We can guess what Hillary Clinton will do if she loses in November. She's lost before; she just gets on with her political career without any unnecessary theatrics or calls for a do-over. But with the Trumpster, he of the unprecedented invulnerability to tact or decency, the road before us is unclear. If he does become president, the future is bewildering enough, but what happens if he doesn't? It's a possibility that Trump himself is clearly preparing for, in his own toddler-like way. He's been laying the groundwork this week with allegations that the entire contest might be set up to be "rigged." What does this show about his plans after the election if defeat closes in on his completely bizarre candidacy? Aside from the likelihood of an almighty tantrum, what will Donald Trump do if he loses the election?
The impression one has with Trump, particularly as an overseas observer (I've been watching slack-jawed from the UK for months), is that he plans things no more than four seconds ahead of time. His elevation from Twitter-posturing nonsense puppet to actual presidential candidate has been one of the strangest political journeys in history. And yes, I am including that episode when Emperor Caligula allegedly tried to appoint his horse as consul. But the one thing it hasn't been? Calculated. Nobody knows what The Donald will do from day to day, not least The Donald himself (he admits as much). So the future post-November is an open book, possibly filled with crudely-drawn pictures of Hillary with a turd on her head.
Here are seven theories I have about what a post-election defeated Trump might do.
1. Become The New Roger Ailes
Wasn't this what Trump got into the competition for in the first place? Get some attention, a bit of the spotlight, and use that sideshow allure to develop a place in the political media? In a world in which things weren't so completely bonkers, we'd likely be turning regularly to hear Trump, unlikely ex-candidate, pontificate about nonsense on Fox News as an "expert correspondent" and laugh gaily at his rhetoric. What a hilarious American treasure!
But as things have snowballed rapidly out of control, so must Trump's post-election media ambitions. The next logical step is toward keeping that voice loud and proud. Perhaps he'll either take over Fox itself (hey, Roger Ailes is dealing with his own issues at present, and there's a job opening), or start Trump News Corp, a 24-hour rolling parade of right-wing hysteria and whipped blonde hair.
If Trump can't make America great again, it's conceivable that he'll just refuse to be American altogether. Picture it: The Trump Tower could declare itself Trumponia, a nation unto itself, with a large, unscalable wall around its block and a flag atop its penthouse featuring bloated jowls fluttering in the breeze. He could strut around with medals on his chest, rage frequently about how the United Nations never takes him seriously, and occasionally stage grand military parades down Fifth Avenue. There is basically no role Donald Trump was better born to play than the tinpot dictator. It's kind of cute, actually. As long as nobody gives him nukes.
3. Reveal That The Entire Thing Was Surrealist Satire
There is a place in the deepest heart of every media observer which hopes against hope that Trump is an extremely canny and hilarious man who is trying to bring down the Republican Party from the inside with a combination of bluster and insufferable callousness. He's a human cartoon; surely he must have been concocted to point out the flaws and dissatisfaction in American political life, and to highlight how far the party of Lincoln has come from its origins if it now embraces a unilateral ban on Muslims. Reflection pieces on "how Trump happened" are rife. Perhaps that was his point all along? Perhaps he's a kind, self-sacrificing actor who just wanted us to see how easy it is to hijack an electoral campaign and how deep middle-class America's hatred for "smart alec politicians" goes? That would be a Conan interview for the ages.
4. Split From Republicans And Start The Trumpian Party
Considering that the majority of Republican heavyweights have embraced Trump as their hope for the presidency under extreme duress, and appear to constantly hope he's going to be eaten by a squid, his future in the Grand Old Party itself might be ... well, not great. But there's no denying his bewildering momentum, which raises the possibility that he may simply go rogue. The Trumpian Party would be the equivalent of the French National Front, popping up to make deliriously fascist statements on every issue. This isn't a remote possibility, either; the New York Times made clear in May that Trump has significant differences with normal Republican doctrine on many issues, and he may feel confident to strike out on his own.
5. Go Underground
After a defeat, perhaps Trump the candidate would retire to somewhere quiet for a while, lick his wounds, maintain a dignified silence, and ... no, I'm sorry, that's more unlikely than NASA adopting astrology as a decision-making strategy.
6. Support Ivanka 2020
If anybody in the thick of the Trump campaign has escaped relatively unscathed, if looking a little bit pained, it's his daughter Ivanka -- she of the business success, working-mother rhetoric, and very shiny hair. She's not hugely popular, but she's doing much better than her stepmother Melania, and Fast Company did a fascinating rundown of how her speech style at the RNC contrasted with Michelle Obama's masterclass at the DNC. (Obama favors "cinematic" rhetoric, while Ivanka went for aggression and interest, but they both used rhythm and eloquence in their favor.) You can be pretty sure that somebody in the Trump camp is looking at the tall, charming blonde who managed to look like a human being, and Trump would rejoice in his role as the embarrassing father of the candidate. Picture him making her cringe with hugely inappropriate stories about her childhood on CNN.
7. Go Back To Business As Usual
Business leaders who've run for office unsuccessfully can take a very sour look at the entire process thereafter and retreat to the world of boardrooms and boozy lunches in a sulk. Ross Perot, the '90s presidential candidate, now apparently refuses to even talk about his time as a political aspirant. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who was an investment banker before he turned to politics, has gone back to quietly serving on boards, though he's popped up numerous times in 2016 to be furious about Trump's candidacy. (He's currently involved in a lasting argument with Trump about why the candidate hasn't released his taxes yet.) Will the Donald venture back to the Trump empire with all political ambition quenched? I'd doubt it. The Republicans may well want to see him thrown into the Hudson, but he's had the thrill of rallies screaming his name (and something incoherent about walls). When did managing Miss Universe or advertising steak ever give him that much fun?
If he does abandon politics altogether, though, one thing can be assured: He'll get some great endorsement deals. I'm putting my money on at least one ridiculous Japanese advertisement for hamburgers within a month. The Trumpburger: Are you in?