(CNN) One benefit of never admitting you lost a presidential election -- even though, of course, you did -- is that you can just keep on acting like the president.
That's exactly what Donald Trump is trying to do these days, overseeing a sort of shadow presidency for the base of the Republican Party in which Covid-19 isn't that big of a problem, the 2020 election was stolen and he was right about, well, everything else too.
The latest example of Trump's shadow presidency came Wednesday, when The Washington Post reported that Trump had spoken with several of the family members of those killed by a suicide bomber in the final days of American military involvement in Afghanistan.
Those calls follow hard on considerable controversy over President Joe Biden's visit to Dover Air Force Base to attend the dignified transfer of the bodies of the 13 American military members killed in the bombing. Several families refused to meet with Biden while others were confrontational with the president over his decision to end the war in Afghanistan after 20 years of American occupation.
"Trump has criticized the way the Afghanistan withdrawal was handled, telling at least one family that he did not understand why Biden pulled the military out of the country before getting all the civilians out, according to people familiar with the calls who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of private discussions.
"Trump has been briefed recently by former officials, including former CIA director and secretary of state Mike Pompeo, about what he did in Afghanistan as president and what they viewed as missteps by the Biden administration, advisers said."
Trump even sent out a statement -- via his Save America PAC -- from the mother of one of the soldiers killed in the bombing in which she suggested that her son "was murdered for Biden optics."
It's hard to overstate what a break that sort of behavior is from the way past presidents have comported themselves after leaving office.
The general rule for former presidents is to stay out of national affairs -- knowing perhaps better than anyone else on the planet that they are not clued into the full spectrum of an issue in nearly the same way the sitting president is.
As The Washington Post's Dan Zak wrote recently: "A post-presidency is its own kind of office, term-limited only by death, and held at any given time by few men, each with their own ideas of how to wield a more abstract kind of power."
George W. Bush moved back to Texas, took up painting and almost never offered commentary -- positive or negative -- about Barack Obama. "I think part of having a fulfilling life is to be challenged," Bush said after leaving the White House. "I'm challenged on the golf course, I'm challenged to stay fit, and I'm challenged by my paintings. ... I am happy."
Obama, following his departure from the White House in early 2017, angered many liberals with his refusal to speak out against Trump and his efforts to summarily roll back many of the measures the 44th president had put in place over eight years. While he eventually did come out -- particularly as the 2020 race heated up -- with a more biting critique of the Trump years, it was still not enough for many who believed Obama owed the party and the country to blast away at Trump for four straight years.
Trump, never one to overly concern himself with how presidents past have behaved, hasn't even ever acknowledged that Biden won the presidency fair and square -- much less stepped back in terms of a public role.
He has pushed conspiracy theories about (nonexistent) voter fraud in places like Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. He has suggested that Biden is doing a "horrible job" in dealing with Covid-19. On Afghanistan, Trump has said that "never in history has a withdrawal from war been handled so badly or incompetently as the Biden Administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan."
In short, Trump has continued to act as though the 2020 campaign is ongoing, which, for him, it apparently is. Rather than issuing a call for unity after a hard-fought race -- a la Al Gore following the lengthy recount in the 2000 presidential contest -- Trump has doubled and tripled down on pushing false narratives to a party base only too eager to accept whatever he says unquestioningly.
That decision has, not surprisingly, left the country as divided -- if not more -- than we were in the heart of the 2020 campaign. And turned things like getting vaccinated against a deadly virus that has killed more than 650,000 Americans and counting.