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Donald Trump Leaves White House for Florida, Ending Chaotic Presidency

Donald Trump
AP

Donald Trump spoke to a sparse crowd of supporters at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning, minutes after leaving the White House and hours before Joe Biden will be sworn in as his successor. Even in his final moments in power, Trump appeared to leave the door open to another run for the presidency, pledging, “We will be back in some form.”

Trump’s departure caps a chaotic and controversial one-term presidency, but one that he sought to position as a period of unmitigated success.

“This has been an incredible four years,” Trump said. “We’ve accomplished so much together.”

“What we’ve done has been amazing by any standard,” he added, ticking off a list of accomplishments that included his work to bolster the military and the creation of Space Force. “We’ve left it all, as the athletes would say, we’ve left it all on the field. In a month when we’re sitting in Florida — we will not be looking at each other saying ‘If we’d only worked harder.’ You can’t work harder.”

He closed by stating, “have a good life. We’ll see you soon.”

The president received a 21-gun salute shortly before making his remarks. Most of his supporters did not appear to be wearing masks despite the threats the COVID-19 pandemic still poses.

Trump is flying to Mar-a-Lago, the private club he owns in Palm Beach, Fla. Family members, such as his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, were in attendance at Joint Base Andrews, and looked on as the president prepared to board Air Force One, while songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” blared over the loudspeakers. As the plane took off, Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way” played.

It was one of the final acts of Trump’s tumultuous tenure, one marked by constant tweeting and wall-to-wall media coverage, as well as racial tension, recession and a global pandemic that has upended daily life. That was all before Trump’s heated rhetoric about election fraud helped incite an insurrection attempt. Supporters of the president credit Trump with a booming pre-pandemic economy, as well as tax cuts and the appointment of conservative judges that has helped push the Supreme Court to the right.

At roughly 8:15 a.m. ET, Trump left the White House and boarded Marine One with his wife, Melania Trump. Trump paused briefly in front of the media scrum and hinted on plans for a busy post-presidency, telling reporters he “hoped it would not be a long goodbye,” according to CNN.

Trump becomes the first president since President Richard Nixon not to attend his successor’s swearing in.

Trump has refused to acknowledge the incoming president by name. As late as Jan. 6, he was still denying the outcome of the election and insisting that he would never concede. But after his supporters rioted at the Capitol building, attacking police officers and ransacking offices, resulting in five deaths, Trump grudgingly conceded that his time was up without fully abandoning his claims of voter fraud.

At Joint Base Andrews, Trump did offer some warm words to the incoming administration, without mentioning Biden directly. He also used that olive branch of sorts as an opportunity to play up his own record.

“I wish the new administration great luck and great success,” Trump said. “I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular. And again we put it in a position like it’s never been before, despite the worst plague to hit, since I guess you’d say, 1917, over a hundred years ago.”

Trump predicted that the faltering economy was poised to rebound. “Remember us when you see these things happening,” he said “I’m looking at elements of our economy that are set to be a rocket ship up.”

Melania Trump briefly addressed the crowd, saying that being first lady was “the greatest honor.” After his wife spoke, Trump turned back to her and said “That’s good, honey, great job.” He went on to claim she was “so popular” as first lady despite her low profile and low poll numbers.

The president has been increasingly isolated in his final days in office, with former supporters such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell distancing themselves from Trump. He leaves office with the coronavirus raging, and facing fierce criticism of his handling of a pandemic that’s left more than 400,000 Americans dead. He also exits the stage at a time of intense political polarization and with an unprecedented amount of military presence in D.C. due to the threat of further violence.

In a recorded video released on Tuesday, the president said he would pray for the success of the new administration. He also touted his administration’s achievements and warned of the loss of America’s common heritage.

He also said he was deeply moved to see thousands of people come out to cheer for him on motorcade routes.

“I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” he said.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.