What happens to the grifters if Trump loses?

I asked the people who follow them closest to forecast their futures after a hypothetical Biden victory

What happens to the grifters if Trump loses?

The Trump era introduced a surplus of pro-Trump and anti-Trump social media personalities into the digital political landscape, who grew to collectively absorb a baffling amount of the online attention economy.

But if we are to believe claims that 2020 political polling is better than it was in 2016, then there’s a chance that Donald Trump will not be reelected president on Tuesday. If that happens, the self-sustaining market of politically minded retweet hounds and hashtag warriors face an uncertain future.

In search of answers, I asked a few fellas who have closely followed politics throughout the Trump era to forecast how the digital landscape may change if Joe Biden wins the election.

Dave Weigel, a politics reporter for The Washington Post, anticipates that a Biden victory would bring with it a “re-settling of egos and theories of how politics works.” He added that because Biden is “not some icon of generational change” and lacks a passionate and active fanbase, that the political right at-large is unlikely to respond with the terror it did after Barack Obama was elected. Instead, Weigel can envision a new right-wing digital arena that “makes fun of Biden as a character, and focuses on fighting ‘socialism,’ whether real or imagined, as the real threat.”

“I don’t see much of a future for the less, uh, reliable #Resistance tweeters – the market for fake quotes from ‘White House sources’ will shrink to nothing if Biden wins,” Weigel said. “If you only got into the posting game to chase ‘Mr. Drumpf, you’re finished’ tweets, do you really want to rally behind a more progressive stimulus bill? Maybe, but it’s not what moves you.”

He continued, “There’ll be a market for fighting the left under Joe Biden, though I’m not sure if a new ‘resistance’ would have any more luck cohering than the Trump campaign did in finding a consistent argument this year. Is Joe Biden suffering from dementia or, if you follow Ali Alexander and his made-up ‘report,’ Parkinson’s disease? Or is he a terrifying threat who will set about reversing Trump’s executive orders and signing far-left legislation, if you listen to Alex Jones – during the moments when Jones isn’t also talking about dementia?”

Looking forward, Weigel said the future for MAGA personalities remains unclear.

“I expect some mixture of trying to prove that the election was rigged, unfair, or both, followed by the sort of systematic investigations and rumor-mongering that was used to bring down Obama’s nominees and legislation a decade ago,” Weigel said. “The more dishonest personalities, like [Jack] Posobiec or (if he gets out of jail) Jacob Wohl, will probably pivot right to that. A defeat would be tougher on the Scott Adams types who argue that every Trump move is a masterstroke. I don’t think there’d be a volume 2 of ‘Win Bigly.’”

Politics and sports writer David Roth doubts many grifters will fade off the map entirely—after all, grifting itself is not a unique Trump-era phenomenon. “Obviously the grift is not new or really terribly complicated, and I imagine that the people who've made their living off greasy scamming related to political manias will continue to do it until there's some easier way to make money,” Roth said. “But I think that Trump is a load-bearing figure for that hustle on both sides, and if he's out of the picture I think that work gets much harder—the twinned urges to PROTECT or DEFEAT Trump has done a lot of work for some people who are in point of fact not very smart or even very clever.”

“Conservatives will I think go on chasing whatever  is on television; resistance types will have a harder time of it, I think, because the explicit promise of the Biden campaign, and just about the only thing I think they've communicated clearly, is that you'd be allowed to go back to not caring if he were president,” Roth said. “A lot of the extremely legitimate outrages that kind of present as left-aligned will almost certainly continue under a Biden administration, and I don't expect like BrooklynDad_Defiant to care about them or really pretend to care about them.”

He added, “If mashing a button has ever produced a treat, let alone a livelihood, I expect that button to continue getting mashed even as the treats diminish in quality. Even if they disappear entirely.”

Will Sommer, political reporter for The Daily Beast, expects anti-Trump media to quiet down if Biden wins “as Trump opponents get less interested in politics for a while.” But media figures on the political right could experience a relatively smooth transition, Sommer suggested.

“I think the MAGA personalities will actually find plenty more work, since conservative media tends to thrive in opposition,” Sommer said. “Rather than being in a position where they have to defend Trump, they can go on the attack, which is always better for their audiences. That said, I think Trump moving into (slightly less) prominence will be bad for the MAGA influencers who can't transition from an all-Trump brand, since some hardcore Trump fans will drift away from politics.”

Regardless, Sommer anticipates the transition will be “an exciting time.”

”For so long, they've been focused on orbiting around Trump, either in support or opposition to him, and now that center of gravity is going to shrink,” Sommer said. “Instead, people who want to be internet-famous in politics are going to have to sharpen up their own brands. I suspect that could mean a rise in COVID truthers, for example, if Biden/Harris move to impose stricter quarantine measures, and some truly zany stuff we can't even imagine now.”

“I'm also curious where Mike Cernovich is headed -- he's declared that he's going to give up politics after the election, which seems hard to believe.”

Prolific video satirist Vic Berger, who has ruthlessly mocked MAGA social media notables since their comeuppance, assumes that most pro-Trump personalities have contingency plans should Trump lose Tuesday’s election, although he has his doubts that many will be able to sustain themselves without Trump’s animating presence.

“Most of the [pro-Trump] grifters will attempt to rebrand or stay the course and try to appeal to the MAGA people through small YouTube channels and just bide their time until Don, Jr. throws his hat in the ring in 2024,” Berger said.

In the event of an electoral defeat, Berger anticipates right-wing social media personalities would put forward “even more of a victimhood narrative than now” and pair it with fantasies of violence and civil war—“especially from people like Tim Pool,” Berger added, “who I believe is potentially one of the most dangerous of all the MAGA grifters.” He also worries that Resitance personalities will attempt to form a cult of personality around Biden “that treats him like this super cool guy, worshipping the sunglasses and the weird laugh or whatever, and completely overlook the bad stuff he’s done in the past and policies he’s rolling out that aren’t much different than what Republicans have proposed.”

Berger added, ”Apart from the most violent and dangerous of MAGA grifters like Ben Shapiro, Tim Pool and ‘Bumble Jack’ Posobiec, I’m going to enjoy the schadenfreude of watching Benny Johnson flail away into obscurity as he tries to stay relevant by making the same tepid Joe Biden memes over and over again.”

Matt Binder, journalist and host of the podcast “Doomed,” says a new political reality could be less jarring for pro-Trump personas, who are likely to become megaphones for “a brand new Tea Party” sentiment that embodies the residual QAnon brain-poison and anti-establishment rancor within the post-Trump GOP.

“Some [Resistance personalities] will make a jump into being Biden's staunchest supporters but those who solely built their personas around the resistance are going to fade into obscurity if Biden wins,” Binder said. “The MAGA personalities need not to worry though. Their voices will probably be even more important to the right if Trump loses.”

However, Binder also sees an opportunity for the “actual left.”

“Moderates and normie Dems who just become involved in politics over the past few years may lose interest again,” Binder said. “But the left will have an opportunity to not just push Dems because they want the party to move left, they'll have the opportunity to push Dems because Dems will actually be in power.”

HuffPost reporter Luke O’Brien anticipates that our digital political discourse “would get a lot healthier” in a Trumpless world. O’Brien thinks a Biden administration could bring with it a reconsideration of Section 230 legislation, meaning that “we can look forward to some actual progress in holding social media companies—and their executives—truly accountable for the hate, racism and violence they have helped stoke as they cave time and again to a false narrative of conservative censorship on their platforms.”

Regarding particular MAGA personalities, O’Brien had this to say:

  • Jack Posobiec: “If Trump loses, there's a chance federal law enforcement finally goes after him. If he were smart, he would flee the country. But he's not smart. So he'll stick around and keep trying to grift.”
  • Mike Cernovich “has been going increasingly batty and is one bad ayahuasca trip away from a padded room. The future looks very dim for him. He can't go back to selling brain pills. He can't become Alex Jones. He is already trying to remake himself as a ‘liberal.’ But he's far too crazy to make that work.”
  • Andy Ngo “has done a better job of feigning legitimacy and been embraced by the conservative mainstream in a way that people like Cernovich never really were. So he will likely try to reinvent himself as a talking head or remain a columnist for a propaganda rag to blather about the dangers of woke culture.”

“That said, none of these types can hide the damage they have done to society, the harm they have caused to so many people, the lies they have spread for years,” O’Brien said. “They went all in for fascism, basically. And they are widely hated for it. Hated with profound passion. Hated in a way that I have rarely seen a group of people hated. And deservedly so.”

As for the Resistance personalities, O’Brien anticipates many would “kick back and retire, with a smile and a long sigh of relief.” Others, he says, may seek to capitalize on the followings and brands they've built over the last few years. Some of the Resistance “storytellers,” O’Brien suggested, could have bright futures in podcasting and nonfiction media if they can refashion their approach in a more journalistic way.

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