Trump Leaves The National Stage — Or Has He?

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By Susan Crabtree for RealClearPolitics

After descending the marble steps of the White House’s South Portico for his final time as president, Donald Trump couldn’t help himself.

He stopped to chat with the press before lifting off aboard Marine One for his final farewell ceremony and unknown next chapter.

Clad in his trademark scarlet tie and black topcoat, Trump was far more subdued and succinct than usual as he addressed the bevy of reporters he had demonized daily as the “enemy of the people,” “a disgrace” and “fake news.”

Gone were the anger and the accusations – at least in this moment.

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“It’s been a great honor – the honor of a lifetime,” he said. “… We’ve had an amazing four years. We’ve accomplished a lot. We love the American people, and again it has been something very special.”

First lady Melania Trump, standing by his side in all-black suit, dark sunglasses and stilettos, was the one to end the brief remarks with a tight smile and a wave.

“And I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye,” Trump concluded before clasping hands with Melania, turning and walking to helicopter. “We’ll see each other again.”

The brief, almost wistful remarks served as a telling send-off. The press and the reality-TV-star/ business-tycoon-turned-populist-president fed off each other for the five years Trump commanded the national political stage.

Some critics of the 45th president have blamed CNN chief Jeff Zucker for Trump’s early GOP primary rise.

CNN’s airing of Trump rallies became a ratings bonanza, and the network continued to stoke viewership by taking up the now-debunked Russia collusion narrative, funded by the Hillary Clinton camp and the Democratic National Committee, even before Trump moved into the White House.

Now CNN and MSNBC executives are reportedly fretting over how to operate in a post-Trump future after reaching new heights in ratings and revenues during his time in office.

RELATED: Melania Trump’s Final Words Before Leaving White House – ‘Being Your First Lady Was My Greatest Honor’

The mutually beneficial open warfare between the combative president and an army of reporters who obsessively covered his every Twitter insult has come to an end – or will it be only a forced hiatus?

Trump’s over-the-top nationalistic tendencies and bombast energized supporters and unnerved his enemies, fueling even more media ratings wars.

Just steps away from the South Portico a few months ago, Trump again accepted his party’s nomination, this time on the South Lawn in front of a thousand supporters seated in rows of closely packed chairs, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump delivered his acceptance speech on a large stage, bedecked with red-white-and blue bunting and enormous campaign signs.

Elaborate fireworks that spelled out “Trump” and “2020” against the backdrop of the Washington Monument capped his remarks, followed by an opera singer performing from the Blue Room balcony.

The extravaganza on the White House grounds was denounced by detractors as an obscene partisan tainting of a government building.

Trump said he chose to deliver the speech there after being forced to cancel plans for a Florida-based convention because of COVID.

“Trump is going out of his way to blow off the Hatch Act,” the Washington Post railed, referencing the law designed to separate official actions at government buildings from partisan politicking.

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The intervening five months, however, have been dark and anything but celebratory as Trump refused to acknowledge his loss to Joe Biden, asserting massive election fraud.

He was forced to come to grips with his defeat only after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building, resulting in the deaths of five people and horrifying the nation.

Trump’s widely assailed role in inciting the violence will forever taint his legacy. It also cast a pall over his final two weeks in office.

Even before the attack on the Capitol, Trump had declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration, a symbolic act marking the traditional peaceful transfer of power.

In the days afterward, with Democrats and some Republicans blaming him for the ugly events on Jan. 6, Trump announced he would break with tradition and skip it.

It was the first time in 152 years that an outgoing president didn’t attend the inauguration of his successor.

Instead, Trump focused on the symbolism of his own exit. He had envisioned a big, military-style send-off with a possible fly-over full of taxpayer-funded patriotic pageantry.

In the end, he settled for speech against his favorite backdrop, Air Force One, after the military band played “Hail to the Chief” and a 21-gun salute echoed across the tarmac.

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A close-knit crowd of aides, loyalists and family members were on hand at Joint Base Andrews for the departure. His own vice president, Mike Pence, however, opted to honor tradition and attend Biden’s swearing-in.

Before leaving for Florida, Trump touted his White House achievements, including enacting tax cuts, placing three conservative justices on the Supreme Court, overseeing a soaring economy before the pandemic, developing a COVID vaccine in record time, rebuilding the U.S. military, creating a new Space Force and ensuring better care for veterans.

Of course, he left out that the U.S. coronavirus death toll had topped 400,000 or that jobless claims had surged this week to the highest total since August.

Just creating a Space Force itself would be a major accomplishment for “a regular administration,” he insisted. “We were not a regular administration” — a characterization the media deemed a rare instance of honest self-reflection and understatement.

Trump didn’t mention Joe Biden’s name once in his remarks but wished the new administration well, while seeming to take credit in advance for any future Biden achievements.

“I will always fight for you,” he said. “I will be watching. I will be listening. And I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better. I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have a great the foundation to do something really spectacular.

“Goodbye. We love you. We’ll be back in some form. Have a good life.”

RELATED: Poll: Republican Voters Are Siding With Trump Over Mitch McConnell

As his remarks ended, the Village People’s “YMCA,” the upbeat Trump campaign rally staple, roared out form the loudspeakers, as the departing president clapped to the music, though he didn’t bop along, happily punching the sky per post-rally usual.

In a new twist, as Air Force One began to roll along the tarmac, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” boomed from the speakers.

Even his most ardent political foes couldn’t argue with that swan song. Exactly what the next act holds now for Trump is the subject of great nationwide debate.

Will the 45th president further fracture the GOP by launching a new political party, dubbed the Patriot Party, as several media outlets have reported?

At least one conservative strategist thinks Trump will realize that taking such as step is a monumental undertaking with little upside.

His populist persona and massive following are far better suited for showcasing on a media platform forged in his image, the strategist argued.

“With Trump off social media, there’s just massive pent up demand for him that’s only going to grow,” the strategist, who requested anonymity, told RealClearPolitics.

“I think a media outlet is a way better way forward for him than a third party. He’s comfortable in that arena. He can still do rallies, his network would cover them if no one else does, and they would still draw great ratings.”

Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and Trump are already good friends, and that conservative outlet has been stealing the Trump audience from Fox News since election night, prompting a staff shakeup and several firings at the latter in recent days.

A Trump-Newsmax partnership would provide the former president a ready-made platform and further erode Fox’s longtime hold on conservative viewers.

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Just 11 minutes before his term ended and Biden became president, Trump arrived at his Mar-a-Lago home. Supporters had gathered along the boulevard between the airport and the lavish resort.

The final presidential motorcade slowly moved along, as Trump waved to throngs of well-wishers, some in tears, some holding signs displaying their undying loyalty.  

“Trump 4 ever my president,” one sign said. Others offered kind words: “Praying 4 Trump!” “Thank you. We Love You.” Still another included an expletive aimed at Biden.

One notable political figure stood out in the crowd: Roger Stone, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. Stone, who served as a campaign adviser to Trump, was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated whether Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.

“I came to pay my respects because I love the man,” he told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. Trump pardoned Stone last month after commuting his sentence in July.

Earlier in the day, Stone appeared at a rally for Trump in West Palm Beach and predicted his friend would not recede from the political landscape.

“You view this as the end. I view it as the beginning,” he told a local news outlet. “…I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Donald Trump by any means at all.”

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics’ White House/national political correspondent.

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