That is deeply wishful thinking — not because Trump is likely to win a second term against former Vice President Joe Biden this fall (he is an underdog at the moment) but rather because Trump, win or lose, will never concede the national stage and spotlight that he has basked in since he became a candidate for president in 2015.
“Either a year from now or five years from now, Donald Trump will step away from the presidency. Raise your hand if you think he will retire to Mar-a-Lago and delete his Twitter account.
“It seems much more likely — maybe inevitable — that once he leaves office, Trump will continue to tweet and call in to cable news shows. Perhaps he will even attend political rallies, which is the part of the job he seems to enjoy most.
“There is no reason to think — none at all — that he will discontinue his penchant for weighing in on American politics on an hourly basis. There is every reason to think that he will vigorously attack any Republican who was disloyal to him during his administration. Or retroactively criticizes his tenure. Or runs in opposition to one of his preferred candidates. Or jeopardizes any of his many and varied interests.”
Every word of that is right. And in fact, I think there’s ample evidence to suggest what, specifically Trump has in mind to do with his time once he leaves office (whether in a year or five): Start his own conservative TV network.
Consider what we already know about Trump:
1) His formative experience directly preceding the presidency was in the world of reality TV
2) He is obsessed — and always has been — with cable TV news
3) He fashions himself to be a conservative pundit — using Twitter to pop off about whatever he sees on the air
And into that cauldron, drop this: Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Fox News, the flagship conservative TV network of the moment. And he’s getting more and more vocal about those frustrations. Check out these Trump tweets from earlier this week (bold is mine):
“.@FoxNews just doesn’t get what’s happening! They are being fed Democrat talking points, and they play them without hesitation or research. They forgot that Fake News @CNN& MSDNC wouldn’t let @FoxNews participate, even a little bit, in the poor ratings Democrat Debates…No respect for the people running @FoxNews. But Fox keeps on plugging to try and become politically correct. They put RINO Paul Ryan on their Board. They hire ‘debate questions to Crooked Hillary’ fraud @donnabrazile (and others who are even worse). Chris Wallace is nastier to Republicans than even Deface the Nation or Sleepy Eyes. The people who are watching @FoxNews in record numbers (thank you President Trump), are angry. They want an alternative now. So do I!“
Which seems not-so-subtle!
As Trump has grown increasingly critical of Fox for occasionally practicing actual journalism, he has taken to boosting One American News Network (OANN). “Watching @FoxNews on weekend afternoons is a total waste of time. We now have some great alternatives, like @OANN,” Trump tweeted earlier this month.
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And there is an increasingly symbiotic relationship between OANN and the Trump White House. Chanel Rion, who holds the title of chief White House correspondent for the network, attended a series of White House press briefings over the past month despite the fact that she was doing so in violation of the White House Correspondents Association’s established limits on the number of reporters at a briefing due to coronavirus concerns. Rion said that she had been personally invited to the briefings by then-White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. The Correspondents Association subsequently removed OANN from its rotation for a seat in the briefings.
Trump’s promotion of and association with OANN has been a boon for the network, which was founded in 2013 by Robert Herring, a wealthy conservative businessman from San Diego. The network had been effectively invisible until Trump’s 2016 candidacy but, sensing opportunity, has now closely aligned itself not just with Trump but with the President’s agenda — both stated and unstated.
As The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher wrote of Herring and OANN back in 2017:
“Since its inception in 2013, and especially since Trump began his march to the White House, One America’s owner, Robert Herring Sr., a millionaire who made his money printing circuit boards, has directed his channel to push Trump’s candidacy, scuttle stories about police shootings, encourage antiabortion stories, minimize coverage of Russian aggression, and steer away from the new president’s troubles, according to more than a dozen current and former producers, writers and anchors, as well as internal emails from Herring and his top news executives.
“OAN, based in San Diego, made its first splash in the opening weeks of the Trump campaign, when the channel became the first to carry Trump’s campaign speeches live and in full — a decision followed quickly by the owner’s directive that other candidates’ rallies not be given the same treatment, according to internal emails.”
It’s not much of a leap to imagine ex-President Trump becoming a co-owner in OANN after vacating the White House. And using his profile and legion of dedicated fans to boost its profile as a true Trumpian alternative to Fox News. Right?
Such a move would allow Trump not just to stay in the political conversation — he could go on OANN whenever he wanted — but to also steer the direction of the news coverage and conversation in ways that benefited him and his legacy. It’s a perfect match for both sides. And Trump seems to be already hinting that he is thinking about just such a venture even as he sits in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Trump, of course, could use his profile and money to go his own way — starting a new conservative network that would likely put OANN out of business and seek to consolidate the Trump wing of the party against Fox News and the rest. One thing is for sure: Donald Trump isn’t going to be gone from your TV screens anytime soon.