Ex-President Donald Trump is in political exile. And Republicans and even some allies say he is disorganized and torn between the role of antagonist and party leader.
“There is no apparatus, no structure, and part of it is due to a lack of political understanding on Trump’s behalf,” said a person close to the former president, noting that Trump was struggling to learn the ropes of post-president politics.
“It’s like phantom political members. He doesn’t have the same political infrastructure as he did three months ago as president,” added GOP strategist Matt Gorman, who previously served as communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The version of Trump that has surfaced in the month and a half since he left office is a far cry from the political Godzilla that many had expected him to be. He was supposed to unleash hell on a party machine that withdrew when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and refused to vigorously defend him during his second impeachment. Instead, Trump has had close relationships with GOP officials who have pledged to support incumbents, stayed almost entirely out of the spotlight, made fairly anodyne remarks when he first appeared, and sparingly criticized his successor, Joe Biden.
The cumulative result is political whiplash as the former president moves from wanting to support the GOP with his resources and appeal to the grassroots to a brand realignment one day and a thirst for vengeance the next. In the past week alone, Trump has moved from threatening party bodies to use his name and likeness in their fundraising drives to offering Mar-a-Lago as the venue for part of the Republican National Committee’s spring donor retreat. He brutally attacked veteran GOP agent Karl Rove for criticizing his first post-presidency speech on the Conservative Annual Political Action Committee, and advocated Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Who repeatedly questioned Trump’s own trading practices while in office.
And within 24 hours this week, Trump encouraged the NFL to run back Herschel Walker, make a major bid against Republican Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp to host a vocal opponent of the major insurgent challenges, Senator Rick Scott, R-Fla. for dinner in Mar-a-Lago. In his role as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott has pledged to stick with the GOP incumbents – including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who last month voted in his Senate trial last month to convict Trump of inciting a riot. The Florida Republican said he had a “great meeting” with Trump rolled into one Tweet he shared Friday.
“To any normal politician, it would look like they’re trying to have it both ways, but they’re really trying to have it their own,” said a former Trump White House official. “All he cares about is maintaining his power and stranglehold over the Republican Party, and he doesn’t care how his moves affect the long-term success of any institution or individual other than himself.”
Trump has always been an impulsive figure who demanded loyalty from those around him. But these qualities are tied to positions of power: whether in a real estate empire, as a media star or, in its final iteration, as President of the United States.
The task that is no longer occupied by a powerful office has become more complicated. The former president appears to have settled outside the confines of the west wing and even made his first trip to New York earlier this week. He continues to hold court on the terrace of his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he is greeted by standing ovations from members as he and the former first lady pass by. He spends his days monitoring the news, making calls, and playing golf at his eponymous club just a few miles away.
He has put together a barebones team of paid and unpaid consultants who say they are working to screen lead candidates to seek his support and get his fundraiser going. But the factions that have already formed among his fellow men indicate possible turbulence. Three Trump 2020 campaign veterans – Brad Parscale, Bill Stepien and Justin Clark – have been reviewing primary recruiting and brainstorming methods to restore his online presence while Dave Bossie and Corey Lewandowski hold talks with the ex-president about a new fundraiser to start on his behalf, according to the people who were informed of the recent discussions.
At the same time, Trump has continued to call friends from his real estate days and former White House officials asking for advice on which Republicans to try to oust and if they approve of the top challengers he is considering. A former administrative officer who was in contact with Trump referred to him as a “pinball machine” and noted that his tendency to abruptly change direction or take up a new idea after talking to a friend or outside advisor was a habit, the helper – often frustrated during his time in office – has borne it into his post-presidency life.
“You got Trump to support people without going through the process he agreed to three days ago,” said the former White House official. “It’s really disorganized.”
Republicans fear that Trump’s indecision will also affect his personal political future. Trump has continued to dangle a run over the party in 2024, and the guessing game he doesn’t want has kept the president’s hopes in suspense.
“Politics is his hobby and he enjoys his hobby between rounds of golf,” said a former Trump adviser. “His big test is is he running again? Because if he doesn’t, people will lose interest in the guy for the next hour. As long as he’s doing the plays he’s going to play again, he’ll still grab attention and make headlines. “
Without a social media platform like Twitter, the former president had to rely on making statements through his post-presidency office or through PAC political press lists, some of which mimicked the tone and length of his previous tweets. To date, he has made more than two dozen endorsements and statements since leaving the White House. The younger ones have beaten up Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell asking for credit for the current distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
And while Trump, an avid cable news consumer, has avoided responding publicly to segments of TV criticizing him or the wave of recent “cancel culture” headlines, he has been tempted. Prior to an appearance by senior adviser Jason Miller on Wednesday on the War Room podcast hosted by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Trump told Miller that he could “make a little bit of news” by sharing the thoughts of the Ex-President on the Oprah bomb last Sunday forwards interview with Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle.
“When I spoke to the President this morning … he says,” Yeah, she’s not good. I said that and now everyone is seeing it. But you realize, if you say something negative about Meghan Markle, you will be canceled. Look at Piers, “Miller said, referring to his conversation with Trump, referring to Piers Morgan, the polarizing host of Good Morning Britain, who split from the show this week after dismissing Markle’s revelations as lies .
Some close aides have described Trump’s break from Twitter as a welcome break that allows his rare statements to carry more weight than the thought bubbles he would post on the internet.
So far, many of his recent political maneuvers have received a shrug from the GOP. Trump’s public dispute with the Republican Party over fundraising and the use of his name and likeness in appeals for money appeared to have failed after Republican National Committee attorneys rejected Trump’s injunctions. By the end of the week, the RNC was not only still using Trump’s name for fundraising, but also offering it as a lure.
“Would you like to meet President Trump?” A fundraising appeal touted the opportunity to dine with the former president at an upcoming spring retreat and even take a picture with him.