Donald Trump takes up a post-presidency hobby: revenge

  • In Politics
  • 2021-02-04 08:00:29Z
  • By The Guardian
Photograph: Michael Cummo/AP
Photograph: Michael Cummo/AP  

Every former American president picks up hobbies after leaving office (books, painting, skinny dipping, boxing). For the early days of Donald Trump's post-presidency he has picked something a little different: revenge.

It's early and presidents usually intentionally recede from public view dramatically after leaving office. But Trump appears uninterested in following that practice.

The 45th president has amassed a post-presidential war chest of $31m. He has endorsed a former aide in an upcoming gubernatorial election in the shape of his former press secretary Sarah Sanders in Arkansas.

And he has vowed to take revenge on high-profile Republicans who he sees as the chief reason he is out of office - like Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia or the House Republican Conference chairwoman, Liz Cheney, the highest-ranking member of her caucus to vote for impeaching the former president.

Some of Trump's allies are also either keeping roles in the political campaign sphere to maintain Trumpism or beginning the siege on his opponents. Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman and staunch Trump ally, has already traveled to Wyoming to encourage opposition to Cheney. In Arizona, pro-Trump Republicans censured the former senator Jeff Flake, Governor Doug Ducey and Cindy McCain, the widow of the late senator John McCain.

In Pennsylvania, the state Republican party recently reaffirmed its full support for Trump as well. And above the state parties, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, a Trump ally, was re-elected to her post.

The former president has largely stayed out of public view while Congress moves forward with his second impeachment trial, but is poised to re-emerge in the months ahead. On Tuesday one of Trump's lawyers, David Schoen, appeared on Fox News' Hannity as well.

To cement his influence Trump has also not discounted the possibility of running for election again in 2024, forcing other would-be Republican candidates to tread carefully as they plot their own groundwork for the next presidential campaign.

But anti-Trump sentiment within the party is growing as well, albeit slowly, especially for a president who left office after one term with underwater approval ratings. Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the president, recently set up a political action committee to help reclaim the party from Trump's allies. Flake continues to make media appearances and uses them to fight Trump's hold on the Republican party.

Donald Trump: one of the Republicans’ Beatles, or the Beatle.
Donald Trump: one of the Republicans’ Beatles, or the Beatle.  

Trump and his allies, though, have shown no interest in ceding control. The question, explained former congressman Jim Renacci of Ohio, is whether Trump needs to continue to be the leader of the Republican party or one of the leaders of the political movement within it that's identified closely with Trump.

"I don't think he needs to be the leader, I think he just needs to continue to make the movement go forward," Renacci said, adding: "I think there are still people fed up with the country and the direction and I think they're getting more fed up now that President Biden is signing executive orders and unwinding things that people really felt were good for the country."

Renacci compared it to whether Trump would be a member of a set of Republican all-star leaders or the Republican all-star leader; one of the Beatles or the Beatle.

Renacci himself has identified as a Trump Republican and could end up acting as an active participant in trying to maintain Trump's hold on the party. He is weighing whether to run for an open US Senate seat in Ohio or challenge that state's governor, Mike DeWine, in the Republican primary. Trump has feuded with DeWine in the past.

Gaetz, in a set of texts to the Guardian, said: "It appears House Republicans are headed for a civil war of sorts." He explained that the moment Cheney fell out of favor with "outsiders" wasn't when she voted to impeach Trump, but when she went "after" the Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie.

Gaetz said opponents of anti-Trump Republicans should begin campaigning against them.

"It's time to hit the campaign trail and find out who we are as a party - and as you saw in Wyoming I love to campaign," Gaetz continued. "Kinzinger has started a Pac. That's his right. It is telling, though. When the Neocon Establishment mobilizes, they turn to Pacs as a first instinct. America First Populists turn to the people - just like I did in Wyoming with great success."

Separately, a former aide to the then vice-president, Mike Pence, noted that Trump's political war chest is substantial. If the former president were to direct that money toward boosting a Republican challenger to say, Kemp, the operative said: "I think Kemp's toast."


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