It can’t be him, Trump thought, peering out from under his satin sheets at the apparition now hovering by his bedside. It was after midnight. I specifically told the guards not to let him into the elevators.
“Christie?” Trump hissed. “Is that you? And what’s with the shackles? They sent you to prison already?”
“Of course not,” Chris Christie spat, rattling his chains. “I’m a ghost.”
“But you’re not dead!”
“Not literally, no.”
“It’s Christmas Eve, Christie! I already told you we filled the Fish and Wildlife job. Stop badgering me.”
“Lookit, I’m just here as a messenger, OK?” Christie said. “You’re gonna be visited by three more ghosts tonight. They need to talk to you about your life and the hereafter and whatnot.”
“I’m a smart guy, I can figure it out,” Trump said, turning over and resuming his rest. “Tell them to sit with Pence. He’ll make that face where he squints a lot to show he’s really interested.”
But when Trump opened his eyes again, Christie was gone, and another apparition was standing before him, in coattails and a top hat.
“Who the hell are you?” Trump barked.
“I’m Rutherford Hayes,” the ghost said. “I’m the last guy who managed to win the presidency while losing as much of the popular vote as you did.”
“I’ve never even heard of you.”
“Yeah, something to keep in mind. Anyway, I’m also the Ghost of Christmas Past. I’ve got something I want you to see.”
“It better not be ‘Hamilton,’” Trump said. “A lot of people are saying it’s totally overrated.”
But before he could say another word, Trump was flying over Manhattan and drifting through time, until at last he landed in what appeared to be an auditorium. The little stage was packed with preening contestants of some kind.
“This pageant is sad,” Trump huffed, looking around. “Where’re the bikinis? Where’s the singer from Train? Ivanka would class this up, let me tell you.”
“It’s a primary debate from last year,” Hayes said. “Don’t you recognize yourself, right there at center stage?”
“Oh, yeah!” Trump beamed, peering down from above. “That is me. You should watch this, Hayes — you might learn something. Did you see my ratings with the 35-to-49 demo? Unbelievable.
“Hey, there’s that mama’s boy Jeb, and my old friend Lyin’ Ted. And … wait a minute, Hayes. Who’s that young boy? Why does he look so sad?”
“Oh. That’s Marco Rubio.”
“Little Marco! What’s his problem?”
“Don’t you remember, Donald? Your friend Christie just took him out at the knees. Before tonight, Marco was going to make history, but after this, he’ll never be the same again. Christie just handed you the nomination. And yet you’ll repay him with scorn.”
“Chris loves me. All these guys do. I even hired the one I called a child molester and the slow guy from Texas. They’re eating right out of my completely normal-size, totally unremarkable hands.”
“For now, yes,” the ghost said. “But you humiliated them, Donald. Do you really think they’ve just forgotten?”
“I’m starting to see why you were such a loser, Hayes. Very low-energy.”
But when Trump turned around, Rutherford Hayes wasn’t there. Instead, he was looking into ghastly yellow eyes set deeply into a hollow face.
“Now who are you?”
“Zachary Taylor. I was an outsider with no discernible ideology, just like you, Donald. Got about the same percentage in the Electoral College, too.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Officially, I ate raw fruit and died. Between us, I think someone poisoned me.”
“Not to worry!” Taylor exclaimed, whisking Trump into the night. “We’ve got a dinner to attend!”
Before long, Trump found himself hovering unseen in a family dining room, where beaming parents and children dressed in their Sunday best were just sitting down for a dinner of stuffed turkey and yams.
“What are we doing in the 1950s?” Trump asked.
“Don’t you recognize the Romneys?” Taylor exclaimed. “This is Christmas Present.”
Trump looked closer. “Mitt! Last time I saw this guy, he was literally on his knees blubbering. Just because I forced him to sit in the middle of Fifth Avenue and sing ‘I Will Survive’ in French. Which was pathetic, frankly, because he has very poor rhythm. Not much talent there, OK? Why’s he look so cheerful?”
“Mitt has the true spirit of Christmas in his heart,” the ghost said. “Also, he’s thrilled you’ve come around to his way of thinking.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Deporting criminals instead of building a wall. Staying in NATO. Reforming entitlements. Doling out Cabinet jobs to billionaires. You’re a Romney Republican, Donald!”
“Hold on, Taylor. That sad-looking boy, the one eating green beans in the corner. He’s not a Romney. I’ve seen him somewhere before.”
“Oh, that’s Marco. He just stopped by on his way back to Washington. He’s returning to the Senate.”
“Dear God, why!” Trump cried. “He’s got his whole life ahead of him! No one should live in that kind of squalor! Horrible! We’ve got to help that kid, Taylor!”
“Alas, time is running out for Little Marco, Donald. And for us, too, I’m afraid.”
And before Trump knew it, he was soaring through the night again, holding onto the cold hand of yet another apparition. He turned to see a more familiar face.
“Nixon! I guess you also had an electoral margin like mine.”
“Turned out fine for me,” the ghostly Richard Nixon said.
“I suppose you’re here to show me Christmas Future?”
“We’re already here,” Nixon said. And Trump saw that they were now in a shopping mall, where a tall, much-too-lean Santa was hoisting whiny children onto his lap.
“What’s some dime-store Santa got to do with me?” Trump grumbled.
He listened in for a moment, as the mall Santa patiently explained to a little girl why, rather than stuff a present down the chimney this year, he was planning to give her a block grant that would enable her to build her own presents and save whatever was left in an annuity she could invest herself.
“Paul Ryan!” Trump exclaimed. “What’s he doing, some kind of charity stunt? I give so much time to charity, I can’t even tell you. I mean, literally, I can’t tell you. It’s secret. I wouldn’t want to boast.”
“Ryan was booted after Republicans suffered a historic collapse in the midterms,” Nixon said. “This was the only job he could find. McConnell’s working at the Forever 21, if you want to stop by.”
“But why?” Trump stammered.
“You just never took the job very seriously, Donald. Your base grew disillusioned at all the broken promises. The public revolted after the trade war with China and the Russian invasion of Latvia. The rivals you mocked turned on you as soon as the polls went south.”
“But what happened to the boy?” Trump asked, shaken. “You know, Little Marco.”
“Oh, he’s getting ready to primary your ass,” Nixon said. “He’s way ahead in the polls. CNN just bumped your next appearance so he could call in instead.”
“No!” Trump bellowed. “Nixon! It can’t be!”
Then Trump heard a distant voice, as if through a dream. “Nixon, sir? Are you all right, Mr. Trump?”
Just like that, he awoke from his Christmas nightmare, his Chinese-made silk pajamas drenched in sweat. His new chief of staff was looming over the bed.
“Reince!” Trump shouted, leaping to his feet, planting a kiss on his aide’s sallow cheek. “Merry Christmas, Reince! And I know Christmas, let me tell you. I know more about the Christmas spirit than Jesus, OK?
“We have work to do, Reince! We got to get Christie a job right away! And Little Marco! We got to get that kid a life before it’s too late! Get rid of the Cabinet — we’re starting again. Oh, and I want that daily intelligence briefing right away! Get Obama on the phone! There’s so much to learn!”
“Yes, sir, right away,” Reince said. “Also, Romney’s in the lobby again. Should I invite him up?”
“Eh,” Trump shrugged. “Let’s see if he knows any carols.”