Donald Trump, wife Melania arrive in Florida after departing the White House
After a sendoff at Andrews Air Force Base, Trumps arrive at Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida
His presidency over, Donald Trump said farewell to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday but also hinted about a comeback despite a legacy of chaos, tumult and bitter divisions in the country he led for four years.
"So just a goodbye. We love you," Trump told supporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland where he walked across a red carpet and boarded Air Force One to head to Florida. "We will be back in some form."
Trump departed office as the only president ever impeached twice, with millions more out of work than when he was sworn in and 400,000 dead from the coronavirus. Under his watch, Republicans lost the presidency and both chambers of Congress.
He will be forever remembered for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and horrified the nation two weeks before Democrat Joe Biden moved into the White House. It was on Trump's inauguration day, Jan. 20, 2017, that he painted a dire picture of "American carnage."
Another view of Donald Trump passing by supporters for the last time as President. He’s now a former President and South Florida resident. <a href="https://t.co/nVJjp4qlFg">pic.twitter.com/nVJjp4qlFg</a>—@cbcsteve
Trump is the first outgoing president to skip the inauguration ceremony for his successor since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago.
Trump refused to participate in any of the symbolic passing-of-the-torch traditions surrounding the peaceful transition of power, including inviting the Bidens to the White House for a get-to-know-you visit.
He did follow at least one tradition: The White House said Trump left behind a note for Biden. A Trump spokesperson, Judd Deere, declined to say what Trump wrote or characterize the sentiment in the note, citing privacy for communication between presidents.
Trump's arrival in Florida
Trump and his wife, Melania, landed in Florida more than an hour before Biden was sworn in as the 46th U.S. president. Air Force One flew low along the Florida coast as Biden's inauguration ceremony flashed across televisions on board. A loud cheer went up from the crowd awaiting his arrival when the plane made a low approach to Palm Beach International Airport as the Star-Spangled Banner played over loudspeakers.
Several hundred supporters lined the route to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club. It had a party atmosphere. Trump flags and American flags waved, with many supporters wearing red, white and blue clothing.
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Shari Ackerly parked her three-wheeled motorcycle along the road, painted with red, white and blue stripes and "Trump - Make America Great." A Trump-Pence campaign sign was propped against the headrest, the vice-president's name crossed out.
Ackerly said she wanted to show her support for Trump, saying she supported him since he gave Sen. Ted Cruz the nickname "Lyin' Ted" in the 2016 Republican debates. "He told it like it is," she said.
The crowd of supporters grew as Trump got closer to his club. His vehicle slowed to a crawl and he saw signs proclaiming: "THANK YOU" and "TRUMP WON!"
As supporters chanted "We love you!" Trump mouthed "I love you" back and raised his fist.
In Florida, Trump will face an uncertain future.
He will settle in with a small group of former White House aides as he charts a political future that looks very different now than just two weeks ago.
Before the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan.6, Trump had been expected to remain his party's de facto leader, wielding enormous power as he served as a kingmaker and mulled a 2024 presidential run.
But now he appears more powerless than ever — shunned by so many in his party, impeached twice, denied the Twitter bullhorn he had intended to use as his weapon and even facing the prospect that, if he is convicted in his Senate trial, he could be barred from seeking a second term.
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But although Trump has left the White House, he retains his grip on the Republican base, with the support of millions of loyal voters, along with allies still helming the Republican National Committee and many state party organizations.
He also potentially faces a host of other legal troubles unrelated to the presidency.
While in Washington, Trump rarely left the confines of the White House, except to visit his own hotel, where foreign dignitaries often stayed, hoping to gain access to administration aides. He and his wife never once ate dinner at any other local restaurant, and never ventured out to shop in local stores or see the sights.
When he did leave, it was almost always to one of his properties. In addition to his Florida properties, that included golf courses in Virginia and New Jersey.
White House cleaning crews worked overnight into Wednesday and were still going as the sun rose to get the building cleaned and ready for its new occupants. In what will be the office of incoming press secretary Jen Psaki, a computer keyboard and mouse on her desk were encased in plastic.
A black moving truck had backed up to the door of the West Wing entrance, where the presence of a lone Marine guard usually signals that the president is in the Oval Office.
Most walls were stripped down to the hooks that once held photographs, and offices were devoid of the clutter and trinkets that gave them life. The face of at least one junior aide was streaked with tears as she left the building one last time.
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) to support candidates who try to oust Republicans who he believes have crossed him politically.
Whether he can maintain his grip on the Republican Party will remain to be seen.
He spent the weeks after the election sinking deeper and deeper into a world of conspiracy and has continued to lash out at Republicans for perceived disloyalty. He has threatened, both publicly and privately, to spend the coming years backing primary challenges against those he feels betrayed him.
Some expect him to eventually turn completely on the Republican Party, perhaps by flirting with a run as a third-party candidate.
On Wednesday, Trump made clear he has no intention of disappearing.
"Have a good life," he said in his final words as president. "We will see you soon!"
With files from CBC News and Reuters