Here is a picture of a world in which Donald Trump isn't president. It is a world that I can confidently predict the existence of, although I cannot tell you when it will come to pass. In liberal Los Angeles, which is where I live, "when" is perhaps the question I'm most asked, as if I have some deep connection to a Washington, D.C., hive mind that knows everything about the Mueller investigation, can control the weather, and can foresee whether the president runs for re-election, wins or loses, resigns, or is impeached and convicted.
But at some point, no later than January 2025, Donald Trump will no longer be president.
He will, instead, be an ex-president. And because his force of will has changed the substrate of politics so dramatically, it doesn't take a lot of brainspace to run a "Donald Trump Post-Presidency" emulator either. Let's get rid of a few extreme scenarios. For the sake of this game, he's not going to be imprisoned and he IS going to be around.
Consider: Most ex-presidents leave office and shut their mouths for a time. Tradition and deference plays a role here, but so does the prospect of saving their reflections for their memoirs. No doubt that President Obama will write a good one.
But Trump won't wait for a memoir. And he won't observe the tradition of silence. He will, instead, continue to communicate in the way he likes to communicate. He will be older, yes, but he will also have a lot more time. Fox News. Whatever national network Sinclair Broadcast Group builds. Whatever non-linear conservative content platform rises to meet his bundle of resentments — we should assume that he will tweet at least once a day.
Consider: Most ex-presidents keep the confidences of allies. They don't talk about their private conversations with, say, members of Congress, on the one hand, or foreign leaders on another. They don't reveal, in substance or in outline, the classified assessments of existential threats that they received in office.
Trump leaks his own conversations with friends, enemies, world leaders, and everyone else. He discloses classified information at quasi-public fundraisers and to strategic adversaries in quasi-private meetings. When the next president deals with a foreign policy or national security crisis that involves sensitive equities, is there any reason to believe that former President Trump wouldn't vigorously defend his own policies, especially if he felt aggrieved?
Consider: If Trump comes to convince himself, before 2020, that he has succeeded in cutting taxes, resetting America's relationship with the world, making progress on the Korean peninsula, cutting regulation, and beginning to build the wall, he might decide to resign. Imagine former President (or even lame duck President) Trump during a presidential primary. Imagine, too, that if the person who succeeds Trump is a Republican, that Trump will do everything he can to insinuate himself into the conversation at the same as his Republican successor is trying to pretend like Trump did not exist. Flip the scenario: If a Democrat becomes president, he or she will spend a lot of time consciously attempting to undo whatever Trump did and Trump will be a useful foil. I suspect he would relish the foil role. I suspect he might even be more comfortable if a Democrat succeeded him, if only for the sake of sport.
It may be true that a post-presidential Trump is PNGd from even impolite Republican society — and that, by the time he leaves office, Twitter is no longer a primary carrier of political conversation. Perhaps Trump's tweets will finally be ignored. But when my post-Presidential Trump Behavior emulator runs through most of the possible scenarios, I can't help but feeling that he's going to change our institutional archetypes even after he leaves office.