Analysis: Trump abdicating in the job he fought to retain
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s days in office are numbered. But he’s already stopped doing much of his job.
In the last three weeks, a bomb went off in a major city and the president said nothing about it. The coronavirus surged to horrifying new levels of illness and death in the U.S. without Trump acknowledging the awful milestones. A violent mob incited by the president’s own words chanted for Mike Pence’s lynching at the U.S. Capitol and Trump made no effort to reach out to his vice president.
Trump only belatedly ordered flags flown at half-staff to honor an officer who gave his life defending the Capitol, and couldn’t be bothered to describe the officer’s actions. On Tuesday, he denied any responsibility for fomenting the insurrection at the Capitol and said his remarks to supporters who stormed the building in events that took the lives of five people, including a Capitol Police officer, were “totally appropriate.”
The transgressions, big and small — of norms, of leadership, of basic decency — cast a pall over his final days in office, and, in the view of even close advisers speaking privately, have indelibly stained his legacy. A half-dozen current administration officials expressed dismay at the president’s action’s in recent weeks, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are still working for Trump.
“Even after losing the election, President Trump had the opportunity to leave the White House with his head held high, celebrating achievements like the COVID-19 vaccine, progress in the Middle East, and the vibrant pre-pandemic economy fueled by tax reform,” said GOP operative Michael Steel, a onetime aide to former House Speaker John Boehner.
“Instead, he chose to wallow in delusion and grievance, and — as a result — the defining images of his presidency will be a bloody, murderous mob looting the cathedral of our democracy, the United States Capitol,” Steel said.
As the violence raged at the Capitol last Wednesday, Trump only reluctantly put out a pair of tweets appealing for calm at the insistence of aides, as well as a video seemingly excusing the events that included this Trump message to the rioters: “We love you. You’re very special.”. He followed it up with a presidential video on Thursday decrying the violence, apparently hoping to ward off potential legal exposure and efforts to remove him from office.
Now, as the FBI warns of armed protests across the nation and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Trump has said nothing in recent days to tamp down passions or ensure his supporters do not again resort to violence.
At the same time, Trump has continued to spread lies about election fraud, about his political opponent and about members of his own party. After the Nov. 3 vote, he retreated into a bunker of his own delusion, unable or unwilling to concede defeat, and dragged millions with him.
Two months later, aides are still struggling to convince Trump to make an effort to showcase and salvage his achievements in office, with limited success.
He agreed to travel to Texas on Tuesday to view the U.S.-Mexico border wall one final time in office. But he has yet to sign off on a proposal from aides for him to deliver remarks in his final week in office highlighting the development of coronavirus vaccines and his efforts to boost military funding.
It remains unlikely that Trump will deliver a farewell speech before leaving office, a tradition for departing presidents.
Trump’s actions have cost him his megaphone, as social media companies suspended him from their platforms citing his provocative rhetoric. But Trump has made little effort to get his voice back, avoiding television interviews and interactions with reporters.
Instead, Trump has been stewing inside the White House, alternating between his private dining room off the Oval Office and the mansion’s residence level, never far from a television set. Without Twitter or Facebook, he’s used his phone to call an ever-shrinking circle of aides and allies to claim the role of the aggrieved.
Since the holidays, Trump has dictated that his daily public schedule — virtually devoid of any public events — include a bizarre affirmation that he is indeed on the job. “President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings.”
The guidance has become a punchline in the White House, and close aides say it belies the truth: Trump effectively ceased acting like the president after the election, with his inability to focus on almost anything other than his defeat growing more pronounced as the weeks have passed.
Trump has not had an intelligence briefing on his schedule in months — though aides say he has sat for them sporadically. As the coronavirus has killed more than 375,000 Americans in the last year, he has done little publicly or privately to try to manage the raging pandemic. And weeks after one of the largest infiltrations of U.S. government computer networks was pinned on Russia, Trump’s main response was to suggest it could have been China.
As Trump obsesses over his election loss and many of his defenders fade away, it has largely fallen to his dwindling cadre of White House aides to defend his record over the past four years and offer assurances the president is still on the job.
“President Trump has rolled back government regulations, built the strongest, most inclusive economy in history, brought much-needed agency accountability, is bringing our troops home, developed a safe, effective vaccine in record time, and changed the way domestic and international deal-making is done so that the results actually help hardworking Americans,” said Trump spokesman Judd Deere. “This important work continues along with rebuilding our economy and fulfilling the promises he made that has led to a safer, stronger, more secure America.”
Trump himself has made little effort lately to make that argument.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Zeke Miller has covered the White House for The Associated Press since 2017.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.