Even if Donald 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?
On the one hand, Trump has garnered more votes in these elections than almost anyone predicted. Without the coronavirus 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 of tax returns, revealed that in ten of the fifteen years before his election he paid no federal income tax and that in 2016, the year of his election, he 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 the Trump 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, as 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 he also has a lot of detractors. The economic brand value, which has certainly never been as high as Trump has claimed, has definitely not increased. If anything, it has decreased.
Trump has also persistently overexaggerated his successes in the real estate sector. In many cases, his vanity has got in the way of his investments. While his father became wealthy by building well-equipped but non-luxury apartments for the middle classes in Brooklyn, Trump was drawn to Manhattan, where he bought properties such as the Plaza Hotel at completely inflated prices, because the building’s image was more important to him than its financial viability. Trump himself admitted at the time that he could never justify the price he paid for it, no matter how successful the Plaza would ever become. His sole concern was to own a trophy building that would further enhance his image. No rational real estate investor would have paid anywhere near as much as Trump did. Unsurprisingly, the hotel turned out to be a bad investment. It was the same story with many of Trump’s other trophy investments, which he acquired at inflated prices to boost his own image.
He made far more money from properties that never even 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. Thus, he directly capitalized on the strength of the Trump brand. 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 will 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. But it’s hard to imagine that Trump will return to television reality shows again after his job as U.S. president. 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: Write his memoirs (or, more accurately, get someone else to write them for him) and give lectures. Former U.S. presidents earn vast amounts of money doing precisely this. Barack 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 percent 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 Twitter.
Rainer Zitelmann is a German historian and sociologist.