What The Final Days Were Like For The Trump Family In The White House

In 2021, after four years of nearly ceaseless tumult, aggravated governance, and repeated Twitter tantrums, President Donald Trump left Washington, DC. Not surprisingly, his exit didn't come easily. The former president and his allies spent the weeks after the 2020 election in brazen protest of its result, mounting legal challenges, spouting unfounded theories of tampering and fraud, and generally carrying on in the manner of a sore loser. It was all pretty embarrassing. "Hunkered down in what one former White House official called the 'presidential man cave' of the Oval Office," wrote US News & World Report in December 2020, "President Donald Trump does not want to talk about what lies ahead once he leaves office next month."   

Still, the next month arrived, and with it came an unprecedented, deadly riot in the US Capitol at the hands of the president's most ardent supporters. As a result, Donald Trump was impeached again for "incitement of insurrection," after which he retreated to his chambers to ride out the last days of his stormy term as head of state. What was the mood like in the halls of power for those waning moments? Here's what the last days in the White House were like for the Trump family. 

The White House was 'a ghost town'

In the immediate, volatile aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as the reality of Donald Trump's loss to Joe Biden began to set in, one description of the environment surrounding the president became the most prominent. "The White House became a strange ghost town in the days after the election," wrote Jonathan Swan of Axios. "Trump's schedule — already unstructured — became more so. It was impossible to shift his focus from his grievances about the election to important policy matters. In conversations in the Oval Office, Trump would occasionally slip and seem to acknowledge he lost, saying 'Can you believe I lost to that f**king guy? That f**king corpse?'"

By early January 2021, in the wake of his supporters' rioting at the U.S. Capitol and his being impeached for a second time over his role in the incitement of that violence, the president, muzzled by Twitter, was left to stew as his immediate world dismantled itself. "The staff in the White House normally thins in the final days of an administration as people secure new jobs," NBC News wrote. "But Trump's West Wing has become a ghost town after resignations following last week's riot. Some aides have opted to just avoid the building, which has been a Covid-19 hotspot for months."

Brooding and last-minute pardons filled Donald Trump's last days in office

As time unspooled toward his presidency's end, Donald Trump remained defiant over the election's result, and isolated inside his workplace. "Forced to accept that he must soon leave office, President Trump has effectively stopped doing his job," wrote the Los Angeles Times.

There was one issue that did occupy his mind, however, and that was the issue of pardons. While full pardons of individuals who ran afoul of the federal government are a traditional, constitutionally authorized act of outgoing presidents, the thinking around Trump's use of the power tended toward the extreme. In December 2020, NBC News reported that discussions about the pardons were ongoing inside the White House, with potential recipients including members of the Trump family. "One source said the conversations in recent days were within the context of a president who feels embattled, and not because Trump believes he or any of his family members had done anything illegal."

While Trump had issued many pardons throughout his presidency, the first of two giant, final batches of reprieves dropped later that month, just in time for Christmas, and it included Jared Kushner's father and several other Trump associates and loyalists. On the eve of his White House departure, Trump went even bigger, issuing "73 pardons and 70 commutations," according to The New York Times. That list, which the same outlet noted "includes names pushed by criminal justice reform advocates," also relieved former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who faced fraud charges, and rapper Lil Wayne, who faced gun charges.  

POTUS to become Florida Man after leaving the White House

In November 2019, news broke that Donald and Melania Trump had filed papers to officially move their residency from his lifelong home of New York to Florida, and the site of his private club, Mar-A-Lago. At that time, with the election still a year away, the move was interpreted as a tax incentive for the president, or even a kiss-off to his political enemies in the Empire State. But once the election was lost and the Trumps' time in the White House began drawing to a close, preparations for their post-first family life began in earnest.

"The staff at Mar-A-Lago have been preparing the way," wrote People in December 2020. "They are definitely renovating his apartment within the Mar-a-Lago Club to make it larger, more modern and comfortable for his use," a source told the magazine. "[Trump] wants to make it more comfortable as a full-time residence," another source told Vanity Fair regarding the renovations. "It's actually not that big."

With the Trumps decamping from the White House and the nation's capital, it was also reported by People that a fixture of their personal life there would follow them south. "The club apartment for Mrs. Trump's parents — who have remained close at hand in Washington, D.C. — is also undergoing renovation in anticipation of their relocation."

The White House got a full COVID-19 cleanse

As preparations continued for the inauguration of Joe Biden and the official transfer of power, the pressure was on White House staff to ensure the smooth transition from one residing family to another. As CNN wrote, "The delicate and highly choreographed event of packing up and moving out, and unpacking and moving in, done by dozens of prepped and trained staff and movers, typically occurs in the six-hour window when both the exiting and entering presidents and their spouses attend the Inauguration Day ceremonies on Capitol Hill."

Donald Trump, of course, threw another wrench into the elaborate prep for his departure by announcing that he wouldn't be attending the swearing-in of his successor. Describing the move as "the dissolving of one of America's most enduring transfer-of-power rituals, CNN also noted that it was "just one of the snubs the Trumps are perpetrating as they leave Washington." The Trumps' brusque indifference to tradition didn't lessen the stress on making the White House a home for the next first family. Even if they had agreed to welcome the incoming president, a deep clean of the residence would have special significance in 2021. The culprit? COVID-19.

"The White House is scrubbing down hard to make sure the new president doesn't come down with the coronavirus," wrote TMZ, "and it's a pricey undertaking." The gossip site put the COVID cleaning bill at $127,000.

Melania Trump 'just wants to go home'

"Be passionate in everything you do but always remember that violence is never the answer and will never be justified," Melania Trump said in a video address from the White House in January 2021. Meanwhile, rioting by factions of Trump supporters had transformed the streets of Washington, D.C. into a military stronghold, and almost 15,000 National Guard troops patrolled a city that had become "a maze of black fencing, cement barriers, and dozens of checkpoints," according to Military Times. Nevertheless, the outgoing first lady seemed to choose sentiment over her immediate reality. 

"She just wants to go home," CNN reported a source as saying about Melania's state of mind as her FLOTUS status ticked away. "The first lady is determining what to put in storage, what goes to Trump's New York City digs, and what should be tagged for shipment to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida."

That the first lady would plan for her family's next chapter is understandable. What's questionable is Melania's behavior toward her successor. A CNN source reported that Melania had not "helped with the onboarding of incoming first lady Jill Biden — with whom she has still not made contact." And The Wrap noted that, although "she told the country to 'not lose sight of your integrity and values,' to 'use every opportunity to show consideration for another person and build good habits into your daily lives,' she did fail to show her manners to the incoming first lady."

What did the Trumps move out of a White House side door?

With the Trump's impending White House exit in full swing, reports surfaced about what would be left behind, and what would go. "Abe Lincoln's left the building..." went a catty TMZ headline. "Three people, presumably White House staffers, were seen slipping out a side door with a bust of our 16th president," wrote the site, which also acknowledged that the item's specific ownership was unclear. Hyperallergic was even more blunt. "Are Trump Staffers Taking Home White House Artworks That Belong to the Public?" the site asked, and highlighted tweets from reporters and others observing the removal of the Lincoln bust, a stuffed bird ("The taxidermy has left the building"), and "a framed photograph of the outbound US head of state meeting with the Chinese president."

What about the tradition of an outgoing president leaving behind a few parting words for his successor? An AP piece tracking the recent history of notes left between presidents wasn't so sure. "President Trump has refused to accept the results of November's election and vowed not to attend Joe Biden's inauguration," Will Weissert wrote. "That makes it doubtful Trump will leave behind any handwritten, friendly advice for Biden."

In a surprise twist, however, Politico reported that Trump did, in fact, leave behind a missive for Biden, although as of this writing, we don't know what it contained. We are fairly sure of one thing, though. It was probably scrawled in Sharpie.

What's next for Donald Trump's kids?

As twilight set on the Trump presidency, and the chief executive's truculence continued to cloud the transition of power, observers tried to sort out what moves might be made by the Trump children. For example, there was chatter dating back to December 2020 regarding that other first resident of the White House, Donald and Melania's fourteen-year-old son Barron, when Page Six reported information from a source that "the first lady toured Pine Crest school, located in Fort Lauderdale, about forty minutes away from Mar-a-Lago." And speaking of Florida, Slate reported in January 2021 that Trump World allies were pushing Ivanka Trump to follow up her senior advisory role in the White House with a run for Marco Rubio's senate seat. "What's now clear is that Ivanka is a political powerhouse in her own right," Slate quoted senior Trump advisor Jason Miller as saying.

And what of Donald Trump, Jr., who with his romantic partner and fellow #MAGA cheerleader Kimberly Guilfoyle elevated his profile considerably during his father's presidency? Politico wrote that "it's unclear when or what office he'd seek after he passed on running for the senate in Wyoming this last cycle." But the site also said that Don Jr. and Kimberly "have been scoping out real estate in Florida."

Donald Trump wanted a big send off

It wasn't until the final hours of Donald Trump's presidency that the format for his exit strategy was finally revealed. Having already announced his spurning of president-elect Joe Biden's official swearing-in, invitees were notified on Jan. 18, 2021 of an event to be held at an airfield in Maryland on the morning of the inauguration. "For his last presidential ceremony, Trump reportedly wants an ostentatious military parade and an official armed forces farewell as the commander-in-chief, as well as a large crowd of supporters, selected backers and current officials in his administration and their guests at a huge red-carpet affair," The Guardian reported.

While concrete details about the send-off remained unclear, it was obvious that the outgoing president wished to save face before his victor. Describing Trump's plan to fly away on Air Force One and onward to his life at Mar-a-Lago, The Guardian wrote that "Trump would have had to have permission from the Democrat who defeated him to use [the jumbo jet] if he had waited to leave Washington until Biden was sworn in."

Despite the pomp and circumstance wished for by the outgoing chief executive, his departure would never be without a sour note. "President Trump will be the first president in more than 150 years to not attend the swearing-in ceremony of his successor," wrote The Hill.

Donald Trump to America: 'Have a nice life'

Jan. 20, 2021 dawned like no other Inauguration Day in American history. There was precedent for presidents skipping their successors' swearing-in. But the hastily concocted early morning farewell extravaganza that unfolded at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland was seemingly concocted, constructed, and executed as a final act of megalomania for a president with a serious case of myopia. "We're going to dip into this for as long as the president manages to tell the truth," Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC, according to Yahoo!News. But like most news networks that morning, their cameras stayed trained on the entire, weird spectacle.

"We will be back in some form," Trump told a small group of supporters, adding, "Have a good life. We will see you soon."

Trump crowed about his accomplishments, as he saw them, but as Deadline noted, his words were immediately fact-checked by outlets such as The New York Times. "He also touted pre-pandemic job numbers and stock market performance, and paid 'our respects and love' to those who have suffered under 'the China Virus,' adding his usual capper, 'We all know where it came from.'"

And with that, Donald and Melania Trump boarded Air Force One for the last time — to the tune of The Village People's "YMCA, which had inexplicably become his de rally anthem. As the Miami Herald put it, "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."