Even if Trump and many of his followers do not want to believe it right now, following Joe Biden’s projected election victory and his inauguration in January, the current president will be a private citizen again. So, what will he do then?
Will he start laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign in 2024?
Trump has garnered more votes in these elections than almost anyone had predicted. Without the Covid-19 pandemic, he would probably have been re-elected. As things stand, there are no other Republican candidates who look like they would stand a chance in 2024. On the other hand, Trump does have longstanding detractors within the GOP, many of whom have held their tongues in recent years – but that will change. It won’t take long for persistent anti-Trump Republicans to find their voices and for new candidates to emerge.
Besides, it is unclear whether Trump even wants to run again. In the early years of his presidency, he frequently gave the impression that he did not enjoy being president. The office is associated with a lot of personal restrictions and constant public criticism. It could well be that he does not want to run for office again. It is also not clear how all the lawsuits that will soon be brought against him will play out.
Will he focus on his businesses?
Trump’s business empire has apparently not been doing well – for many years. According to The New York Times, he is said to have paid no federal income tax for an entire decade. The newspaper, which obtained confidential data from two decades’ worth of tax returns, revealed that in 10 of the 15 years before he was elected president in 2016, he paid no federal income tax. In 2016 itself, the year of his election, he apparently only paid $750. He did the same again in 2017. Trump has denied the newspaper’s claims, but as he has refused to release his tax returns, instead choosing to lambast the NYT’s reports as fake news, doubts remain as to whether he really is such a rich and successful businessman as he has always claimed.
These doubts have existed for quite some time. They fueled an ongoing dispute between Trump and Forbes because the magazine did not agree that Trump was worth as much as he claimed. Trump has always asserted that he is worth more because outsiders underestimate the financial value of the Trump brand. On one occasion, he responded to two different figures for his fortune, one of which was $6.0 billion and the other $3.5 billion, by claiming that the discrepancy was due to the value of his personal brand.
According to Trump, his name was worth $2.5 billion at the time. Although the Trump name did not appear in the Interbrand ranking of the world’s most valuable brands, Trump wrote in 2010 that an independent valuation had put its value at $3.0 billion. This would have made his name the most valuable single item in his portfolio – none of his properties or other investments were worth that much.
But how much is the Trump brand still worth today? Yes, he has many supporters and admirers, but after a polarising four years in the White House, there are also a lot of Americans who no longer see him as the irreverent source of light entertainment he once represented. The economic brand value, which has certainly never been as high as Trump has claimed, has definitely not increased. If anything, it has decreased.
Critics also believe that Trump has exaggerated his successes in the real estate sector. They point out that he has made far more money from properties that never belonged to him, despite the fact that they were emblazoned with the name “Trump” in gigantic, usually gold, letters. He collected substantial royalties from these buildings, which the owners paid for using the “Trump” name.
To outsiders, however, it seemed as if Trump either personally owned or had built all of the buildings that bore his name. For Trump, licensing his name in this way proved to be an excellent bit of business: he earned money as a licensor even if the partners he sold his name to experienced massive financial problems. But this kind of business might no longer work for him in the future.
Will he return to the media and entertainment arena?
More than anything else, Trump is an entertainer. On its own, his television series The Apprentice earned him a total of $427.4 million. However, it seems unlikely that Trump will return to television reality shows again when he finishes up his job as president (after he turned the revered Oval Office into his own personal reality TV set, it is difficult to imagine him being satisfied with a smaller stage). It is conceivable, however, that he will find sponsors with whom he can build a media empire.
Will he write his memoirs and travel the land as a highly-paid guest speaker?
Trump will probably end up following the well-trodden path of the presidents before him: he will write his memoirs (or, more accurately, get someone else to write them for him) and give lectures. Former US presidents earn vast amounts of money doing precisely this. Obama was hardly rich before he took office. But Obama and his wife are said to have received advance payments totaling $65 million for their first post-White House books. On top of that, the Obamas also earn six-figure fees for speeches and appearances. According to a 2017 calculation by the American University, Bill Clinton increased his fortune by an astounding 6,150 per cent after leaving office – largely thanks to his memoirs and appearance fees.
There is much to suggest that Trump will earn his money as a speaker and author over the next few years – just like his predecessors. Unlike them, he will also be offering a regular commentary on the latest political events in Washington via his favoured platform of Twitter.
One thing is certain – we haven’t seen nor heard the last of President Donald J. Trump yet.
Rainer Zitelmann holds doctorates in history and sociology and is the author of over 20 books. His latest book is The Rich in Public Opinion: What We Think When We Think About Wealth, which has recently been published by the Cato Institute.