Donald Trump spent his final moments as America’s 45th president in South Florida waving to his new neighbors from inside an armored Escalade and settling into post-presidential life in Palm Beach, rather than attending President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Trump, in the company of his family, touched down at Palm Beach International Airport at 10:54 a.m. Wednesday in Air Force One, becoming only the fourth president in the history of the United States to skip the swearing-in of his successor.
Without taking questions from reporters at the airport, the Trumps entered their motorcade, which proceeded to crawl slowly down Southern Boulevard, giving the outgoing president time to wave and give double thumbs-ups to cheering crowds grouped at various points along his route.
By 11:49 a.m., when Biden took his oath of office, Trump had already arrived home at Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club and residence.
Trump’s decision to leave Washington early took him far from the nation’s frigid capital, where he had been largely isolated and frustrated following a riot at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters that led to his historic, second impeachment. And it delivered him into the warm embrace of South Florida, where he is expected to live in his retirement.
“He’s going to be overwhelmed. He’s going to see the support and the love we have for our president,” said Willy Guardiola, a 63-year-old Palm Beach Gardens activist who helped organize Wednesday’s welcome for Trump. “He’s our neighbor.”
At 1105 AM POTUS and FLOTUS walked down steps of Air Force One for last time. Family followed. He waved but did not take questions. Motorcade is slowly inching away. pic.twitter.com/4BtujXqz7Y
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) January 20, 2021
Trump and first lady Melania Trump had departed the White House on Marine One shortly after 8 a.m. He stopped briefly on the White House South Lawn to tell reporters that his time in office “has been something really special.”
Trump did not answer a question about what he planned to do once he was home in Florida.
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“I just want to say goodbye. But hopefully, it’s not a long-term goodbye, and we’ll see each other again,” Trump said, before traveling to Joint Base Andrews, where Air Force One awaited.
From a viewing platform at Andrews, Trump once again spoke to a small crowd of supporters for 10 minutes. Without naming Biden, he wished the new administration “great success,” and told the crowd that what he had accomplished during his term in office would be considered “amazing by any standard.”
“When we’re sitting in Florida, we’re not going to be saying, ‘You know, if we only worked a little bit harder.’ You can’t work harder,” Trump said.
Trump’s youngest son, Barron, and his adult children — Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany — joined him on Air Force One, which took flight to South Florida at 9 a.m. Most of Trump’s children are expected to reside in Florida in the immediate future.
— Ian Margol (@IanMargolWPLG) January 20, 2021
Unlike in the weeks preceding the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the outgoing president did not claim falsely Wednesday that the election was stolen from him — a lie that led a pro-Trump mob to descend upon the nation’s Capitol two weeks earlier in a violent attack that resulted in five deaths.
But that siege of the Capitol — which came directly after a speech by Trump asking a crowd to walk to the Capitol and “show strength” — was evoked several times during Biden’s inaugural ceremony, held in a Washington largely locked-down due to concerns of renewed political violence. Biden mentioned the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in his 20-minute inaugural speech, saying that “a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people.”
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward,” Biden said. “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.”
While Trump skipped Biden’s inauguration, several Republican members of South Florida’s congressional delegation did attend, including Palm Beach County’s Brian Mast. But even in calling for unity, Mast took shots at Biden in a statement, saying “his embrace of socialist policies and efforts to appease the radical left, if followed through on, would lead our country down a disastrous path.”
And as Trump’s supporters showed in Palm Beach County — and dozens of Republican members of Congress showed in voting to reject the results of the election in Arizona and Pennsylvania — many people who back Trump continue to distrust the results of the election.
Guardiola, who helped organize the show of support in Palm Beach County Wednesday, is among the many Trump supporters — some of whom have taken to calling themselves “Trumplicans” — who continue to hold the opinion that Biden did not win the election.
Roger Stone, who Trump pardoned, was on Southern Boulevard as Trump’s motorcade passed en route to Mar-a-Lago. Asked why he came out, he said, “Support for the president.” He stopped to greet supporters lining the road. pic.twitter.com/gDPJemacEm
— Skyler Swisher (@SkylerSwisher) January 20, 2021
“We are praying that the military is going to be able to pretty much take charge ... and go after the people that have gone after Trump for the last four years,” he said in an interview Tuesday evening. “Maybe Trump is going to be able to do something.”
Along the route, some Trump supporters waved Trump-Pence 2020 flags and wore red MAGA hats. The pro-Trump crowd stretched several miles before a bridge leading to Palm Beach Island, two or three deep in places. A reporter embedded in the motorcade spotted a “f--- Biden” sign, and a woman crying as she held a sign that read “We are not fake news.”
As Trump’s motorcade made its way to Palm Beach, a White House spokesman announced what may have been Trump’s final official act in office: pardoning the ex-husband of Fox News television host Jeanine Pirro.
McClatchy DC reporters Francesca Chambers and Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.