Longtime conservative columnist George Will recently predicted, in an appearance on MSNBC, that most Republicans would instantly abandon Donald Trump should he lose the election. Indeed, Will seemed to imply that they would be relieved to be rid of Trump and would instantly turn to the work of rebuilding the Republican Party and reformulating its message. While that’s perhaps comforting to Republicans who are uncomfortable with, or completely unsupportive of, Trump, it’s not going to be easy for Republicans – or the country as a whole – to quickly toss him aside should he lose re-election.

Now, that’s not because he’s going to do anything crazy, like cancel the election, refuse to concede or refuse to leave office. While all of those are constant liberal fears, they’re not realistic concerns at all; instead, they’re more fear-mongering by left-wing opinion writers pandering to their base than anything reality-based. Whether you support his policies and his personality or not, Trump is not, in fact, a threat to the Constitution or American democracy. That accusation has been lobbed at plenty of presidents over the years by the party out of power: Conservative pundits frequently labeled Barack Obama a tyrant, while liberal ones liked to call George W. Bush a dictator. That wasn’t true of them, and it’s not true of Trump, either.

Take, for instance, Trump’s recent threat to send in the U.S. military to quell violent unrest across the country. While it’s understandable that merely mentioning the idea was unsettling to many Americans, he wasn’t threatening to impose martial law or turn himself into a dictator. Instead, he was floating the idea of invoking a long-standing section of federal law, the Insurrection Act, to allow the use of the military for domestic police purposes. The move would not have been unprecedented, either: The Insurrection Act was invoked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots by President George H.W. Bush. The current circumstances would have been vastly different, as troops could have been deployed to many different cities at once without a request from state or local officials, but in the end Trump’s tough talk proved to be mere bluster, since he didn’t end up invoking it at all.

So, there’s no real reason for liberals to be worried about him refusing to leave office after a loss. Republicans do have something to be worried about if Trump loses, though: not just that he will continue to wield influence in the party (and encourage future imitators) but also that he might choose to run again in 2024. Just as Paul LePage has retained an enormous influence on Maine Republicans and has continually threatened to challenge Janet Mills in 2022, Donald Trump will remain popular with vast segments of the Republican base even if he loses.

In a way, Trump could be an even larger threat to the Republican Party out of office than he is now. He has reached a relative détente with Republican leadership on Capitol Hill: He rarely criticizes them publicly, and they in turn rarely cross him openly. They seem to be willing to tolerate his controversial remarks and behavior as long as he advances their agenda, which for the most part he seems more than willing to do. If he were to lose the election, though, he’d be completely unleashed – even more so than he already is. Festivus would likely come early this year, as he’d launch into an immediate airing of grievances the moment the election was over. We’ve already seen him criticize current and former elected officials in his own party; if he lost, the focus of that ire would likely be broadened exponentially.

By floating speculation about a possible future run, Trump could make life difficult for not just the party as a whole, but also other potential candidates. Most of the likely presidential candidates would probably hold off until Trump made his intentions absolutely clear. It’s hard to imagine someone like Nikki Haley or Mike Pence deciding to run if Trump wanted another shot. By waiting until the last possible moment, Trump could essentially end up with veto power over the 2024 nomination.

So, even if Trump loses, he’s hardly going to fade quietly into retirement. Though he may not be in the Oval Office, he’s going to continue to wield enormous influence over both the Republican Party and our national political discourse for years – whether he runs again or just keeps tweeting.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins.
He can be contacted at: 
[email protected]

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