But Trump has always been a man more interested in the trappings of the President than the job. Now, he’s not even pretending to do it.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Presidency, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    It would be a reasonable postulate, that if he had been reelected, his actions wouldn’t be much different than now. He would care less about governing and would focus on grift and embezzlement.

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  2. CSK says:

    There’s speculation that, when Trump finally admits he lost, he’ll immediately announce his intention to run in 2024. I think it’s somewhat more possible that he’ll hint at a 2024 run, which will excite his fans and have the effect of stymying any other prospective Republican candidates. He’ll thoroughly enjoy making the entire party dance to his tune.

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  3. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    when Trump finally admits he lost

    When pigs fly.

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  4. Slugger says:

    How many covid taskforce meetings has he attended in the last six months? I believe zero of them. Tweet production and golf have been his major contributions to America.

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  5. CSK says:

    @Kylopod:
    What I think he’ll do, to save face, is refuse to concede, but leave the WH, not show up for the inauguration, and keep maintaining that the 2020 election was fraudulent. As I’ve mentioned, he may well hold a rally while Biden is being sworn into office. It could well be the kickoff to his alleged 2020 run.

    Given that he doesn’t seem particularly interested in his lawyers’ frenetic hijinks, he probably knows he lost.

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  6. Kathy says:

    This time, I need to quote the post title:

    Trump Has Already Stopped being President

    I don’t think he can stop to do something he never really did to begin with. He had the title, and added nothing more to it.

    [..]something usual is happening with President Trump: he’s not talking.

    Gods be praised.

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  7. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Stopped being President?!?!?!

    BWAHAHAHWHWHAHAHAHWHWHAHSAHAHAHAHWHWHWHAH

    That Mofo never started….

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  8. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    As I’ve mentioned, he may well hold a rally while Biden is being sworn into office.

    He’ll complain bitterly he wasn’t allowed to do it at the national Mall, too, just because Biden was holding his so-called inauguration there.

    And he’ll claim to have better ratings and to have drawn more people.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    As I’ve said since he became a leading contender in the 2016 primary, it’s a mistake to see Trump as sui generis. Instead he is simply a bizarrely loud manifestation of what the Republican Party has become since Reagan. Is he lazy and disconnected and does not take his responsibilities to the public seriously? Sure, but he is not different from other Republicans in this regard only more extreme. The major difference is that he doesn’t pretend otherwise.

    Once the Republicans rejected George H.W. Bush’s pragmatism and seriousness and went whole heartedly in on Reagan’s “The government is your enemy” mindset, coupled with the Grover Norquist philosophy that the only thing a Republican should do with any government program is try to kill it, the die was cast. For over a generation the Republican Party has attracted people who wanted the authority but not the responsibility of office. You can hear it at every level throughout the party – they are actually resentful when someone starts demanding that the government act to protect the welfare of the citizenry. “It’s not the government’s job to deal with an epidemic!”

    This unshakeable belief in the evils of government has also attracted the epically lazy. Think about it – the Republicans controlled both houses, the Presidency and had a compliant Supreme Court for the first two years of Trump’s run – and enacted precisely zero major pieces of pro-active legislation. Because Republicans are lazy they let lobbyists write their bills, and lobbyists are not concerned with far reaching legislation. Such bills would only bring unwanted attention to the small, mean, trinket grabbing they are endeavoring to foist upon the public.

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  10. KM says:

    @CSK:
    He doesn’t want to be POTUS – he just wants all the perks and protections that come with it. Being POTUS-in-Exile will get him the adoration and money he wants without all the expectations of work…. but it lacks real power and legal CYA. Perpetually running for POTUS sounds like a good scheme but since they can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar, there’s going to be lawsuits galore about misappropriation and embezzlement. The GOP can be rid of him by slipping some damning evidence to blue state AGs and the feds while keeping their own hands “clean”. He’s not gonna have as much power as he thinks very shortly; too many bodies and too many people willing to narc off the record on a suddenly protection-less jerk.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: Trump will have a tougher time than that, I think. He has never hired the best or the brightest. (I believe Trump Organization’s financial guy, one of the few longtime employees, was originally hired by Trump’s father.) He has a reputation for not paying, with the heart of miser. He can’t stand to see any employee take away his spotlight and will turn on them viciously if he senses it happening. Given all this, I’m having trouble seeing how he will marshal any kind of organization. He’ll hold rallies, but they will sell tickets and the money will pass through promoter’s hands first. This changes them from a political rally to a for-profit promotion, giving the media an excuse to ignore it if they so chose.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Is he lazy and disconnected and does not take his responsibilities to the public seriously? Sure, but he is not different from other Republicans in this regard only more extreme.

    Nonsense. Reagan and both Bushes had active domestic and foreign policy agendas and actually governed. I think it’s fair to say that neither Reagan nor Bush 43 were policy wonks in the way that Clinton and Obama were but wonkishness is rather a rare quality in American Presidents and it’s not obvious that it’s a good one. It didn’t do Carter any favors and, arguably, the same could be said for Bush 41.

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  13. Pylon says:

    @CSK: I would suppose that a 2024 run announcement would also, in Trump’s mind, be a strategy to avoid jail. He will allege that any attempt by NY State or the DOJ (no matter how independent Biden makes the latter) to prosecute is just persecution of a political opponent.

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  14. wr says:

    @CSK: “As I’ve mentioned, he may well hold a rally while Biden is being sworn into office.”

    And the question that will determine the course of the next four years is: Will any of the networks (excluding Fox) run a split-screen?

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  15. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    He could hold at his golf club just outside D.C.
    @KM:
    Well, he really hasn’t been POTUS for the past four years, has he?
    @Pylon:
    Unless he flees, the country, he can’t really escape NY state law, can he.
    @wr:
    Oh, OAN and Newsmax will carry it.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I agree that Reagan had serious professionals in his government. The Republicans with the seniority and heft to take those positions made their mark during the post WWII era, which was a completely different Republican Party from what we have today. Reagan was the champion of the “Government is my enemy” attitude, but that would have been a footnote if Bush I’s return towards seriousness had been rewarded. Instead, he was vilified and cast upon the ash heap of Republican history. The erosion was slow and generational in nature. Even in Bush II’s term there were serious Republicans who believed in public service. I think the last of them died with McCain, and he was a flawed vessel. I don’t think anyone ever referred to him as “hard working”.

    But nonetheless Bush II was the real watershed. When they sent in recent graduates, true believers in the power of Libertarianism to cure all ills, as the front line workers in the reconstruction of Iraq, and pushed out the seasoned State Department people with experience, the chaos and theft were inevitable. And the billionaire hobbyists who largely fund the libertarian wing of the Republican Party learned nothing from the debacle, instead attempting to afflict the same “cure” on the entire state of Kansas a decade and a half later.

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  17. CSK says:

    Delete. Repetition of comment.

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: Just to reinforce what I said about the Bush II administration being the turning point for Republicans, when contempt for government and officials with experience and knowledge were replaced with hopelessly out of their depth Neo-conservative or Libertarian ideologues. This is from a Brookings report on the Iraq war:

    To make matters worse, officials at the Department of Defense (DoD), the Office of the Vice President (OVP), and some at the National Security Council (NSC) decided that the State Department was “against” the war and would sabotage their plans to run Iraq the way they saw fit and to install Chalabi in power. They worked assiduously to retain complete control over the meager work on postwar reconstruction that was being done and to exclude State Department personnel, offices, and input. Thus one of the many Catch-22s of U.S. prewar planning for postwar Iraq is that while neither the military nor the civilian leadership of the Pentagon was interested in nation-building, they were absolutely determined to exclude those agencies that were both more willing and more able. While State’s capacity to handle postwar reconstruction and nation-building probably would also have proven inadequate without massive international cooperation, it was still orders of magnitude beyond what DoD possessed. Instead, the Defense Department put together a small team (about 200 people at the time of the invasion) led by retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner to handle postwar reconstruction–at least temporarily–until a presidential envoy could be appointed.[13] Garner was not even asked to head this postwar transition team until January 9, 2003, a little more than two months before the start of the war. He was prevented from cooperating with Central Command planners, and many of his requests for key personnel were denied. Garner and his team wanted desperately to do the right thing, and some were quite able, but they started with everything stacked against them.

    Also:

    Almost immediately, the mistaken assumptions and inadequate planning for postwar Iraq began to plague U.S. actions. Combat units found themselves in charge of large urban areas with no sense of what to do, whom to contact, or how else to get help. As no orders were issued to the troops to prevent looting and other criminal activity–since it was mistakenly assumed that there would not be such problems–no one did so. The result was an outbreak of lawlessness throughout the country that resulted in massive physical destruction coupled with a stunning psychological blow to Iraqi confidence in the United States, from neither of which has the country recovered.

    This is modern Republicanism in a nutshell.

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  19. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I wonder, seriously, how far he’ll be able to claim executive privilege after he’s out of office.

    I mean, naturally any conversations or actions after January 20th no longer qualify. but he may claim anything before then is off limits.

    I also wonder how wise if would be to go after Trump, legally and within norms, once he leaves the White House. Usually the person at the top is the one who’s most responsible and guilty of malfeasance. This time, given Trump’s incompetence, this may really fall on cabinet secretaries, advisors, and other officials lower down. Also, effective prosecution of the lower ranks might deter others in the future from helping out the next would-be dictator.

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  20. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: That last is more the cause than laziness. Trump is too lazy to work, but Goldwaterite Movement Conservatism became Koch/Mercer “libertarianism”. Admittedly a short step. And Republican pols have signed on. It’s not so much they’re too lazy to govern, although that’s certainly a factor, as their funders want them not to.

    Being a GOP senator these days has to be a little weird. You’re supposedly one of the most powerful people in the country and Moscow Mitch insists you do nothing but rubber stamp judges.

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  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The ship of state has no captain. For the next fifty-eight days, the country will be adrift. That’s really, really bad when you’re a global superpower. But it could be worse.

    It certainly could be worse. trump could insist on being at the helm and steering the ship of state straight into the iceberg of a war with Iran.

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  22. Northerner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Wouldn’t it have been a lot better if Bush Jr had been lazy and undisciplined? For instance, the second Iraq War (the worst thing an American president has done since the Vietnam War) wouldn’t have happened if Bush Jr had been as lazy and undisciplined as Trump.

    From the outside at any rate, the best thing for the world right now (at least the best thing in the realm of the possible) is for Trump to spend 100% of his waking time playing golf. I’d suggest every American should encourage just that. Maybe set him up with lessons from Jack Niklaus?

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Trump intends to run in 2024 he’ll be in direct conflict with people like Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mike Pence. He will block every ambitious POTUS wannabe. The party may not split de jure, but it could definitely split de facto.

    On the other side of the aisle, the Liberal vs. Progressive war in the Democratic Party will have trouble getting off the ground. No rational progressive can seriously demand M4A or a $15 minimum wage as long as Mitch McConnell is majority leader. And I’ve seen no evidence so far that progs did Democrats any good, while there’s plenty to suggest they hurt us, especially in Florida.

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  24. CSK says:

    @CSK:
    I deleted this. It keeps reappearing.

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  25. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: I remember a description of Iraqi financial people telling some Bushite preppy twit they could restart the stock exchange right away with pencil and paper, but he had the power to force them wait and buy the computers he specified and the software he specified. The occupation was indeed a libertarian clown act that was never properly reported.

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  26. just nutha says:

    @CSK: He may not hold one because he can’t afford to/is unwilling to throw his money down this rat hole, though.

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  27. CSK says:

    @just nutha:
    I think, when he’s no longer president–which he won’t be after noon on Jan. 20–he can charge whatever he likes for the tickets. There are probably enough fools who’d pay to see him.

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  28. inhumans99 says:

    @CSK:

    The GOP has to be genuinely frustrated that they are not rid of this pest yet, as it must be galling to think that a loser like Trump may hold their future in the palm of his hands.

    Other than the usual suspects like Romney, Chris Christie, and Ben Sasse, any pushback against Trump has remained muted. The GOP had a chance to temper his expectations and hint that he could possibly lose but nope, they fluffed him up as we got closer and closer to the election and now the poor dear is confused as to why people are telling him he will have to leave the White House on 01/21.

    Also, the military is not coming to his rescue and unlike Ed Harris’s character in The Rock he has not inspired that type of loyalty from folks. Just like Trump, the Base’s love of Trump has also been transitional.

    He was a useful idiot but now for every GOP member who is not part of the Base (and not everyone in the GOP is comprised of the Base) he is just a thorn in their sides and they are trying to figure out how to marginalize Trump in 2021 because it must have them shaking with rage/frustration that someone like Trump could hold their political future in his hands.

    The GOP has basically slept with the crazy woman when they should have known better. The GOP is now wondering why the person they slept with wants to stalk them over the next 2-4 years and might come at them with a pair of sharp scissors in his hands if he feels slighted. It makes me shudder and think to myself that I would not wish such a scenario on my worst enemy but that is where the GOP is at this moment in time.

    Trump will be the barnacle that the GOP is always trying to scrape off it’s hull but they will wake up the next day and do a double take because they though they got rid of that barnacle but it is still miraculously attached to the hull in the same place as before.

    The GOP done got themselves a stalker who will constantly follow them and always be ready to yell 2024 MAGA anytime a member of the GOP has a camera on them. It would be funny if it were not also a bit scary in that I feel for the GOP. My understanding is that getting rid of a stalker can be quite difficult.

    Of course, I think folks like Brad Raffensperger have it right in that he just says if Trump is going to work to get him primaried in 2022 than it is what it is. That might be the only way to go about your life with some semblance of normality in a post-Trump Presidency world because if you just acknowledge the threats from Trump but do not let them radically modify how you go about your life over the next few years you do not feed the beast.

    If Trump thinks he got his hooks in you than you are forever his (I know McConnell must be privately concerned about how to extricate himself and the GOP from Trump’s clutches, they got in cahoots with a mob boss who will forever try to punish them if they do not tow the line) so Brad R is smart in putting on a brave face and just claiming that he is letting Trump’s threats roll of his shoulders as it is the only way to move on with your life.

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  29. just nutha says:

    @CSK: Good point. Hadn’t thought about that angle, but at, say $25/head, can he get enough money out of it to interest him? Looks mostly like another Trump scheme headed for Bankoville.

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  30. CSK says:

    @just nutha:
    If these fools are willing to donate to Sidney Powell’s “Defending the Republic,” they’ll be willing to stump up at least a hundred bucks to listen to him rave. Possibly more. He could have cheap seats starting at a c-note and maybe charge a grand to shake hands with him afterward. Yes, I know he hates shaking hands, but, hey, it’s money in his pocket for very little effort.

    And don’t forget…he needs tat adulation the way you and I need oxygen.

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  31. CSK says:

    @inhumans99:
    I agree with everything you wrote. Trump may be the one individual most despised by members of his own party. Even the ones who purport to be his fans, such as Cotton, Hawley, and Cruz, know he’s a hopeless jackass and an oaf. And potentially a serious troublemaker.

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  32. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    and Mike Pence. He will block every ambitious POTUS wannabe.

    They all have incentive to take Trump down along with many other Republicans.

    Marcy Wheeler has a piece on Pence being close to the DeVos’s.

    https://www.emptywheel.net/2020/11/22/the-devoses-and-a-pence-pardon/

    But the DeVoses are also very close to Mike Pence (he got Betsy hired, not Trump). And many of Trump’s other pardons — of people that could implicate Trump himself in crimes if they lost their Fifth Amendment protections — require that he also limit his own legal exposure (and of course, he can only do this on federal cases). He may well be planning a self-pardon, but a safer legal option would be an early resignation followed by a pardon from Pence.

    In my opinion, Pence has a real incentive against such a pardon. That’s true, in part, because giving a far less controversial pardon to Richard Nixon really doomed Gerald Ford’s otherwise reasonable legacy. Pence spends a lot of time in Grand Rapids, where Ford’s tainted history is palpable.

    That’s also true because Pence has further political ambitions. They may not be real ambitions, but a former Vice President would always consider himself a candidate for the Presidency. And counterintuitively, pardoning Trump would actually hurt those ambitions. That’s true because he’s not the most obvious inheritor of Trump’s legacy. Mike Pompeo has a higher profile and the same cachet among the Evangelical right. Don Jr has even suggested he might run, and if he did he could tap right into the furor his father created. Unlike both of them, Pence has mostly been a background figurehead, one who will be blamed for Trump’s biggest failing, on COVID. So if Pence pardoned Trump, it would only serve to allow one of the other Trump flunkies from capitalizing on his brand to become the presumptive 2024 nominee; it would hurt his own chances.

    There are going to be many busy GOP beavers doing all they can to damage Trump, especially once Jan. 20 is past. Few want him running the RNC through his minion etc.

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  33. Lounsbury says:

    @KM: I rather hope that his rumoured desire to have vengeance on Fox News is true and he attempts it. Murdoch will cut his balls off.

    In combination with the State level lawsuits, one can hope he will be crippled.

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  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: Another example: FEMA and Katrina.

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  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Northerner: Maybe set him up with lessons from Jack Niklaus?

    I’ll set6 up a go fundme to compensate Jack. I wonder how much he’ll demand?

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  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @charon:
    I wonder if Pence has the backbone to refuse Trump anything. Pence hasn’t got a prayer if Trump throws him under the bus during his post-presidency. And Pence could spin it as the action of the truest of all Trump mini-mes.

    But it’s nice that others are beginning to see Trump’s endgame the same way I saw it four years ago.

    @Lounsbury:
    Absolutely. Murdoch is everything Trump only pretends to be.

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  37. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Pence hasn’t got a prayer if Trump throws him under the bus during his post-presidency.

    What power does Trump have post Jan., other than to exhort the MAGA’s and disparage enemies? Nasty tweets? Nothing but talk, IOW. The plutocrats will smell the loser stink and bail, so no support, no bailouts, while he is massively in debt to creditors unlikely to be as tolerant as Deutsche Bank was. All the while legal threats and also (IMO) health issues.

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  38. JohnSF says:

    @Lounsbury:

    “…his rumoured desire to have vengeance on Fox…”

    “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

    Also, taking on Fox would take a lot of money.
    Who is both rich enough and stupid enough to front it up?

    Possibly Trump could try tapping the MAGAt’s in some sort of crowdfunding exercise, with more than half an eye on snaffling the cash.
    But how many would cough up how much when it came to it?

    And he would still need banking credit facilities, and any sane bank is going to want rock solid collateral for any liabilities.
    It rather looks like Deutsche Bank have decided that it’s time to get out of the Donald business.

    OANN and Newsmax might be willing to partner, giving a bit of start up in place. But would still need a lot of money to go up against Fox.
    And are they reckless enough to take the risk of Trump either ripping them off or blowing them up?

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  39. SC_Birdflyte says:

    In Kant’s words, “to be is to do.” Donald never learned the lesson that being President involves a lot of doing things you don’t necessarily want to do – such as reading briefings, making notes, asking questions.

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  40. gVOR08 says:

    Carl Bernstein has named 21 GOP senators he says,

    have “repeatedly expressed extreme contempt for [Donald] Trump and his fitness” for office.

    Be nice if they’d done something, or even said something. Pelosi handed them on a silver platter a chance to replace him with Pence and only one of them managed to vote to convict on one count. Next time someone mentions “responsible Republicans” I’m going to challenge them to name three.

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  41. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    I think it comes down to abject terror of the base.

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  42. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: I think it’s the combination of fear of the base and low ROI for moving Trump out. What do Republicans in the Senate get out of replacing Trump with someone who might expect them to govern? By contrast, where are they gonna find someone more inert than Trump?

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