What’s next for Donald Trump when he leaves office?

What will Donald Trump do next? That is the question being mulled over in Washington DC now.

His final days in office have been marred by his unprecedented second impeachment by the House of Representatives in the wake of violence at the US Capitol on January 6.

In light of those events, Trump has finally committed to a peaceful transfer of power, though he will break with tradition and not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration.

So what path could the man who upended the norms of the Oval Office take in the months and years ahead? There are many possibilities.

Various American media platforms have suggested that Mr Trump will announce his plans to run for president in the 2024 election once president-elect Biden is inaugurated. His plans may be scuppered if his impeachment trial in the Senate goes against him and lawmakers choose to take a further vote on banning him from running for public office again.

When asked what message Mr Trump was portraying in not conceding his loss, Mr Biden declared, "I think it’s just an embarrassment quite frankly," before continuing, "How can I say this tactfully? I think it will not help the president’s legacy." 

Mr Trump’s unsubstantiated fraud claims have had a seismic effect. His inflammatory rhetoric has been cited as a contributory factor to the armed insurrection at the US Capitol, an allegation Trump has flatly denied.

In the run up to that fateful day, Mr Trump’s sons, lawyer, media supporters and loyalists demanded that Republicans  back up the president’s "stolen election" claims and help block the formal certification of Joe Biden’s presidency. 

Some did. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, two Trump-supporting senators who have been mooted as potential candidates in 2024, went all-in and attempted to block certification proceedings. But many others did not.

Republican senators and Mr Trump were never a match made in heaven. It was a relationship of convenience. They needed him, he needed them. But do they need him now?

Following the insurrection, many allies of Trump decided enough was enough, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will reportedly vote to convict him when the matter of impeachment is brought before the Senate.

In the House vote on January 13, ten Republicans voted in favour, the most bipartisan impeachment conviction in history. 

Read more: Donald Trump’s impeachment trial timeline

Inauguration day

Trump reportedly plans to kick off his first day back in civilian life with a farewell event for himself at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Scheduled to begin at 8am (1pm GMT), three hours before Biden’s inauguration, the event may include a military parade and an official armed forces farewell for the commander-in-chief. A large crowd of supporters have been invited, alongside selected backers and current and former officials in his administration and their guests at a huge red-carpet affair.

However, given the ignominious circumstances under which he is leaving office, it remains to be seen whether Trump will be granted his wish.

From Maryland, Trump will fly down to his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. He must land by noon (5pm GMT) as that is when Biden will officially be president and Trump loses access to Air Force One.

President Trump is leaving office on Wednesday. Plans are underway for a departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews.

This is the invite sent to supporters. It includes a list of prohibited items such as ammunition, explosives, firearms, laser pointers and toy guns. pic.twitter.com/AZNoPUxCWB

— Brie Jackson (@PositivelyBrie) January 18, 2021

Business or politics?

Before Mr Trump left office, he told Americans in his farewell speech that "the movement is only just beginning". But it is unclear if he intends to lead this movement into another run for the White House. What might Mr Trump do next?

The choice, put simply, is this – business or politics? Mr Trump has not been thrown from office in humiliation by voters in a landslide defeat. Far from it. He won at least six million more votes than 2016. He defied the polls, again – although not by enough. The Republican Party, for now, remains the Trump Party.

There is nothing as yet stopping him from running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. As mentioned, he has already suggested to advisers that he might run again.

You can already see the narrative that would be laid for such a bid – "the election was stolen from me, the swamp fought back". 

He would, admittedly, have to add a third "again" to his 2020 "Make America Great Again, Again" slogan, but it should not be ruled out.

What is more, he could win the nomination. The election results have left no doubt that his base is still loyal. At least 69.5 million people voted for him, more than voted for Barack Obama in 2008. 

Perhaps there is a middle path too. Mr Trump was infamous for teasing election runs that never came true before he took the plunge in 2016, revelling in the attention it brought.

There are reasons he may rather not seek a return. Right now, he can claim (however incorrectly) that he would have won but for election fraud, denying there was a mass voter rebuke. That may not be the case in 2024. He could turn back to the party he transformed only to find it has changed again in four years and picks someone else, or he could get nominated but lose the election. 

The possibility of humiliation on a national scale – the great comeback that turned to dust – may make Mr Trump, well-known for sensitivities to coverage about himself, think twice.

In addition, Mr Trump leaves office with the lowest approval ratings of any president since 1945 – numbers that may make him reconsider running again.

Presidential job approval averages

But if he does not run, he will still play a major role in who the party picks in 2024. His endorsement could be one of the most sought-after of the Republican primaries. That explains, perhaps, why figures like Mr Cruz and Mr Graham are weighing in publicly on his side over election fraud claims. He will remember who stood with him now.

The president moving away from politics also does not mean there will not be a Trump competing for the 2024 ticket – his children Don Jr and Ivanka are being closely watched.

Read more: What will Trump’s children do next?

So if it is not politics, it is likely to be business. Mr Trump’s greatest financial achievement, many argue, was to turn his name into a brand he could monetise across the world.

As the New York Times revelations about his tax returns showed, during The Apprentice he had business success licensing his name to scores of ventures for vast sums.

Now the Trump name is many, many times better known internationally than it was in 2015. Could he pick up where he left off with his business ventures and accelerate?

One project could be the Moscow Trump Tower his team had been pursuing deep into the 2016 campaign, despite denials at the time, or building projects in the Middle East.

Trump TV?

Another business avenue has also been much speculated upon: Trump TV. Mr Trump was reported to have been considering setting that up should he have lost the 2016 election.

He has been muzzled by social media companies, with Twitter permanently banning his account and Facebook temporarily suspending his until after Joe Biden’s inauguration, meaning a new platform for communication is required.

The ultra-Trumpy One America News Network has been pointed to by pundits as one possible route for him to achieve that, taking it over and making himself the star.

Other relevant claims have always floated around in recent years. An eye-catching one that got tongues wagging was Mr Trump reportedly taking interest in an Apprentice: White House edition.

But whatever plans he could be hatching are not guaranteed to go smoothly. One great, grey cloud looms on the horizon for Mr Trump – becoming an ordinary citizen.

Donald Trump's farewell address

Out of the Oval Office Mr Trump will lose presidential protections from prosecution, ones that special counsel Robert Mueller ultimately cited in his Russian election meddling investigation.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has been pursuing Mr Trump’s tax records, sending warning signs that, when he leaves government, legal headaches await.

Allegations still remain about whether his hush-money payment to former porn star Stormy Daniels after an alleged affair, which he has denied, breached campaign finance laws.

Where such lines of inquiry lead, their merit and ultimate outcomes, are anyone’s guess –  but the chance of Mr Trump facing court battles of his own is not negligible. 

One last, tantalising possibility awaits – the ultimate tell-all book. Mr Trump has bemoaned insiders in his administration for writing such works, but in an overlooked moment last month he raised the prospect. "Do I have the all-time great book?" he asked as an aside in a speech with the cameras rolling. "I have the real book."

But whatever path he takes, do not expect him to disappear from the limelight any time soon.

What do you think Donald Trump will do next? Let us know in the comments section below.