Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Losing an election can be tough. President Trump has publicly mused that being defeated could be so devastating it could cause him to leave the country.

Anyone who was conscious in 2016, however, will know that election predictions and polling numbers are not the same as Electoral College outcomes. Anything can happen. In short, Trump will not be calling a travel agent anytime soon.

If, however, Joe Biden does become the 46th president of the United States and Trump starts seriously thinking about self-imposed exile, where might he go?

The possibilities are endless. But desirable destinations are few and far between. As he looks at the map and tries to find a place to land, he might want to see where other fallen leaders have trod.

Some of his contemporary foreign colleagues struggle to hold onto power, many have planned an emergency exit strategy and keep an eye on the door — just in case they suddenly need to skedaddle.

Unpopular leaders are sometimes forced to leave at a moment’s notice, like Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s door dash in 2014. He fled his palace, with only enough time to spirit out a few bags of gold bars onto a waiting chopper flying him to safety in nearby Russia, where he still lives. But not all ex-leaders are pushed and rushed out the door. Some are slowly coaxed to leave.

The White House continues to look for ways to pressure Venezuela’s ostensible President Nicolás Maduro to depart, but Washington gets foiled every time. Unfortunately, Trump talked big but delivered nada when it came to ousting Maduro.

The United States added pressure by slowing Venezuelan oil exports and sanctioning ships. It recognized opposition leader President Juan Guaidó. Nothing worked. Then a failed coup fiasco gave Maduro a huge propaganda win. Maduro got to perp walk American mercenaries who had attempted an ill-advised overthrow worthy of the Keystone Kops.

Part of the White House’s failed attempt at regime change in Caracas included discussions for an orderly and safe exile abroad for Maduro. Washington pushed a deal for him to flee and live the rest of his post-bus driving days on a warm beach with a cold beer.

Cuba’s Varadero Beach was made to sound super dreamy, but Maduro already has power, wealth and the loyalty of his armed forces. Leaving all that behind has not looked like a particularly good deal. Unfortunately for Maduro, when it does start to sound more compelling, he may be out of more than just a job. Ask Saddam Hussein.

Maduro, however, is in no hurry to forsake his nation — or his oil revenues. In fact, he’s fat and happy at home while, disturbingly, his main opposition just got out of Dodge. Leopoldo López took off after years of hunger strikes, harassment, beatings and imprisonment. While Maduro remains in Miraflores Palace, López is now far, far away in Spain.

Leaders in trouble or out of favor have long sought an easy escape route, avoiding persecution and jail. Sometimes they use their time abroad to regroup and plan to recoup their influence and power. That’s what Ayatollah Khomeini did in Paris before riding a revolutionary wave to return to Tehran.

That’s also what corrupted Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi did after years of living in London. He successfully lied to and coaxed America to attack Iraq in the hopes of wrangling a prime minister position supported by a U.S. military occupation. Both Khomeini and Chalabi returned from exile to strengthen Iran’s aggressively dangerous role in the region.

Not all leaders take a self-imposed hiatus abroad in order to plan a strategically timed return like Bolivia’s ex-President Evo Morales. He is currently biding his time in Argentina as his allies slowly regain control of the levers of national power. Morales plans to return to La Paz by Nov. 9.

Some former leaders decide to call it quits entirely, leave their country and spare themselves the indignity of popular derision and, possibly, prosecution. Former King Juan Carlos I of Spain made that choice, abdicating the throne for his son, Felipe VI, to rule. A hero of post-Franco Spain, Juan Carlos got a little sloppy in his personal and financial affairs and left Spain for the United Arab Emirates in August. He explained his exile as the best way to save the monarchy, allowing his son to distance himself from the crown’s scandals.

Trump may feel the personal desire to take a little time off from any political fallout should he lose and loudly continue to contest the 2020 election. If so, he may go to a Trump property in a foreign country where he actually pays taxes.

Trump should know, however, that American ex-presidents are safe at home when their tenure is up. He can stick around Florida, New York, or even Washington, DC. In places with less democracy, a perverted rule of law and a potentially angry mob at the presidential gates, ex-leaders’ options come down to fight or flight.

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Markos Kounalakis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a former NBC Radio Moscow correspondent and the author of Freedom Isn’t Free: The Price of World Order (Anthem Press, 2022).