Former President Donald Trump was audible, if not visible, all day long on Monday — and the effect is to keep him front and center in the Republican Party conversation.
His unwillingness, or inability, to lay low is exactly what many Trump observers expected, but a stark departure from the behavior of other ex-presidents.
“The code of the presidents club is to get out of the way and let the new commander in chief have a year or two,” CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said.
But Trump is so narcissistic that “he cannot accept to be out of the spotlight for a day,” Brinkley concluded.
Lately Trump has been doing what comes naturally to him — dictating tweet-like statements, calling into conservative talk shows, and generally stirring up trouble. “I like this better than Twitter,” he claimed on Newsmax. “Actually they did us a favor. This is better.”
Trump has shown no courtesy to President Joe Biden since leaving the White House. To the contrary, he has repeatedly jabbed the Biden administration in the eye.
On the phone with one of his biggest sycophants, Newsmax’s Greg Kelly, on Monday evening, Kelly speculated about Biden’s mental faculties, prompting Trump to say “there’s something” going on with Biden. Trump then questioned “whether or not he understands what he’s signing” when bills cross his desk.
Trump is the first US president to lose re-election in nearly thirty years. The last president who failed to win a second term, George H.W. Bush, “made clear that he expected to retire from public life,” according to historian Tim Naftali’s biography of Bush.
Naftali said Bush told his successor, Bill Clinton, in November 1992 that “when I leave here, you’re going to have no trouble from me.”
The outgoing president added, “I will do nothing to complicate your work and I just want you to know that.”
Since then, he has gradually increased his visibility, with emails to members of the media from “45 Office” so far in March, twice as many as in February. His “Save America PAC” has also become quite active in recent weeks, with numerous endorsements, critiques of “RINOs,” and media bashing statements.
Trump seemed self-aware about his media approach during a podcast taping with Lisa Boothe, which was released on Monday morning. Trump was Boothe’s inaugural guest — which means the podcast does not yet have a high profile or a massive following. Trump said in a statement that she has been doing “an outstanding job” on Fox, so perhaps he wanted to give her new podcast a boost.
In the conversation, Trump said “people have seen some silence” from him, “but actually, if you take a look at what’s happened over the last period of time, we’re sending out releases. They’re getting picked up much better than any tweet.”
Trump told Boothe that he now believes official statements to the public are “much more elegant than a tweet, and I think it gets picked up better. You’re seeing that.”
“Picked up” was the key phrase. The need for pickup — meaning attention from the American news media — is at the heart of Trump’s post-presidential actions.
Rather than flying to a vacation destination and drafting a memoir, he is trying to remain relevant and on the media radar. And he is continuing to push the incendiary claims that led up to the January 6 riot, about winning the 2020 election and Biden stealing it from him, despite pleas even from within his own party to stop lying.
“Trump’s unique in that he wants to make a lot of racket and garner attention after leaving the White House,” Brinkley said. “And it comes from his psychological belief that he remains the real president.”
On the podcast with Boothe, Trump falsely said that “we won, and they took it away.”
“He’s desperate,” Brinkley said, “to let people know ‘I haven’t thrown in the towel, I haven’t gone anywhere, keep covering me.'”
Brinkley likened Trump to “an active political hand grenade, ready to blow up the US political system any way he can. And he’s starting by threatening Republicans who have crossed him. He’s determined to ensure that it remains the party of Trump.”
He has multiple TV networks at his disposal that appear willing to help.
Last week Trump called into Fox for a live interview with Maria Bartiromo. The next day his comments to Bartiromo were in heavy rotation on other right-wing networks and outlets.
In some cases, the networks are clearly seeking him out. On Monday, when he called into Harris Faulkner’s late morning program on Fox, Faulkner asked why he felt the need to issue a statement attacking Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: “Why did you feel you needed to on this issue?”
“Well,” Trump said, “you called me, I didn’t call you, in all fairness.”
To Kelly, he hedged about the possibility of a new social platform, saying that “something will happen with social media if I want it to happen.”
At the end of the interview, Kelly looked starstruck. “Very cool,” he said, “the president of the United States,” forgetting to call Trump the “former” president.