That’s the second reason Trump is not well-positioned to retain his hold on public attention: He has largely abandoned any pretense that he thinks about anything other than his personal resentments, or that he is trying to harness his movement to big ideas that will improve the lives of citizens. When he vaulted into presidential politics five years ago, Trump’s still-potent gifts — for channeling anger, for mockery, for conspiracy theory — were once channeled to an agenda that fellow Republicans were largely neglecting, over trade, immigration, globalization, and perceptions of national decline. These days, no one can follow Trump’s Twitter feed and believe that he cares more about the public’s problems than his own, and that is not a recipe for sustaining political power.
Here is the third reason to be bearish on Trump’s future: Politics never stands still, but Trump largely does. As he leaves the White House, Trump should be haunted by a stark reality — if he had any capacity for self-calibration, he wouldn’t be leaving the White House at all. He’s got one set of political tools. When things are going well, his instinct is to double down on those. When things are going poorly, his instinct is to double down on those. In political terms, the pandemic demanded modulation of Trump’s blame-casting brand of politics — but also would have lavishly rewarded him if he had done so.