If impeachment-tainted Trump loses in 2020, he'll be back
Presidents have been impeached, but none have been removed from office due to impeachment. Confusing? Here's how. USA TODAY
Is this president ready to step out of the limelight? Signs would point to no.
At this point, it is obvious that Democrats don’t expect to win the impeachment fight. But they still ardently hope this blistering brawl will damage the president’s reelection drive and rescue America, permanently, from a demagogue they despise.
Realistically, however, Donald Trump’s energized opponents must face an inconvenient truth: Even if they prevail in a decisive electoral victory this November, that won’t mean the end of Trumpism — or of Trump himself.
Chances are that even in defeat, the “Orange Menace” would maintain unshakable control of the Republican Party and continue to inspire his tens of millions of loyal followers with boisterous rallies, confrontational media appearances and world-girdling tweets. There is even the real possibility — and, I would argue, the great likelihood — that in defeat, the irrepressible ex-president would quickly signal his intention of “pulling a Grover”: roaring back in a revenge campaign in 2024 to challenge any Democratic incumbent to a rematch that Trump could very possibly win.
The only president to accomplish this feat
So far, President Grover Cleveland, another well-padded, combative New Yorker, counts as the only president to win two nonconsecutive terms. He prevailed in an outrageously close race in 1884, but when challenged by Republican Benjamin Harrison four years later in his drive for reelection, he lost by a whisker (both candidates displayed luxuriant facial hair).
Refusing to concede permanent defeat or to surrender his leadership of the Democratic Party, Cleveland won his biggest presidential victory in 1892, besting the incumbent President Harrison by 3 percentage points of the popular vote.
Skeptics might argue that Trump’s advanced age stands as an obstacle to repeating Cleveland’s feat: Grover had only reached the age of 55 when he won his comeback campaign, but Trump will turn 78 in 2024.
But that’s the same age Joe Biden will be on inauguration day next year and a year younger than Bernie Sanders this November. Moreover, if either of these two front-running Democrats managed to beat Trump, age might even become a meaningful advantage for the resurgent Republican. At 81 and 84 respectively, at the end of a prospective first term, Biden and Sanders would both face pressure for retirement, forcing the Democrats to field a candidate who lacked the undeniable advantage of incumbency.
History repeats itself: Trends and tactics that propelled Donald Trump to his 2016 win could reelect him in 2020
Trump’s incomparable name recognition would give him a powerful edge on any 2024 opponents, Republican or Democrat. He might not have succeeded in building a big, beautiful wall during his first term, but he did manage to build the Trump name into the best-known brand in the galaxy. His decade as a reality star made him a media darling long before he descended that fateful escalator in 2015 and helped him dispense with 16 lesser-known GOP wannabes. The same familiarity factor could facilitate a return to power in 2024.
Trump spectacle equals great TV
Undoubtedly, the reality show of Trump out of power, snarling and screaming for another shot at making America great again, would spark monster ratings for all media and rivet public attention. During his 2016 campaign, speculation suggested that Trump’s real goal involved not the White House but establishment of a Trump TV Network as a rambunctious, populist alternative to Fox News and the “fake news” outlets he so gleefully derides.
While Trump complains about a few disloyal and discordant voices disrupting the mighty amen chorus at Fox News, a new TV operation could offer wall-to-wall, 24-hour coverage delivered exclusively by adoring acolytes (Judge Jeanine? Kellyanne? Jerry Falwell Jr.?) and members of the royal family — Don Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, Ivanka and Jared, Eric and Lara, not to mention the ex-president himself, with exclusive live coverage of weekly, coast-to-coast, Restoration Rallies.
As a general rule, no human being can regularly upstage an incumbent president of the United States, but an inexhaustibly energetic once-and-future President Trump could certainly give it a shot.
The president reportedly despises the quotidian details of actual governance, so it’s likely he’d enjoy four years of a well-publicized (and surely profitable) permanent campaign more than the daily grind of a second term.
Of course he means to win this November, but if somehow he falls short, no one should expect him to go gentle into that good night. To paraphrase another actor-politician the Donald happens to despise, even if he does lose this time: “He’ll be back.”
Michael Medved, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, hosts a daily radio talk show. He is the author of the recently published "God's Hand on America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era." Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW