What will Donald Trump do next after his US election defeat? – Martyn McLaughlin

Some became secessionists, humanitarian crusaders, or chief justice of the Supreme Court. Others devoted themselves to the easel, co-authored a best-selling thriller, or launched a distillery. Now, the question is: what will 45 do?

Donald Trump departs the White House press briefing room, just hours before Joe Biden is declared the winner of the US presidential election. (Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
Donald Trump departs the White House press briefing room, just hours before Joe Biden is declared the winner of the US presidential election. (Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

When Donald Trump departs the White House, whether it be by free will or federal force, it will not bring an end to his habit of upending norms and disrupting tradition. If anything, that trend could intensify.

The immediate focus should perhaps be trained not on what he will do, but what he will get. Mr Trump has made a habit of using his public office to funnel money to his private businesses, and he will continue to drain the US Treasury.

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For starters, he is entitled to an annual pension worth £165,000, and thanks to the Former Presidents Act – ratified in 1958 to prevent Harry Truman from penury – a slew of other benefits, all paid by US taxpayers. The legislation was intended to ensure a dignified retirement for those who held the highest office, free from the need to commercialise or demean their status. If Mr Trump’s conduct and character are any guide, he will relish the opportunity to do both.

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Its provisions include funding for an office in a US location of his choice, £72,500 towards staff salaries, as well as travel costs, equipment, and supplies, cumulatively worth several hundred thousand pounds more. It is an expensive business; in the first 15 years of this millennium, the amount spent on former presidents reached £44 million.

Mr Trump will add to that levy. There is nothing to prevent him setting up an office in Trump Tower in Manhattan, and reaping significant federal funds for the privilege. He is also entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection, meaning that every time he visits his resorts in the US or abroad, a bill will await the US public.

US President-elect Joe Biden has already struck a very different tone to Donald Trump (Picture: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Which brings us back to the question: what exactly will a man with no discernible interests other than golf and controversy do? For a narcissist hard-wired for blind adulation, retirement is unconscionable. And my hunch, for what it’s worth, is that if the Trump name is on the ballot in 2024, it will be that of Ivanka.

It is no coincidence that while her two adult brothers have been letting loose with wild conspiracy theories following Joe Biden’s victory, Mr Trump’s eldest daughter has been keeping her powder dry.

None of which ought to preclude the likelihood that Mr Trump will stoke intrigue concerning his future political ambitions in order to keep his profile high. In any case, history is against him – Grover Cleveland is the only president to serve one term, then return to the job years later.

Trump needs money fast

Instead, I think Mr Trump will return to where it all began – his family business – and partly out of necessity. The Manhattan district attorney and the New York state attorney are investigating Mr Trump and his company, the net worth of which has dropped £760m during the coronavirus pandemic, Forbes estimates.

He is also personally responsible for loans and other debts totalling £318m, much of which is due in the next four years. He needs money, and quickly. Do not be surprised if he resorts to the tried and tested revenue stream of licensing his name and brand – even a divisive former president enjoys a certain cachet in shadier parts of the world.

It is also highly probable that Scotland will play a significant part in his plans. After all, in recent years, the Trump Organisation has effectively become a Scottish property development company.

Three sources at Mr Trump’s businesses here told me he has been frustrated at his inability to freely visit, particularly at Turnberry, a historic venue he first wanted to buy in the mid-1990s. Now that he is to be freed from the inconvenience of public office, they fully expect him to return regularly to these shores.

If so, it will be for work as well as leisure. One well-placed source said Mr Trump not only wants to press for the return of the prestigious Open Championship to Turnberry, but that he is fully aware of the plans to expand its footprint with a new retirement village – and that the Trump Organisation intends to pursue it.

A trip to the Amazon rainforest?

There is also the small matter of the Trump Estate in Aberdeenshire, a 550-unit housing development which has already secured planning permission. Parties from as far afield as Washington and Singapore have registered an interest in the scheme; Mr Trump’s time in power might help him convince new foreign investors to open their wallets.

Plausible speculation also suggests that a man who is, at heart, a low-brow reality television star, will venture into the broadcast game. He still owns Trump Productions LLC, a vehicle to manage revenue from his role in The Apprentice, a series he also executive produced.

Yet it could be news rather than entertainment that piques Mr Trump’s interest. In the weeks before the 2016 election, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, reportedly approached Aryeh Bourkoff, a leading US media dealmaker, in what appears to have been a plan B. Now that defeat is no longer theoretical, similar overtures could be made. Mr Trump may partner with – or buy out – Christopher Ruddy’s Newsmax, or Robert Herring, the founder of the extremist One America News Network, a broadcaster with which he has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.

Then again, perhaps these predictions are too level headed. Maybe Mr Trump will blaze the trail set by Teddy Roosevelt, who embarked on an African safari after being voted out of the White House, before roving deep into the Amazon basin. Then again, given he is the only president in US history to be impeached, lose the popular vote twice, and serve just one term, some might argue even the hinterlands of the South American rainforest is not far enough away for Mr Trump.

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