- It may seem as if President Donald Trump just disappeared. He hasn’t.
- Political committees, government facilities, and media are all part of Trump’s comeback plan.
- Creating a new political party and running for president in 2024 are Trump’s two biggest decisions.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
You’re forgiven if President Donald Trump has lulled you into believing he’s canceled.
After all, on a charge of inciting an insurrection, the US House just impeached him. The US Senate will soon try him, if not convict him. Twitter banished him. So did Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Trump fled Washington, DC, on January 20 for his gilded Florida redoubt of Mar-a-Lago after promising to “never” give up his fight for four more years.
And since the moment President-elect Joe Biden became President Joe Biden, Trump has all but disappeared. He hasn’t made a speech. He hasn’t appeared for an interview. He hasn’t cut a trademark straight-to-camera video.
But don’t fool yourself. Trump’s still here.
He’s waiting, and scheming, and calculating, and building. He might start a new political party. He might even run for president again.
In a year, or a month, or a day, Trump will roar back — exasperating Democrats, independents, and a good many Republicans.
And when he does, Insider has identified seven distinct weapons in his arsenal — from political committees to government facilities to media platforms — with which the former president is primed to stage his comeback.
Save America PAC: a new, grifty tip of Trump’s political spear
Early in the maelstrom of Trump’s election results denial, the politically doomed president quietly formed a new committee that, by its very creation on Nov. 9, tacitly acknowledged his second White House term might not materialize.
Trump called the “leadership” political action committee Save America. It’s a curious name for a president who, for much of the 2020 campaign, utilized a “Keep America Great” slogan that implied Trump had already saved America from Democrats, socialists, antifa, and other “enemy of the people” miscellany.
Regardless, Save America is a kind of committee that a former president can use to spend money on … lots of things that help keep him very much in the national conversation.
“Trump’s Save America PAC may very well be a textbook example of a political slush fund,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of bipartisan ethics reform watchdog Issue One. “While Trump could use the money he raises for this PAC to support like-minded candidates, Trump may also use these funds to cover travel, lodging, dining, legal expenses, or entertainment expenses like golfing — including at Trump properties — for years to come.”
Trump immediately tethered Save America to his presidential campaign committee and the Republican National Committee. He did so under the auspices of Trump Make America Great Again — a joint fundraising committee that shared money it raised among its three members.
This detail is subtle but critical. Trump Make America Great Again incessantly fundraised throughout November and December. Much of the money messaging via emails and text messages enticed MAGA-ites to meet an “election defense fund goal.”
“Will you allow the CORRUPT Democrats to try to STEAL this Election and impart their RADICAL agenda on our Country?” one typical come-on from November shouted.
But most Trump supporters were oblivious to the fact that they weren’t primarily funding Trump election integrity efforts.
Say someone responded with a $100 contribution. Save America would take $75 of it. The RNC would take the rest for its operating account, according to a donation allotment formula published in the credit card submission page’s fine print.
No matter that the RNC and Trump presidential campaign, not Save America, were leading legal and ballot recount efforts in a bid to deny Biden the presidency.
At 1:24 p.m. on January 6, as a mob of Trump supporters were on the verge of attacking the US Capitol, Trump Make America Great Again blasted another email fundraising plea, with the bulk of money raised going to Save America.
“Every single Patriot from across the Country must step up RIGHT NOW if we’re going to successfully DEFEND the integrity of this Election. President Trump is calling on YOU to bolster our Official Defend America Fund,” the message read. “Please contribute $5 immediately to the Official Defend America Fund and to increase your impact by 1000%.”
Save America spent about $125,000 during its first two weeks in existence, according to federal records. Every cent went toward fundraising fees with WinRed, a Trump-backed political fundraising platform, those records indicate. During its first two weeks, Save America raised more than $569,000.
That was before its fundraising blitz truly began. From November 24 through December 31, Trump’s new PAC raised nearly $30.9 million, according to an FEC disclosure submitted late Sunday night.
But Save America didn’t spend a dime during that period on Trump’s efforts to “defend the integrity” of the 2020 election or otherwise overturn 2020 election results. Instead, the PAC again only spent money on WinRed fundraising fees — about $218,000 in all.
Save America ended 2020 with about $31.2 million after starting with zero dollars not two months before.
So, what now?
In January, Save America has served as Trump’s platform to target Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who voted last month to impeach Trump on one count of inciting an insurrection. The PAC last week released a poll that indicated Cheney is vulnerable to a Republican primary challenge.
“It is evident her ratings are in bad shape among general election voters and have collapsed among Republicans and Trump voters,” pollster John McLaughlin wrote to Trump advisor Jason Miller in a memorandum obtained by Politico.
The siren song of in-person political rallies is likely to lure Trump from Florida to friendly places across the country. When that happens, Save America is an obvious vehicle for him to fund and organize such events.
Office of the Former President: the exile White House
On January 25, Trump announced that he had formally opened the “Office of the Former President.”
It will be based at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, the private club overlooking the Atlantic Ocean where the ex-president also now lives. Taxpayers will in part fund it.
Former presidents are entitled by law to these kinds of offices. Barack Obama works from Washington. George W. Bush stationed himself in Dallas. And Bill Clinton has set-ups in New York.
Trump’s office, however, signals something else entirely.
By placing it within Mar-a-Lago, which Trump dubbed “the Winter White House” early in his term, Trump gives himself a certain extension of a presidency with which he hasn’t quite parted.
He’ll have an official staff coterie. The Secret Service will even protect him there.
Considering the events of the past month, the office name’s acknowledgement of reality — Trump is no longer president of the United States — is also itself striking.
Only four weeks ago Trump, who was still insisting he won the 2020 election, declared: “We will not break. We will never give in. We will never give up. We will NEVER surrender.”
In a statement last week, Trump’s new office said it will be “responsible for managing President Trump’s correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities to advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism.”
It added: “President Trump will always and forever be a champion for the American People.”
In the evening of January 31, Trump’s new office announced that “highly respsected” lawyers David Schoen and Bruce L. Castor Jr. would lead the former president’s impeachment defense legal team.
“[B]oth Schoen and Castor agree that this impeachment is unconstitutional,” the statement read.
‘Patriot Party’: the result of a Trump-Republican divorce?
From his new office, Trump is flirting with the idea of forming his own political party.
Working name: the “Patriot Party,” as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Trump won’t say how seriously he’s considering creating a new party. But Trump has long been politically polyamorous.
He briefly ran for president in 2000 as a Reform Party candidate, even winning the party’s California primary.
Trump also spent much of the early 2000s donating to Democratic political candidates, including $1,000 to Biden’s old Senate campaign committee and $6,000 to now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ campaign committee for California attorney general.
One strong indication that Trump is considering abandoning the GOP is the paperwork his presidential campaign committee is filing that signals he won’t tolerate “Patriot Party” poseurs. Last week, it formally disavowed association with people who separately filed documents with the FEC to form the “Patriot Party” and the “MAGA Patriot Party National Committee.”
But none have been led by a former president who won more than 74 million votes during a presidential election. That’s more than any other sitting president. Millions of Trump supporters would almost certainly follow him, splintering the GOP and leaving Democrats with an easy glide path to maintain power for years to come.
This is why so many Republicans are squeamish about breaking with the former president during his upcoming second impeachment trial. Just consider the variety of responses Insider got from prominent GOP senators when asked if Trump remains the leader of the Republican Party.
“I think he’s the former president,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said.
“We don’t have a leader of the Republican Party … He’s whatever he wants to be … it’s not up to me to decide,” replied Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
“I’m sure until such time as we have another nominee for the presidency, President Trump by a whole lot of people is going to have lots of influence on the Republican Party, and a lot of independence as well,” said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming noted that Trump “continues to be extremely popular in my home state of Wyoming.”
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama added: “I’m sure he’ll be the leader until something else comes along. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.”
For the immediate future, at least, Trump appears poised to maintain his ties with the GOP.
The former president last week summoned Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to Mar-a-Lago for a meeting.
Afterward, McCarthy predicted intra-party peace, saying in a statement that “President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022.”
Trump’s office, for its part, projected power.
“President Trump’s popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time,” a statement said. “President Trump has agreed to work with Leader McCarthy on helping the Republican Party to become a majority in the House.”
Trump’s presidential campaign committee: sitting on a ‘gold mine’
Donald J. Trump for President Inc. remains open and active.
Trump’s campaign committee will likely stay open and active for years to come, if only because it’s facing several federal investigations and a likely audit and can’t legally shut down until those are resolved.
From his campaign committee, he is likely to draw money to defend himself against some of the many legal challenges he faces.
But Trump may also continue using the committee to communicate with supporters, conduct official campaign business, and spend money for non-legal reasons. He could also reignite it for the launch of another run for the presidency in 2024.
As of December 31, Trump’s campaign committee had more than $10.7 million cash on hand versus more than $2.7 million in debt, according to FEC disclosures released January 31.
Trump could sit on these surplus funds. Or, as former FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel told Insider, he could transfer funds from his presidential campaign committee to other committees he controls or is aligned with — including Save America and a national political party.
Most notable is it’s non-cash resources, particularly the keys to the personal information of millions of campaign supporters — people who have donated money, volunteered, and otherwise signed on to Make America Great Again alongside the nation’s 45th president.
The value of this list is measured in political power, such as Trump’s ability to use it for communication and organizational purposes, particularly if he seeks a second term.
It’s mainly measured, however, in dollars. Trump can use this list to fundraise from the millions of people who’ve previously contributed to him. He can also rent the list as he sees fit: to other political committees, to third-party data brokers, even to media companies.
If Trump and the Republican Party ever split, the supporter list is likely to be the ultimate who-gets-the-mansion question facing the erstwhile allies.
Presidential library: a monument to Trumpism
Barring congressional action to the contrary, Trump is likely to create a presidential library. Thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration, he already has one in the most nascent of forms.
What form or fashion a Trump library takes from here is unknown.
The former president has several options, ranging from a bare-bones “virtual” library maintained by the federal government to a privately funded MAGA mecca replete with tributes to the greatness of Trumpism.
The latter could give Trump, a real estate baron by trade, his ultimate Trump Taj Mahal in tribute to himself.
Trump acolytes from across the nation would flock, and Trump could ostensibly reap profit from tickets, exclusive experiences, and marketing tie-ins.
The Trump Organization: a passport to attention
COVID-19. A wheezing economy. Criminal and civil investigations. A twice-impeached namesake.
Business isn’t swell for the Trump Organization’s portfolio of golf resorts, hotels, and other real estate, particularly in Trump’s native New York.
Recent video of an almost-empty lobby in the Trump International Hotel Washington offered one profound reminder.
“The Trump name is probably pretty radioactive right now,” real estate broker Mark Cohen told Insider.
But no matter where Trump goes within his network of properties, attention — from locals, from journalists, from paparazzi — will follow him. Trump’s golf or hotel properties are located in New York; Chicago; Miami; Las Vegas; New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Scotland, among others.
Trump has also licensed his name to numerous other properties worldwide, including in India, Turkey, and the Philippines.
Legal action involving Trump’s finances and business interests will also continue earning him unwanted attention for what’s likely years to come.
Then, there’s the Trump International Hotel Washington.
It’s not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — but it sure is close, at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Trump hotel stands to serve as a de facto embassy for Team Trump, a place sought out by politicos, lobbyists, and hangers-on who still seek to curry favor with the former president and his Trump Organization business empire. Trump himself might even stay there when he next visits Washington.
MAGA media: Trump’s new megaphone
Stripped of his beloved Twitter account, and de-platformed from several other major social media and digital content services, Trump the celebrity is searching for his next act.
On the modest end of matters, he may first attempt to reestablish himself on social media that caters to conservatives, such as MeWe and Gab. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, has even asked billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk to “design a social network that isn’t biased.”
But Trump is primed to make a bigger play.
As early as this past autumn, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and former White House advisor, has been discussing creating a Trump-themed news outlet or media company, Insider reported.
Trump is a bona fide television star from his years hosting The Apprentice on NBC and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from decades of involvement in the television, film, and entertainment industries.
Kushner is a media pro in his own right, having owned the New York Observer for more than a decade.
Upstart right-wing news outlets Newsmax and One America News Network are also decidedly pro-Trump, and the Wall Street Journal recently reported that a group of wealthy Trump allies are pursuing an effort to purchase OANN.