On a freezing Washington D.C. morning in January, US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania strode out of the White House for the very last time.
They climbed aboard a helicopter and flew to Andrews Air Force Base, where a small group of supporters and his children and their spouses gathered to hear him bid farewell.
Among his remarks about rebuilding the military, saving veterans, growing the economy and his handling of Covid-19, dubbed a “medical miracle”, was a final and ominous promise.
“Have a good life, we will see you soon,” Trump said.
It was seen by observers as the latest promise from the firebrand Republican president that while he may have physically left D.C., his presence would be felt for years to come.
But in the months since, Trump has not been the political force he and his most loyal supporters vowed, largely vanishing from public life.
What happened? There are several theories.
No one can hear him, and fewer people care
Not too long ago, anything Trump said or did would lead TV bulletins, news websites and paper front pages, as well as dominate social media discourse.
Things have changed dramatically, with media monitoring showing mentions of him have dried up across the board, except for cable TV news – although his presence there is still down.
His own communication mediums of social media no longer exist, so short of giving a sit-down interview, his only method of reaching his supporters is with a media release.
But as The Atlantic revealed, Trump’s version of media releases aren’t the most effective means of getting a message across.
“He’s taken to emailing statements – sometimes several in a day – to reporters, presumably in the hopes that they’ll tweet them, but it’s not the same,” David Graham wrote in an article.
“For one thing, freed from the constraints of 280 characters, he tends to ramble into the kind of incoherence manifested at his rallies.
“For another, sentiments that took on some comprehensibility in the churn of social media feel disembodied and nonsensical when they land in my inbox.”
Not even his description at a weekend rally of Senator Mitch McConnell, one of the most powerful figures in Republican politics, as a “dumb son of a b**ch” made much of a ripple in the media.
It’s not just that he is no longer president, and so naturally media coverage has dried up.
If readers, viewers and visitors still read, watched and clicked, Trump would dominate the news landscape to a similar extent.
If a former president rants wildly and no-one is around to hear it, does anyone take note or even care? The answer, it seems, is no.
Twitter “permanently suspended” Trump’s account in early January, just weeks before he vacated the White House, for repeated breaches of its policies.
And the social media giant is unwilling to let its most infamous user back on the platform.
Gone is Trump’s ability to instantly share his thoughts and get immediate feedback, as well as validation from his loyal base.
He’s even discussed starting his own social media network, where he can engage directly with his supporters, but that is yet to eventuate.
Republicans hope he'll just go away
When Trump does get public traction with his remarks lately, they tend to be the kind that members of his party bristle at.
More than they used to, in any case.
Earlier this week, multiple media outlets reported that Mr Trump had refused requests for a meeting with Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz is the subject of a Justice Department investigation into the alleged sex trafficking of a minor, and a series of damning accusations have flowed from that probe. He denies any wrongdoing.
When Trump’s rebuff of his most loyal political support was reported, he was quick to issue a staunch denial – and praise of Gaetz.
Most Republicans have remained silent about the embattled Congressman’s legal woes, especially since it emerged one of his co-accused is now co-operating with investigators.
Trump’s unequivocal support was not well-received by some Republicans.
The New York Times reports that “many Republicans have privately said they hope (Trump) will fade away, after a tenure in which the party lost both houses of Congress and the White House”.
At the same time, there’s a recognition of the enormous power he still wields with his millions of rusted on supporters.
The party wants to keep some, if not most of those voters and will need to somehow appeal to them.
For starters, that involves not angering Trump and becoming the target of his rage, like Senator McConnell has.
For many in conservative politics, the strategy seems to be ignoring him, just the very angry proverbial elephant in the room.
And, the Times added: “(Many) are privately hopeful that the criminal investigation into Mr Trump’s business by the New York district attorney will result in charges that hobble him from running again or even being a major figure within the party.”
No matter how you cut it, he's a 'loser'
One of Trump’s great appeals was his ‘outsider’ power to come in and fundamentally change Washington D.C. forever.
His base also felt like he understood them, championed their myriad concerns, and could do something about them.
After four years in power, neither of those things have come true.
As the stupefying fury of his defeat and failure to overturn the election wears off, MAGA enthusiasts will be left to ask whether they’re any better off than before Trump entered politics.
For a not-insignificant number … the answer will likely be no.
And while opinion polls show Trump retains strong support, it is waning as more and more voters refocus their attention elsewhere or switch off entirely.
“Trump succeeded by making himself a vessel for the grievances of his base, but his complaints about the election – though he has tried to frame them as about a theft of the election from the American people – are fundamentally just about what he sees as a personal affront to him, rather than some broader issue,” Graham wrote.
“Some followers who saw him as a man who could challenge the establishment will view his defeat as proof that politics is irredeemable and will slide into apathy and disengagement.
“For others, Trump’s loss makes him into a loser – especially damaging given how much Trump hates losers. They will seek other heroes now.”
He’s busy – and being quiet about it
It’s entirely possible that Trump’s quietness is due to he and his closest advisers and family members being occupied.
This week, the America First Policy Institute was launched – a think tank with a $20 million operating budget, staffed by former White House advisers and founded by Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner.
Donald Trump was quick to praise the initiative as having his full support, saying the organisation would “not only preserve the historic accomplishments of my administration, but also propel the America First Agenda into the future”.
As CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote, it’s a sign that the former president really doesn’t intend on going anywhere.
And the group – one of several that he and his supporters have launched, paralleling the structures of the Republican Party – is “yet more evidence … that he is constructing what amounts to a shadow GOP”.
From the moment he lost the election, speculation has bubbled away that Trump would capitalise on his strong support and start his own political party.
A fundraising arm founded by Trump and his associates has raised a staggering $US85 million ($A109 million) since he left office.
All of these developments combined lay the foundation for the former president to retain and grow his power and influence, whether Republicans like it or not.
And should he wish to, it makes running again in 2024 a realistic prospect.
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