Donald Trump, wife Melania depart the White House

·3 min read
Donald Trump, wife Melania depart the White House

Donald Trump left the White House for the final time as the 45th United States president Wednesday morning, travelling to Florida instead of attending his successor Joe Biden's inauguration.

Trump, along with his wife, Melania, walked to the White House lawn and boarded the Marine One helicopter that took off just after 8:15 a.m. ET for Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland.

"It's been a great honour, the honour of a lifetime. The greatest people in the world, the greatest home in the world," Trump told reporters before heading to Marine One, rotors whirring, on the South Lawn.

"We accomplished a lot."

Members of Trump's family gathered for the send-off at Andrews along with the president's loyalists, who chanted "We love you!" "Thank you, Trump" and "U.S.A." Four Army cannons fired a 21-gun salute.

Alex Brandon/The Associated Press
Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

The couple will land in Florida and make their way by motorcade to their Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach. His arrival at Mar-a-Lago is being timed to get him behind the wall of the resort before Trump's term as president expires at noon.

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.

Steven D'Souza/CBC
Steven D'Souza/CBC

Trump refused to participate in any of the symbolic passing-of-the-torch traditions surrounding the peaceful transition of power, including inviting the Joe and Jill Biden 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 spokesman, Judd Deere, declined to say what Trump wrote or characterize the sentiment in the note, citing privacy for communication between presidents.

Still popular within his party

Trump will settle in Florida 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 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.

WATCH | Presidential historian Thomas Balcerski on Trump's legacy:

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 aide. He and his wife never once ate dinner at any other local restaurant, and never ventured out to shop in its stores or see the sights.

Steven D'Souza/CBC
Steven D'Souza/CBC

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 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.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press
Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press