Like Donald Trump, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez appealed to his supporters through the force of his unpredictable personality.
He ran Venezuela in part from his television show, Alo Presidente, berating opponents and foreign leaders, raising popular grievances, and issuing orders to ministers and generals on live TV. He eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions, but there is little doubt millions loved him.
But after he died in office in 2013, his chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, wasn’t able to keep a grip on the country, or even the support of Chavistas, as Venezuela slipped into a long economic and political crisis. Maybe even Hugo Chavez would be embattled in that circumstance, but Mr. Maduro never had his grip. There was only one Hugo Chavez, and Mr. Maduro isn’t him.
Now, a movement that took power in the United States, Trumpism, is facing a question about how it will continue when its central personality no longer leads the country. As has already been said often, Mr. Trump has lost the White House, but Trumpism is not gone.
But unlike Hugo Chavez, Donald Trump is not dead. And he might just try to lead the opposition after president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.
Of course, Mr. Trump and Mr. Chavez are not the same, and in many ways, they can’t be compared. But both led political movements that revolved around their personalities. And although there is still a Trump nation, it’s hard to imagine anyone else leading it. What Mr. Trump does next, and in the next four years, can still have a sizeable effect on U.S. politics.
The most important question is about the next days, or weeks, and whether Mr. Trump will try to obstruct the transition of power, or gee up his supporters to contest the legitimacy of Mr. Biden’s election.
Pro-Trump media outlets like Breitbart News Network seem to have mostly moved on, begrudgingly, to tacitly acknowledging Mr. Biden’s victory as they reject his call for healing across party lines. They, at least, are preparing for Trumpism to continue from opposition.
The thing is, the hard-and-fast tenets of Trumpism are pretty sparse, and not particularly consistent. But Mr. Trump’s supporters know what it is: what he says and what he does.
There is some trade protectionism, and the belief that the United States should use its power to demand favourable terms, not construct rules. There is a disdain for immigration and a mandate for tough border measures, and a general sense the United States has been suckered by the world. Mr. Trump warned campaign rallies that Mr. Biden would bring back bad trade deals, open borders, and the spilling of blood and treasure in “ridiculous” foreign wars.
But for Mr. Trump’s supporters, a lot of it was the culture war, tweaking the nose of the coastal elites, and Mr. Trump’s willingness to say and do things politicians don’t do. That included referring to white supremacists as “good people” and calling for a ban on Muslims. But not only that.
The things his supporters often cited as his strengths, rightly or wrongly, tell you that for them, Mr. Trump personified rebellion against elites who needed a come-uppance: the belief that he wasn’t beholden to anyone, including the powers in his own party, that he wasn’t tied to past policies, that his unpredictable behavior was a good thing because it unsettled the establishment.
Certainly some of the things he represents will continue to be Trumpist themes. But can anyone else bring his supporters together? It’s hard to believe there is another Donald Trump. Even counting Donald Trump, Jr.
So what will Mr. Trump do when he leaves the White House? Will he lick his wounds, and sulk? Will he fade away, a figure weakened by loss of power, while Trumpism morphs into the next wave of Republican politics?
Or will he look for a media platform, and attack Mr. Biden, tweeting bitterly, perhaps even against the wishes of Republican leaders, perhaps even keeping alive the idea that he will run again in four years, aged 78?
The answers will have a big impact on Mr. Biden’s call for healing, and on U.S. politics. The future of Trumpism still depends on what Mr. Trump does next.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.