Twice acquitted, Trump possesses many options to reinvigorate MAGA after White House
Ex-president's proclamation that movement "has only just begun" has many guessing what’s next.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
Two days removed from his second impeachment acquittal, former President Donald Trump was returning from a day of golf when he was greeted by a throng of flag-waving fans as he neared his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The President's Day scene in West Palm Beach, Fla., which included jubilant supporters with signs that declared "Trump won," even impressed Dan Scavino, a veteran of many of his boss' sold-out rallies. "This is unbelievable," the longtime aide tweeted Monday.
The spontaneous event was a not-so-subtle reminder that the Twitter-banished, twice-impeached 45th president remains a continuing force inside the GOP. Anyone who thinks otherwise does so at their own peril.
Shortly after the Senate voted Saturday to acquit him, Trump sent out a cryptic message making clear he has little intention of fading into history like most former presidents.
"Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun," he declared. "In the months ahead, I have much to share with you."
What will he share and do? It's a question many inside the MAGA movement are asking. Just the News interviewed a dozen people close to the former president and came up with a menu of likely options for the man many now just call "45."
The first and most obvious option is for Trump to try to become the 47th president in four years, winning back the White House. With more than 80% of Republicans still supporting him and a majority favoring him as the 2024 GOP nominee even after impeachment, Trump has a clear path back to the campaign trail if he chooses.
But it is hardly the only option. And long before he must decide, he has the opportunity for significant impact.
One option is to build up the GOP's war coffers and candidate field to win back Congress in 2022, something that Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) favors as a starting point.
"You know, he's ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party," Graham said Sunday. "He's excited about 2022."
Building a well-funded political action committee and rallying behind the House and Senate candidates most supportive of Trump's populist message is one potential avenue, an idea House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has already begun talking with Trump about.
And if Trump is looking for somewhere to start, he's got a potential candidate close to home. Daughter-in-law Lara Trump is garnering lots of attention as a potential senate candidate in North Carolina in 2022.
Graham talked about unifying the GOP, and one way Trump may do so in his own unique way is to target never-Trumpers in the 2022 primaries, seeking to increase his hold over the party by replacing intra-party opponents with loyalists. The 17 House and Senate Republicans who supported his impeachment and conviction would be on that list, starting at the top with the likes of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming and Rep. Joe Rice of South Carolina.
If Trump is calculating, he can make his point about loyalty and solidarity inside the GOP by focusing his wrath on anti-Trump Republicans in safe districts and states and avoid those in swing states or districts where a sudden change could hurt GOP chances in the general election.
The former president could also use a PAC or other nonprofit institutions to build out the messaging for his distinctively populist and working-class movement, drawing clear policy distinctions with the Biden administration on economic and security issues and highlighting the painful consequences of early Biden decisions on traditional Democratic constituencies.
For instance, Trump could highlight the union jobs killed by Biden's closure of the Keystone pipeline or the impact of a Democratic minimum wage hike on small business owners, who increasingly include Latinos and blacks.
As a victim of cancel culture and censorship, Trump could also deal devastating blows to the Big Tech oligarchs who have silenced him and opposed his agenda. There have been reports he's considering starting his own social media platforms.
But an easier and quicker way for Trump to build a new conservative ecosystem would be for him to use his clout to sway tens of millions of his fans to leave Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and send them to create new accounts on the fast-emerging free-speech platforms of Parler, CloutHub and Rumble. That way he can leave the tech headaches to experts while solving a major problem for conservatives through market disruption.
There also remains a "nuclear option" for Trump should establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell try to pull the party to their side, creating a triangulated GOP.
In that scenario, Trump could upgrade his PAC to a new political party like the so-called Patriot Party and run on a new ticket in 2024. The danger of that option, however, is that it could split the conservative vote and give Democrats an easy win in 2024, much as Ross Perot ate into George H.W. Bush's vote and paved the way for Bill Clinton's victory in 1992.