President Donald Trump leaves the presidency on Wednesday under a dark cloud of his own making, ending his single four-year term stained by two impeachments, deep political divisions and his handling of a pandemic that has caused 400,000 U.S. deaths.
Trump, 74, will bid farewell to the White House hours before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. That will make him the first outgoing president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to skip the Inauguration Day ceremony marking the formal transfer of power, in a final display of pique at his failure to win re-election.
Trump and his wife, Melania departed the South Lawn on the Marine One helicopter for Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland, where he presided over a military-style sendoff before boarding Air Force One one last time to fly to Florida.
His arrival at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach is being timed to get him behind the wall of the resort before Trump’s term as president expires at noon.
Banned from Twitter after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump used an old-school method - an emailed press release - to distribute a farewell video on Tuesday in which he veered from his usual divisive rhetoric and sounded an upbeat message.
“Now more than ever, we must unify around our shared values and rise above the partisan rancor, and forge our common destiny,” he said. But he did not mention Biden, to whom he has not formally conceded.
Trump has a long way to go to rebuild an image left in tatters by his stormy presidency, particularly the final months. Trump now has a unique place in history - as the only president ever impeached twice.
Even after Trump leaves office, the Senate is still to hold a trial on the impeachment charge brought by the Democratic-led House of Representatives that he incited an insurrection. Its outcome could determine whether he will be disqualified from running again for president.
“He is going to be as an asterisk president, a one-termer who did more damage than good,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
Trump maintained to his last days in office that the Nov. 3 election was stolen from him, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Courts have rejected his campaign’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud and his vice president, Mike Pence, led the U.S. Congress in certifying Biden’s victory over Trump’s objections, after Trump-inspired protesters had been cleared from the Capitol following a deadly assault.
The Washington that Trump leaves behind is being guarded by 25,000 National Guard troops, while the National Mall, traditionally thronged with spectators on Inauguration Day, is closed to the public because of threats of violence from groups that attacked the Capitol.
While preoccupied with fighting the election results, Trump did not put a dent in the spiraling death toll from the coronavirus, which crossed the grim 400,000 mark in the United States on Tuesday, the most of any country. Pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have also cost millions of Americans their jobs.
Trump, a former real estate tycoon who owns 17 golf resorts around the world, faces a gigantic task rebuilding his tarnished brand.
The New York Times reported that many of his resorts have been losing millions of dollars and that hundreds of millions in debt must be repaid within a few years.
Trump must also decide how to stay involved in politics as he has said he will do. He has talked of using a super PAC (political action committee) for supporting candidates who try to oust Republicans who he believes have crossed him politically.
But whether he can maintain his grip on the Republican Party will remain to be seen.
“I would predict in the not-too-distant future that American political candidates will be more motivated to show that they are unlike Trump than candidates after 1974 were to show that they were unlike (Richard) Nixon,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Nixon resigned in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.