For me, 2021 will always be the year Donald Trump didn't go away.
I had thought — and predicted — that shorn of office and social media access, the former president would be forced to give up the spotlight. And it's true that Trump is not as ubiquitous in our lives as he was a year ago: There are no more hour-long afternoon battles with the press, no more waking up and grabbing your phone to check out his latest inevitable provocation on Twitter. It's been a genuine relief not to think about Donald Trump all the time.
But he's still out there, lurking. Even if the spotlight no longer shines incessantly on Trump, it's never far away.
He sits for friendly interviews with Fox News on a regular basis. He still has the power to chase Republican members of Congress out of office. States that he won in 2020 are conducting audits of their elections at his behest. And he remains the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2024. We can't entirely turn our eyes from Trump, because he still matters.
Even in the unlikely event Trump goes away, though, it's clear that Trumpism is here to stay. You can see it in how the House GOP enforces lockstep loyalty to the party's leader, in how lower-tier Republican candidates are quick to make spurious charges of election fraud in campaigns they lose, in the party's revamping of the election process in red states, in the prominence of fringe figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and perhaps most clearly in the race-to-the-bottom antics of Senate candidates Josh Mandel and J.D. Vance in Ohio. There are still a few Republicans who believe that a post-Trump moment is coming, that their party will find its way back to some kind of normalcy. It's more likely Trumpism is the GOP's new normal.
All of this becomes more unsettling when you realize that the GOP's embrace of Trumpy tactics hasn't really damaged the party's chances of retaking power. It's basically a given that Republicans will take control of the House during the 2022 midterm elections, and 2024 might be bad for Democrats if President Biden's approval ratings don't pick up. The two Republican presidencies of the 21st century have ended in disaster, but American voters have short memories.
That means Trump doesn't have to go away; he just has to be patient. The spotlight will find him again sooner or later.