President Trump, despite publicly declaring he won the Nov. 3 election, is privately telling people he plans on running again for president in 2024, The Washington Times has learned.
The prospect of Mr. Trump mounting a post-loss comeback is already freezing out other Republicans with eyes on the White House, making them pick between fealty to the president and their own political aspirations.
It also creates an instant complication for Republican leaders in Congress, who have to worry about crossing Mr. Trump while trying to thwart a Democratic president.
Even out of office, it seems, Mr. Trump can sow chaos in American politics.
A Republican strategist with close ties to the White House said rumblings of Trump 2024 are no joke or the kind of offhand comment that Mr. Trump often makes.
“He is definitely telling people that in a serious manner,” the strategist said.
“Now at the end of the day, even if in his head he doesn’t want to run, we won’t know until he pulls the trigger after a couple of years,” the strategist said. “He is going to milk it. Even if he doesn’t want to run, he is going to milk it to the very, very end. The guy knows how to get media attention. It is probably his greatest talent.”
Patrick Griffin, a Republican Party consultant, predicted there will be “no such thing as a post-presidency for Mr. Trump” and that the MAGA rallies will go on. The only difference will be the Trump plane instead of Air Force One.
Mr. Griffin said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Mr. Biden should be prepared for Mr. Trump to take credit for electoral wins, economic gains and coronavirus vaccine advances, and shower others with blame when things go south.
“Let’s assume the Republicans keep the Senate. He will say, ‘I won the Senate seats, Mitch McConnell owes me so much,’” Mr. Griffin said. “Poor Mitch McConnell, every time he turns around, Trump is going to check his story, and poorer Joe Biden.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Only once before has a president — Grover Cleveland — served a term, lost reelection, then ran and won four years later in 1892, unseating the same man who had defeated him.
In recent years, most presidents have either gone quietly into retirement or assumed the role of elder statesmen in their post-White House years. Former President George W. Bush took up painting, and former President Bill Clinton started his global foundation, though he kept a hand in politics through his wife.
Former President Barack Obama has been more active than most others. He has become deeply involved in electoral politics and offered biting criticism of his successor, Mr. Trump.
A former president actively seeking to return to the White House would go beyond any of that.
“Donald Trump is not exactly going to follow Jimmy Carter, who is out building homes with Habitat for Humanity after leaving the White House,” Mr. Griffin said. “This is going to be the worst leader in exile the world has ever seen.”
Mr. Trump telegraphed as much last week when he endorsed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to serve another term after tapping her for the job in 2017.
The move was widely viewed as an insurance policy for Mr. Trump to keep a loyalist at the helm of the party.
Mr. Trump has so far refused to concede to Mr. Biden, claiming widespread voter fraud. His legal team is struggling to prove that in court.
A lot of Republicans agree with Mr. Trump’s push, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday. The poll found roughly half of Republicans think Mr. Trump “rightly won” the election on the belief that state vote counters put their thumbs on the scale for Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede has become a loyalty test. Most Republican officeholders in Washington, including some potential presidential opponents, say he should be given room to make his case.
One exception is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who said this week that Mr. Trump should concede. He coupled that with a severe critique of the president as ineffective over the past four years.
Other Republicans thought to be considering presidential runs include Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Mr. Cotton offered a preview during a recent appearance on Fox News of how 2024 hopefuls could navigate the state of play.
He declined to say whether he was planning to seek the Republican presidential nomination and praised Mr. Trump for “changing a lot of Republican orthodoxy” and bringing “millions of new voters into our party.”
“Let me say this about Donald Trump’s influence on our party: We did not win control of the Senate, we did not gain seats in the House, we did not pick up legislators in spite of Donald Trump,” Mr. Cotton said. “We won because of Donald Trump.”
Mr. Cotton said he was waiting for the latest election to end before he starts thinking four years down the road.
Mrs. Haley has taken a similar approach. She is steering clear of calling on Mr. Trump to concede while praising his supporters, celebrating the wins of Republican women and attacking the far left of the Democratic Party.
Mr. Hogan has taken a different tack by aggressively pursuing the anti-Trump mantle.
“The president did an excellent job of reaching the common average working person that I was talking about, but then turned off younger voters, suburban women and every other demographic, whereas Reagan was able to put them all together,” Mr. Hogan said in remarks at the Ronald Reagan Foundation.
Others say the Reagan comparison is warranted.
“Trump ignited the biggest fire in the working-class wing since Reagan with ‘America First’ buzz phrases and by punching hard,” said Brett Doster, a Florida-based Republican Party consultant. “Trump would destroy anyone in a GOP nomination contest in ‘24.”
Mr. Doster said Mr. Trump’s success will depend less on other Republicans interested in running in 2024 than it does on how Mr. Biden handles the economy, military spending and taxes.
“If Biden is tested by Russia and China, and if the economy free-falls, Trump can take the nomination without ever leaving Mar-a-Lago, and he’ll be invited back to Washington — not for the Oval Office but for a throne,” he said.
⦁ David Sherfinski contributed to this report.