“Have a good life”: Trump leaves office — finally — amid reports he plans to start own party

Trump was talked out of pardoning himself and family members, but still wants revenge against Mitch McConnell

By Igor Derysh
January 20, 2021 9:18PM (UTC)
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President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Marine One as they depart the White House on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Trump is making his scheduled departure from the White House for Florida, several hours ahead of the inauguration ceremony for his successor Joe Biden, making him the first president in more than 150 years to refuse to attend the inauguration. (Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

Donald Trump departed the White House for the last time on Wednesday morning in classic Trump fashion, but not before news leaked that the now-former president might be planning to seek revenge against the Republicans he feels betrayed him in his attempt to overturn the 2020 election on fraudulent claims of vote-rigging.

Trump skipped town for his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida, his new official place of residence, before President Joe Biden's inauguration. Trump is the first president to skip his successor's inauguration in 150 years, though the White House said he left a letter for Biden on the Oval Office Resolute Desk. Trump and first lady Melania Trump took off on Marine One from the White House around 8 a.m. and briefly spoke to a small crowd at Joint Base Andrews.

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"We will be back in some form," he said before walking off stage to "YMCA." "Have a good life. We will see you soon."

Former Vice President Mike Pence did not attend the sendoff, instead appearing at Biden's inauguration. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., were also notably absent from Trump's farewell address.

Trump finished his presidency as it began, filled with false claims and exaggerations about his accomplishments. He falsely claimed that he passed the "largest tax cut" in history, bragged about presiding over the "greatest economy" even though it has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic that he refused to try to contain, falsely claimed that he appointed a "record-setting" number of judges despite appointing fewer than his predecessors, and falsely taking credit for a Veterans Choice health program that was signed by former President Barack Obama. He did not mention that he is the only president to be impeached twice, not to mention within a single term, and did not discuss his role in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot that he is charged with inciting.

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He left office as the most unpopular president, at least by some measures, in the history of polling.

"We were not a regular administration," he said, entirely accurately, before wishing "the new administration great luck and great success" without ever mentioning Biden's name, even though it was included in his prepared remarks.

He briefly thanked Pence, with whom he feuded in his final days over his refusal to help overturn the election, and "certain elements of Congress."

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The first lady briefly spoke as well, calling the last four years an "honor" and offering her "thoughts and prayers." Melania Trump also distributed dozens of handwritten thank-you notes to her staff, though CNN reported that she had outsourced the actual writing to her aides.

Trump in his final hours issued more than 140 pardons and commutations, including to former top adviser Steve Bannon, who was charged with defrauding donors to a pro-Trump private border wall project, and multiple corrupt former lawmakers and allies. He also rescinded his own executive order barring former aides from lobbying, which he claimed at the time he i issued it would "drain the swamp."

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But Trump was ultimately dissuaded from pardoning himself by outgoing White House counsel Pat Cipollone and others, according to CNN. Attorneys warned Trump that the pardon could be an unnecessary admission of guilt and might have required him to list specific crimes, warning that a preemptive blanket pardon could be unconstitutional. He also did not pardon any family members or attorney Rudy Giuliani. Trump was also warned that certain pardons could antagonize Republicans who will preside over his upcoming Senate trial.

Trump is still stewing about Republicans who turned on him following the riot, particularly McConnell, who blamed him for provoking the mob before it overran Capitol police and stormed the halls of Congress. Trump has discussed forming a new political party called the "Patriot Party" in an effort to "exert continued influence," sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. The report noted that it is unclear how serious Trump's discussions are, noting that launching a new party "would require a significant amount of time and resources" for a president who spent much of his four years in the White House playing golf, binge-watching cable news and tweeting incessantly until he was banned by Twitter, Facebook and other social networks following the riot.

Trump departed after speaking to a mostly maskless crowd, leaving behind a pandemic that he repeatedly downplayed for nearly a year as it killed more than 400,000 people. And despite repeatedly seeking credit for the quick rollout of coronavirus vaccines, he had no plan to distribute the vaccines when they arrived.

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He also leaves behind a legacy of cruelty and incompetence, from his Muslim ban to the child separation policy, from his assault on law enforcement to his legal immigration crackdown, from his attempt to turn the census into a weapon against undocumented immigrants to undermining of the U.S. Postal Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and intelligence agencies. He encouraged police brutality amid protests of racial injustice, constantly feuded with people of color and women, and stoked dangerous conspiracy theories that have resulted in numerous deaths and ongoing threats.

Along with the Senate trial, Trump also faces a potential Justice Department investigation into his conduct in office as well as a New York state investigation into his businesses and another probe by the Manhattan district attorney into his finances.

Trump's final days in office were spent fighting a futile legal and PR battle in an attempt to overturn the election results in multiple states he lost, ultimately culminating in the Capitol siege. Silenced by social networks, many Republican lawmakers condemned his actions as they try to move on from an era marred by unending scandal, even though they enabled his worst impulses for years. As Trump flew off on his jet, some 25,000 National Guard troops stayed behind in Washington to protect the inauguration against another potential attack by the president's supporters.

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As Biden finally assumed the presidency, he also planned a slew of first-day executive orders to roll back many of Trump's policies and halt construction of the border wall.

Trump's actions in office drew many allegations of "fascism" and "authoritarianism" that were in most cases only contained by the ineptitude of the president and his advisers.

"The true damage of the Trump era can't yet be fully assessed; the patient is still recovering in the trauma bay," wrote The Atlantic's Adam Serwer. "What we do know is that an aspiring authoritarian, even an incompetent one, can do tremendous damage to the body politic. If there is to be a recovery, it will be long and arduous, and require sustained intensive care. Even old wounds can ultimately prove fatal."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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