Donald Trump wanted a hero’s send-off Wednesday, but had to go all the way to his right-wing Florida heartland to get one after an icy and sparsely attended official departure from Washington.
The soon to be ex-president’s motorcade slowed almost to a stop outside his fancy Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, allowing Trump to bathe in the adulation of hundreds of fans.
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They stretched all the way down the road, cheering and waving Trump 2020 reelection campaign flags.
“We love you!” chanted one knot of people.
“Welcome Home,” said a homemade sign.
Another read “Trump landslide,” echoing the president’s lie that he won the election. The woman holding the sign was in tears.
Trump had arrived in Trump Country.
This is where he and his wife Melania will now live after he was soundly defeated by Joe Biden and impeached a record second time for whipping up supporters to storm Congress on January 6.
And like the balmy winter temperatures, swaying palms and the possibility of occasional alligators, those hardcore believers are something the golf course tycoon will always be able to count on.
– Icy reception –
Just two hours earlier, things were quite different.
Trump left the White House at 8:18 am for Joint Base Andrews, the suburban Washington Air Force facility where a military ceremony was held in his honor.
Army field guns, painted black, aimed at the horizon to fire a 21 gun salute, smoke puffing over the soldiers.
An Air Force marching band advanced on the president, playing “Hail to the Chief.”
And Trump, using the gleaming Air Force One as his television backdrop, gave a speech that sounded oddly like a campaign address when it was really a goodbye.
“It was my greatest honor and privilege to be your president,” he finally said. “Have a good life.”
But although the event had the trappings of a leader at the height of power, the parade was oddly empty of the one thing Trump has always cherished most — a big crowd.
Only about 500 people showed up, leaving almost half the space in the small area reserved for them empty, and their cheers were muted.
The early hour and icy temperatures were one reason.
But so was another kind of chill: a lot of Trump’s important friends or former friends simply didn’t come.
Trump’s long ultra-loyal vice president Mike Pence and the allegiant Republican congressional leaders Senator Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy? They declined.
They were with Biden.
High ranking former aides like one-time chief of staff John Kelly also declined. Kelly told CNN he had prior engagements.
For Trump, it was a long, lonely walk down the red carpet rolled out to the steps of the plane.
– Race against time –
A man who habitually mocks “losers,” Trump had wanted to look like a president right to the end. But he had to get his timing just right to manage.
Marine One took him to Joint Base Andrews and Air Force One took him to Florida. Then the full presidential motorcade of more than 30 vehicles, including the military officer with the nuclear briefcase, took him to Mar-a-Lago.
As soon as Biden was sworn in, Trump would lose his right to all those presidential toys.
Biden took the oath at 11:48.
Trump made it through the gates of his club with minutes to spare, at 11:31 am.
Back in frigid Washington, Biden gave an inaugural speech begging Americans to come together.
“Respect one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire,” he said.
In sunny Palm Beach, a few Trump fans still lingered on the road, long after their hero had vanished into his club, not quite willing to let go.