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Trump said to be planning comeback before he's even gone

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump would have the world falsely believe that he won the election and is preparing for a second term. 

In private huddles and phone conversations, however, Trump has been discussing an entirely different next act: another presidential run in 2024.

In a nod to the reality that he is destined to leave office in January, the president is seriously contemplating life beyond the White House, telling advisers that he wants to remain an omnipresent force in politics and the media - perhaps by running for the White House again.

Trump has told confidants that he could announce a 2024 campaign before the end of this year, which would immediately set up a potential rematch with President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump also has been exploring ways to make money for relatively little work, such as giving paid speeches to corporate groups or selling tickets to rallies. In addition, he may try to write a score-settling memoir of his time as president and appear on television, in a paid or unpaid capacity.

Though there has also been considerable chatter among Trump's associates about him starting a media company of his own, many close to the president said they believe that option is less likely, in part because it would be an arduous undertaking without guaranteed success. These advisers, like some others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss sensitive topics.

There is also pressure on Trump to monetize his post-presidency in light of his personal debt and legal troubles. He has payments due over the next four years for more than $400 million in loans and could incur substantial legal fees related to a bevy of investigations and lawsuits.

Trump will "try to remain a political and media force," said Christopher Ruddy, a longtime friend who has been in touch with the president. "He has all these existing businesses. He'll have new relationships."

Whatever platform he decides to use, Trump plans to seek vengeance against those he believes have betrayed him - a group that includes Fox News Channel, which Trump had long praised for the sycophantic coverage on some of its programs but now seeks to punish.

Trump has railed privately about the presidential debate moderated by Fox's Chris Wallace, the fact that the network was the first major news network to call Arizona for Biden and that one of Fox's correspondents confirmed the Atlantic's reporting that Trump had called military service members "suckers" and "losers."

"He is really angry with Fox," said Ruddy, who runs Newsmax, a conservative media company whose cable channel the president has promoted as a Fox alternative.

After Biden's inauguration, Trump is likely to retreat first to Florida, where he vacations in the winter at his Mar-a-Lago Club, advisers said. While in office, he changed his voter registration from New York to Palm Beach, Fla. People who have discussed plans with Trump said he is likely to immediately get more involved in his businesses in which revenue has plunged.

Trump's daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and other adult children have been focused more on their own futures than the president's, even though their career options and personal brands are inextricably tied to him, according to a senior administration official who has spoken with family members.

Even as Trump and some of his attorneys continue to spread unproven conspiracies and claim he is the rightful winner of the election, his political orbit has been bubbling in recent days with talk of how Trump's post-presidency will take shape - and how a man obsessed with being seen as a winner might try to fumigate the stench of being an election loser.

One adviser who recently spoke with the president said that Trump told him he planned to announce a new campaign in three weeks, and that he wanted to act quickly to try to freeze the large field of prospective Republican 2024 presidential candidates. That group includes at least three people who have served in the administration: Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

But other advisers cautioned that, as is often the case with the ping-ponging president, Trump's views on the matter are constantly evolving and he has made no final determination.

"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," said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump adviser.

"He's highly competitive," Nunberg 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."

Regardless of whether he actually runs for president again, Trump is likely to try to dominate Republican politics for years to come.

"Unlike Bush, unlike Reagan, unlike any of our former presidents, he will be an ongoing presence," said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. "He wants the party to continue to be consumed by him and his madness."

Trump has been bragging to confidants that he secured more votes than any Republican presidential candidate in history - although he trails Biden in the national popular vote by about 6 million - and that he believes he has leverage because he thinks anyone who wants a future in Republican politics will have to "kiss the ring," said a second adviser.

"His Twitter feed, as obnoxious as it is, is one of the most powerful tools he has - and he gets to take that with him," said Brendan Buck, a Republican strategist and former senior aide on Capitol Hill who has been critical of Trump. "He'll still have that ability to make or break primaries and tank deals on Capitol Hill."

Through sheer fear or admiration, Trump could easily be the most sought-after Republican surrogate in the 2022 midterm elections. But people close to him said the president is unlikely to play the traditional role of a politician collecting chits to ensure loyalty in advance of a White House run. He is not expected to spend much time traveling to early nominating states such as Iowa and New Hampshire or supporting down-ballot Republican candidates with money and surrogate appearances, these people said.

Instead, Trump has shown interest in maintaining a political operation and keeping control of the party apparatus in other ways. In the past, when presidents left office, there have been open elections for leadership positions in their party. But Trump tweeted recently, without being prompted, that he supported his ally, Ronna McDaniel, serving another term as chair of the Republican National Committee.

"I do think if he's not declared the winner he'll make it clear he's running again in 2024," a senior Trump campaign official said.

"He would be remaining as the head of the Republican Party, whether there's a formal title that goes with that or not," this official added, noting that there were a few legal options under consideration to fund Trump's future political endeavors, including a leadership political action committee.

Republicans both privately and publicly worry that Trump - who has shown little affinity toward his chosen party and largely appears to act almost exclusively in his self-interest - could be more likely to play a meddling and damaging role than a helpful one.

"If you let a sickness continue without treatment, you don't get better," Steele said. "You just get sicker."

For instance, Trump has done little so far to help Republicans in two hotly-contested Senate runoff elections in Georgia in early January that will determine which party controls the upper chamber. And the president's continued attacks on Georgia Republican officials and baseless allegations of fraud in the Peach State risk undermining faith in the election and depressing GOP turnout.

Some advisers have floated a trip to Georgia to help GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler - as Pence did on Friday - but Trump has shown little interest in doing so before the presidential election is finalized.

A senior administration official who has spoken recently with the president said that while it was "very difficult" to predict what Trump might do, there is "a very high percentage chance that he leaves the door open for him to run for a long time, for the next couple of years."

This official added that "you will not persuade him that he should change his time frame on making any decision based on what's quote unquote best for the party. He doesn't care. We could find ourselves deep into a 2024 election cycle, into mid-2023, and he still hasn't definitely said he's not running and you're just going to see all these 2024 potential contenders uncertain about what to do."

Aides expect Trump may want to stage rallies in his post-presidency, noting that speaking at rallies were his favorite part of being president because he fed off the energy of his boisterous crowds.

"If you can [get] 30,000 people to show up and you charge them $5, that's real money," said one Republican in frequent touch with the White House.

Trump's influence over Republican voters is likely to remain strong.

"Let's not pretend his sway over the party was based on his governance or his policy views," Buck said. "It was his ability to use his voice very loudly and attract attention for himself, and that's not going to change."

 

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