This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up Click hereGet stories such as this delivered to your email inbox
On Jan. 19, Presidents end their workday and welcome their family and successors to the White House. Then, they book the vacation. Of course, they’ll return when the role’s legacy function demands—state funerals come to mind, as do portrait unveilings and natural disaster fundraisers. But, at least for those who don’t stick around in D.C. to let their daughter finish high school, they leave town as soon as they can and don’t much look back.
However, many ex-Presidents wish to disappear into history. Ex-President Donald Trump is a different player. He still sets the agenda, even though he has left Washington. His endorsement remains a powerful factor in Republican politics, his return to politics looms on the horizon for 2024, and his conduct ahead of and on Jan. 6, 2021, dominates much of Congress’ agenda. His post-presidency, like so many of Trump’s presidency seems to revel in bursting all expectations. Trump actually resigned the presidency prior to his successor, effectively punching out, before his carriage was able to return back into a pumpkin at noon.
Trump is back in Washington, for the first time since his departure from the presidency. The summit is being held by Trump’s non-profit America First Policy Institute. It will last two days and feature MAGA-World celebrities as well as a speech by the man still recovering from his injuries in 2020.
The Swamp’s return by Trump, one of its most unapologetic characters, is a sort of mini-launch to his comeback. Trump has hinted that he’ll be on the ballot in 2024, and his advisers are at this point just trying to keep him from pulling the trigger on a campaign until after November’s midterms. Republicans look poised to have a good showing and could well take back control of the House and Senate alike, but Trump and his ongoing show could shade the GOP’s polling if the party isn’t careful to control for the bleed. Trump is still a major factor in politics. However, his lust for shenanigans seems to have diminished with each passing year. As TIME’s Brian Bennett reports, the Jan. 6 hearings may have exposed Trump’s glass jaw.
What then? It is Trump’s play here? It is clear that Trump has 2024 in his sights and is working to prepare for his return as an office holder. Even after relocating to Florida and New Jersey, his hatred of political elites did not cease. The second act is a means to get it done. After all, so much of Trump’s animating power comes from his personal preferences and individual grievances. But he might find a more skeptical GOP, with some who have newly soured on the Trumpist wing as they learn more and more damning details about Trump’s behavior around the Jan. 6 insurrection.
This trip is scheduled at an almost perfect state-managed time. It appears that the committee investigating Jan. 6’s attack on Capitol has completed its summer schedule. They are now poised to begin drafting, at the very least, an early version of their report. Congress seems to be enjoying the August recess. Just now, voters are really tuning in to the November elections. And Trump’s political circle seems ready to turn the key on another go. It’s all that is needed to remind the MAGA crowd why Trump’s blindingly loud rallies caused many hearts to flutter.
The real question facing official Washington—namely, Republicans who wield power—is one about its pain threshold. Trump proved a winning vessel in 2016 but couldn’t convince enough voters that he was worth the hourly drama four years later. In 2024 it will have been nine year since Trump took the elevator to Trump Tower. This was also when Republican politics began to unravel. It has not yet regained its equilibrium. The novelty and boldness of Trump’s candidacy have long since faded just as his predecessors blend into the background.
Put another way: Trump’s most immediate task this week in Washington is convincing fellow Republicans that he’s worth the Aspirin and the grimace in pursuit for a potential but not-guaranteed victory. His sales skills may be tested.
Washington: Make sense of the important things Register for D.C. Brief Newsletter.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME