Just imagine: Instead of the combination of tantrum-throwing claims on Twitter about how he was robbed, while remaining mostly subdued and low-profile in public, Trump could have taken the opposite stance: refuse to be downcast, do a victory lap on the vaccines, and hammer Congress to pass a second COVID relief package. He could do this while still airing his usual grievances about voter fraud (which he did even in victory in 2016). Picture a beaming Trump doing rallies right now, coming out to an upbeat soundtrack, telling crowds that you can’t stop Trump, that he’s leaving the party in great shape, that the end of the pandemic is in sight thanks to his leadership, and that the economy is on the rebound so strongly that only Joe Biden could screw it up. (Polling shows Trump’s approval rating on the economy soaring since Election Day, with the latest Harvard-Harris poll putting his approval rating at 60 percent.) Surely, Trump has the chutzpah, the pure shamelessness, to pull this off, and despite his age (he’ll be 78 in 2024), it would place him in a surprisingly strong position to run again on “Make America Great Again Again” if Biden and/or Harris is in rough shape in four years. At a minimum, it would build a counter-narrative that would be important to how the Trump presidency is remembered — and that could matter as well if other Trump family members want to run for office in the future.

Nothing would madden more the people who spent four years fantasizing about a sulking Trump being frog-marched out of the Oval Office than to see Trump publicly refusing to be disappointed. If he truly cared about “owning the libs,” that is how he would have played this. But Trump has never been master of his emotions. He instead allowed the “Resistance” to playact one more time as heroic defenders of democracy while glorying in Trump’s transparent inability to handle his loss.