CNN  — 

At 10:32 p.m. ET on Monday, November 30, it began.

Someone called “The Bradford File” tweeted this: “LOL. The GOP thinks Trump is just going to go away? He’s the most popular Republican in history.” To which the outgoing President of the United States responded this way: “Thank you! A lot of Senators and House Members are very happy that I came along. Think I’ll stick around for awhile!”

And with that, the “Donald Trump 2024” trial balloon was launched.

See, Donald Trump knows he’s lost this election. Yes, he’ll continue to tweet about fraud (all baseless) and push longshot lawsuits for as long as the legal system allows. But he knows that it’s a lost cause. And because Trump is always thinking about how to survive to fight another day, he’s already begun to position himself for a long flirtation with a re-run for president in 2024. And this tweet is simply one part of that plan.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at Trump’s maniacal efforts to raise money in the wake of the loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump has raised more than $170 million into what purports to be a legal defense fund to help finance his efforts to dispute election results in several swing states. But look closely, and you realize that a large chunk is being diverted to Save America, the leadership PAC formed by the President last month. That PAC, of course, has nothing to do with Trump’s legal battles and everything to do with maintaining his power and influence within the Republican Party once he leaves office early next year. It will allow him to donate to candidates as well as finance various trips to support candidates (and raise more money for the PAC.)

Even aside from those efforts, any student of Trump’s life – in and out of politics – knows that this is a man who will NEVER willingly give up the national spotlight. He spent his entire life feeling as though he was being excluded from the fanciest clubs – literally and figuratively – by the so-called “elites.” His 2016 victory was him barging into the room – and everyone who had turned their noses up at him in the past being forced to not just acknowledge him but kowtow to him.

You think he’s going to walk away from that? No way, no how.

Instead, the next few years are likely to play out something like this:

1) Trump never actually concedes that he lost the election, insisting – facts be damned! – that he was cheated out of it. That preserves the idea – in his mind and that of his pliant base – that he is still the ultimate winner.

2) Trump uses his Twitter feed to continue to promote his personal and political brand. That includes – but is not limited to – touting any and every poll that shows him either as the most popular Republican in the party or well ahead of all other possible contenders in the 2024 race, running down Republicans who break from his policies in any way and rewriting the history of his four years in office as a time of massive success on all fronts.

3) He travels the country holding campaign rallies – ostensibly for other GOP candidates but really for him – that evoke the carnival-like atmosphere of his 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

4) He calls into a variety of his favorite shows – “Hannity” on Fox News, Newsmax, etc. – to talk about the state of the country. When asked about whether he might run again, Trump makes clear that he hears from people every day who want him to (this may or may not actually be true) and leaves the door wide open to a second bid.

Does Trump actually run again in 2024? Hard to know. The truth is that unless something drastic happens within the base of the GOP over the next few years, it’s very hard to see how anyone could beat Trump in a presidential primary.

But the President has long been his own worst enemy – and he will face a number of legal issues as well as financial complications in the next few years. And at 74 years old and with a decidedly vague medical history, who’s to say what the next few years will bring?

Whether or not Trump ultimately runs, he will spend as long as he can milking the possibility that he might run. He will do this not because it is good for the Republican Party but because it is good for him, politically and personally.

Which is what this has always been about anyway.