Donald Trump is finally gone. For the time being, at least.
After a half-decade of dominating the news cycles and American and global politics, President Trump is leaving Washington, DC, as the one-term loser he long feared he’d become. He leaves behind him a trail of still-rising mass death, scandal, and colossal failure, as well as a legacy of political violence that he giddily encouraged along the way.
On Wednesday morning, hours before Joe Biden was even sworn in, the twice-impeached 45th U.S. president of the United States headed to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for a farewell ceremony and to board Air Force One, perhaps for the last time in his life.
At 8:14 a.m. ET, the president stepped outside the White House, walking on the red carpet that staff rolled out for him, and began boarding Marine One to fly him to deliver his send-off speech. By the time Trump took the stage at the event, with family members and loyalists dotting the audience, the president’s supporters had already been waiting out in the cold for him, with some bouncing along to the Trump-approved playlist, which included the disco group Village People’s “Macho Man,” that boomed on the loudspeakers.
“We were not a regular administration,” Trump said shortly after beginning his remarks on Wednesday morning, making a statement that his political enemies and critics would certainly agree with.
Though he claimed he “wish[es] the new administration great luck and great success,” Trump also stressed that “we got 75 million votes…an all-time record, by a lot [for sitting presidents],” hinting that he clearly hadn’t let go of his stated conviction that he won the 2020 election that he very obviously lost.
He did not mention his role in starting the Capitol riot. He did, however, claim he had good working relationships with the people whose lives he helped imperil on Jan. 6.
“We will be back in some form,” he said, to applause, during a brief, unremarkable speech that resembled excerpts from his least fiery campaign rallies. “Have a good life. We will see you soon.”
He departed to “Y.M.C.A.,” blaring over the loudspeaker.
By the time he would begin settling into his new Florida home base, Biden would have taken the oath of office without the presence of his immediate predecessor, ever speaking or interacting with him in the days after the election. Trump’s inability to break from his persona as a world-historically sore loser not only left him with a lackluster goodbye party; it also left his successor with a sea of National Guard troops, a militarized Inauguration Day, and a slew of threats from his most devout and cultish supporters.
His final full day in office Tuesday was, particularly for him, quiet, and lacking the bang and pomp he once craved when thinking of his official departure from the White House. On Tuesday, Trump was left in an increasingly empty West Wing, with boxes already packed and loaded into moving trucks and cars, and staffers having snapped their farewell group-pics with him, smiling, days ago. On Tuesday, White House officials, Trump allies, and criminal-justice reform advocates had expected the outgoing president’s final slate of pardons and commutations to be publicly released around 12 p.m. ET. However, the finalization of his list ended up dragging on through the whole day, as several advisers and White House attorneys practically begged Trump not to add Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist. In August, Bannon, the former Breitbart honcho, was arrested for allegedly defrauding donors who gave to the “We Build the Wall” fundraising project.
Trump, who has often exercised his clemency powers to reward political buddies and crooked cronies, did it anyway.
The closing days of Trump’s term were also marked by prominent members of his own party effectively disowning him, or at least trying to wash their hands of his brand name after years of enabling and fervently boosting him. Several Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have shunned him or publicly blamed him for the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month that had led to a large military presence blocking off much of the nation’s capital.
Trump’s own ever-loyal VP, Mike Pence, who Trump had put in danger during the deadly Capitol Hill riot, wasn’t even expected to send off the president at Wednesday’s ceremony, opting instead for plans to attend the Biden inauguration. It was a decision for which Trump in recent days has expressed feelings of betrayal and deep annoyance, according to two people familiar with his private remarks. One of these sources said Trump referred to Pence behind his back as “a quitter,” and someone who was legitimizing a rigged election by attending Biden’s big day. (The 2020 election clearly was not rigged, and Biden decisively beat Trump, a reality the soon-to-be former president has yet to truly accept or publicly admit.)
On Tuesday, it did not go unnoticed in Trump’s inner circle that Pence’s farewell Twitter post excluded namechecking the president.
“Since the election, I think this president has destroyed much of his legacy because of his actions,” Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican strategist who has for years fronted the pro-Trump group Great America PAC, said, on the last full day of the Trump era. “I never felt that the election, a day or two after I looked at it was stolen. Look, [Donald Trump] got beat fair and square. But in the last two months or so, he’s done everything possible to destroy every bit of his legacy. I wish him well, and I wish—for the sake of the nation—President Biden well.”
But even prior to the riot and Trump’s anti-democratic, authoritarian effort to nullify the 2020 election results, the 45th president’s legacy was defined primarily by fiasco, unfulfilled promises, and a relentless stream of scandal and corruption allegations. And Trump has left Biden to inherit a still-raging pandemic, in which the coronavirus continues to kill thousands of Americans each day. On the final full day of Trump’s term, the body count in the country had reached 400,000 perished, with an outgoing president who had shown little interest during his last year in office in doing much to lessen the suffering. In fact, he greatly exacerbated it and repeatedly tried to downplay or cover up how horrifying things were getting and how atrociously he and his administration were managing this crisis.
On Monday, various allies and Trump officials had received email invites from the White House, requesting their attendance at the Joint Base Andrews send-off. For such an event, the invitation was notable for its lack of exclusivity, something Trump has long prided himself on supposedly fostering, at his clubs and in his political and celebrity circles of power. Invitees were allowed to bring five guests, if they wanted.
Several former Trump stalwarts and close associates of the president who received the invitation told The Daily Beast that they were not planning on attending, let alone bringing nearly half a dozen guests along with them. Some didn’t think it was worth the hassle. Others wanted nothing to do with the event because of the widespread disgust and public condemnations that occurred over the bloody Jan. 6 MAGA riot that Trump instigated, and for which he still accepts no responsibility.
In what appeared to be an effort to beef up attendance numbers for an event that various professional Republicans are ditching, the White House even invited former Trump officials who have openly trashed the outgoing president or have even called for his removal from office via the 25th amendment. CNN reported on Tuesday that former White House chief of staff John Kelly—who recently said he would have voted to remove Trump, were Kelly still in the administration—was invited to the Wednesday ceremony, anyway.
Michael Short, an ex-spokesman in the Trump White House who tweeted on the day of the Capitol attack that the president “recklessly whipped up [the crowd] into a frenzy,” also received an invitation, according to an email reviewed by The Daily Beast. He didn’t RSVP, either.
Much of the current attitude of conservatives in official Washington mirrored the advice that lobbyist Barry Bennett, who previously served as a senior adviser to Trump during the 2016 race, directed at President Trump earlier this month: “Go to Florida and stay.”
And because of Trump, the city that he left behind for his Mar-a-Lago club on Wednesday morning looked like a dress rehearsal for a police state. During the week of Inauguration Day—traditionally a celebratory and crowded time in downtown Washington—many of the streets and alleys of northwest DC were lined with newly erected barriers, dump trucks, and heavily armed military personnel, all to deter any potential threats from militant Trump fans and right-wing extremists. Caravans of police vehicles zipped around blocks near the White House and Capitol Hill, with thousands of National Guard troops having flooded into the DC area just in case the political bloodshed were to erupt, again. And it was all because of the attack and body count that Trump had largely caused.
As the president left, one soon-to-be former senior administration official messaged The Daily Beast about how sad and “defeated” he looked as he left the stage and boarded Air Force One.