Strangely lost for words, Trump exits White House for last time

Donald Trump has spent his final days in the White House cut off from his legions of supporters after he was banned by Twitter and Facebook. For the first time in four years, the outgoing president appears to be lost for words.

After his defeat to Joe Biden in November’s election, Mr Trump launched a last-ditch bid to cling to power, peddling fake conspiracy theories of mass voter fraud, fighting the outcome in the courts, and pressuring Republican officials to overturn the result.

But that all changed on January 6, when he was blamed for inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol, which resulted in him becoming the first president to be impeached not once, but twice.

For four years, the White House hosted a string of made-for-television events that Mr Trump would hold with titans of industry from blue-chip companies and celebrities, but the waning days of his administration have been eerily quiet.

One of the few visitors last week was Mike Lindell, an outspoken conspiracy theorist and chief executive of MyPillow, a tiny company that makes pillows for people who have trouble sleeping.

Mr Trump’s official schedule has been virtually empty. “President Trump will work from early in the morning until later in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings,” it has said almost every day since Christmas, triggering much ridicule from critics.

On Wednesday morning, when president-elect Biden wakes up in Blair House, the presidential guest house across from the White House, Mr Trump will be preparing to leave on the Marine One presidential helicopter. Then he will board his final flight on Air Force One to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he will take up residence at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

In a final act of defiance that underscores his unorthodox presidency, Mr Trump will be the first president in more than 150 years to snub his successor by not attending the inauguration. The event will be attended by all the living former presidents — Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton — except 96-year-old Jimmy Carter.

Mr Trump will hold a farewell event at 8am at Joint Base Andrews, the military airport outside Washington used for the president. But in a sign that the White House was struggling to draw people to the event following the US Capitol attack, it resorted to inviting former staff who have long been deemed personae non gratae by Mr Trump.

Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications chief who became a vocal critic of Mr Trump, received an invitation for himself and five guests, but turned it down. John Kelly, a former chief of staff who also drew the ire of Mr Trump, told CNN that he too had declined an invite.

“Yes he is with me that morning having his fingernails pulled out,” Mr Scaramucci tweeted of Mr Kelly’s decision.

Mr Trump’s exit closes a chapter in the most tumultuous period in modern American politics. In his inaugural address, he spoke about “American carnage”, in a dark speech that prompted George W Bush to comment, “that was some weird shit”.

He closed out his presidency four years later with real carnage when his rhetoric about a stolen election was accused of triggering the violent siege on the Capitol that left five people dead.

The inglorious end to the Trump presidency comes after a tumultuous year for the 45th occupant of the White House. In February, he was acquitted during his first impeachment trial. Shortly after, coronavirus arrived on US shores and Mr Trump — who would contract the disease himself — was repeatedly attacked for his administration’s response to the pandemic.

Then came his historic second impeachment this month.

Even Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, who rarely rebuked the president, has decided that enough is enough. On Tuesday, he said the pro-Trump mob had been “fed lies” and “provoked by the president”.

Mr Trump leaves office with the lowest approval rating of any president. According to the Pew Research Center, his approval rating fell to 29 per cent after averaging 40 per cent until the attack on the Capitol.

Line chart of Evaluation of Donald Trump's handling of his presidency (%) showing As Trump leaves office his approval rating falls to its lowest level

But he retains a strong support base. And he has secured fealty from many Republicans with an implied threat that he will mobilise his fans behind challengers in Republican primaries if they break with him.

On the eve of his departure, Mr Trump posted a pre-recorded video on YouTube, in which he said the movement that propelled him to the White House four years was “only just beginning”.

The former New York property mogul has previously hinted that he would run for president in 2024. But he also faces the possibility of conviction in his forthcoming Senate trial and being barred from holding public office in the future.

Mr Trump will also be hampered by the loss of the social media platforms that helped him bypass the mainstream media.

In an interview with the Financial Times shortly after his inauguration in 2017, he seemed taken aback when asked whether he would dial back his tweeting and become more presidential.

“Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here . . . I have over 100m followers between Facebook, Twitter [and] Instagram . . . I don’t have to go to the fake media,” Mr Trump said. “You lost, I won,” he added, referring to the media.

Yet in the end, even though he won 74m votes in November — more than any previous candidate in a US election except Mr Biden — he still finished his presidency with the label he hates more than any other: loser.

Graphic by Brooke Fox and Christine Zhang

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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