Donald Trump: Life After the Presidency

Donald Trump: Life After the Presidency

Donald Trump lost the presidential election of 2020 by approximately 7 million popular votes (46.9 percent to 51.3 percent) and 232 to 306 votes in the Electoral College. He joined a relatively small group of recent US presidents to have served one term and then lost re-election. Trump’s life after the presidency was shaped both by the fact that he remained constitutionally eligible to run again and by his unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of his loss.

During the time between the election in November and the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021, Trump continued to perpetuate the falsehood that the election had been “stolen” and that he was the rightful winner, despite the fact that many of his advisors repeatedly told him that he was wrong. He insisted to his supporters that the election was fraudulent and that he could remain in office by undoing the results.

On January 6, 2021, many Trump supporters gathered near the White House to hear the president speak at an event known as the “Stop the Steal” rally. Trump continued to push the false claims that the election was “rigged” and that he won it. He stated that he would "never concede.” He also suggested that Vice President Pence could halt the certification of the Electoral College vote, a procedural formality that was scheduled to take place in the US Capitol building on that day.

For several hours that afternoon, a mob of Trump supporters violently invaded the US Capitol building, threatening to kill members of Congress and their staff, who hid inside. More than a hundred police officers were injured, and several rioters died—one shot by police and several from natural causes. Despite frantic pleas from members of Congress and some of his staff members, Trump refused to condemn or call off the riot, which he watched on television from the White House. Once the Capitol police finally regained control of the building later that night, members of Congress came out of their secure locations and formally voted to affirm the results of the Electoral College, making Joe Biden officially the president-elect.

In the aftermath of that attack, major social media companies blocked Trump’s accounts, and the House of Representatives impeached him for a second time. Even after Trump left office, fallout from the attack continued. The House of Representatives convened a Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Throughout 2022, Americans watched the January 6 hearings to learn more about what transpired.

In a departure from recent tradition, Trump did not attend the inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden. He thus became only the fifth outgoing president (apart from those who died in office) to conduct such a boycott, and the first since Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency in 1974 and did not witness the oath of office of his successor Gerald Ford. The other three were one-term presidents in the 19th century (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Johnson). In addition to violating a standard norm of presidential politics, Trump’s refusal to attend Biden’s inauguration or acknowledge the legitimacy of his electoral victory marked a strike against the long-held tradition of the peaceful transfer of power that is vital to democratic governance.

Trump relocated to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, when his presidential term expired. The beginning of his post-presidency witnessed his second impeachment trial in the United States Senate. One week after January 6, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection. The Senate trial began on February 9. Republican senator Rand Paul motioned to dismiss the trial at the outset on the grounds that Trump was out of office. Supporters of the trial noted that a guilty vote in the Senate would bar him from running for president again, and the Senate voted 55 to 45 to conduct the trial. 

Trump’s legal defense argued that Trump’s speech to the protestors on January 6 had been standard political rhetoric and accused Trump’s opponents of seeking “political vengeance.” Later the House Committee investigations revealed that Trump knew both that the election results were legitimate and that rioters on January 6 were armed and intended to commit violence, and that he personally wished to join the assault on the Capitol. That information was not presented at the Senate trial. The Senate ultimately voted 57 to 43 to convict Trump of inciting insurrection, ten votes fewer than needed for the conviction to stand. He therefore remained eligible to seek the presidency again. All Democrats (and Democratic-leaning independents) as well as seven Republican senators voted against Trump.

Without access to social media accounts like Twitter, Trump experimented with a range of start-up social media platforms and frequently issued commentary on political affairs via standard press release. He remained politically active, raising donations from supporters, campaigning for various office seekers in advance of the 2022 midterm elections, and actively criticizing President Biden, the Democratic Party, and Republicans whom he determined were insufficiently loyal to him or the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) agenda. In November 2022, Trump announced that he was running for the GOP nomination in the 2024 presidential election. As the 2024 Republican primary got underway, almost a dozen candidates threw their hats in the ring, including Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, and former governor or New Jersey, Chris Christie. Despite all the competition, Trump won almost all of the GOP primaries and became the presumptive Republican nominee in March 2024.

Yet, Trump remained beset by legal troubles. By September 2023, he had been indicted in four separate cases: one in New York related to hush money payments, one in Florida related to mishandling classified documents, one in Washington, DC, and one in Georgia, both related to efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The indictments in DC and Florida were federal, brought by the US Department of Justice; those in New York and Georgia were brought under state laws.

The first case to move forward was the hush money case in New York City. Beginning in April 2024, the prosecution argued that Trump used fraudulent business practices for the purpose of interfering with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election by misleading voters. The case alleged that in October 2016, Trump had one of his lawyers, Michael Cohen, pay a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to not go public about a sexual liaison she claimed to have had with Trump in 2006. 

The case lasted about six weeks, and on May 30, 2024, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all 34 felony counts against President Trump for falsifying business records, making him the first US president to ever be convicted of a felony. He vowed to appeal the ruling, and speculation abounded about what effects his felony conviction might have on his quest to reclaim the presidency.