Former President Donald Trump departed the White House this morning just hours before the inauguration of Democratic President Joe Biden got underway on the Hill.
“I just want to say goodbye but hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn Wednesday as he and former first lady Melania Trump made their way to Marine One for a helicopter ride to Joint Base Andrews.
In his final word to a small collection of supporters, staffers and family on base, however, the 45th president promised, “We will be back in some form.”
No president has successfully returned to the role in light of failed re-election efforts since the 19th century, leaving national betting odds low when it comes to a direct electoral resurrection for Trump — though stranger things have happened, and more than one of the Trump children has presented themselves as a contender for office in recent years.
But with no crystal ball yet capable of assuring those American political futures, here’s a last broad look back at the successes and lessons of the Trump era as it stands on Inauguration Day 2021.
Despite near-constant media smears amounting the administration to little more than an inefficient tin-pot dictatorship, Trump can hang a hat on more than his fair share of accomplishments, from filling the federal bench to trimming the tax code.
When it comes to policy wins, however, nothing quite rises to the level of the “America First” agenda.
The unorthodox package put bipartisan swamp-dwellers to shame in short order, bringing new priorities to the legislative debate and campaign trail in America. Under Trump, no foreign ally was too big for accountability, no enemy was out of reach and the Washington red tape became a lot weaker.
Attempts to prioritize American labor resulted in the restructuring of key trade deals, as well as the re-invigoration of both the stock and jobs markets. And where the markets succeeded, so too did minority communities, who saw record economic growth.
The “America First” mindset also prompted strong efforts to prevent domestic dollars from flowing overseas, with the recent round of coronavirus relief legislation serving as a perfect example.
The legislative bout, which latest several months and dragged into December, saw a slew of Washington politicians on both sides of the aisle downplay direct payments to the American people.
Trump was one of the few steadfast voices in opposition, threatening to veto the bill if direct payments were not tripled. Regardless of harsh rhetoric, the effort was upended by a congressional override.
The former president did win out against bipartisan spending in the swamp on more than one occasion, though, stymieing the war hawks who seem to love to spend lives and wealth in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Trump took office, nearly 20,000 ground forces were deployed to the two Middle Eastern nations. By the time of his departure, just 5,000 remained.
These unique and unorthodox policy objectives seem to have worked out in Trump’s favor, earning him increased support over the last four years.
Locking down more than 74 million votes, the Republican incumbent broke records alongside Biden, beating out the 2008 and 2012 popular vote totals of former President Barack Obama. The result, though hotly contested and deeply negative in conservative eyes, was nothing to gawk at, revealing diverse inroads made by the administration.
According to Edison Media Research cited by Reuters, the former president walked away with 11 percent support in the black community, 30 percent support in the Asian American community and 31 percent support in the Latino community. Those numbers represent a 3 percent increase in support from each of the largest non-white voting blocs when compared to voting data from 2016.
“The Democrats think that they are going to take this Latino vote,” senior Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp told The Western Journal last September. “They have taken those voters for granted time, and time, and time again.”
“This is not about identity politics. It failed them in 2016, it’s going to fail the Democrats in 2020. Why? Because we are seeing the light. We are seeing the light,” she said.
“We are seeing the fact that President Trump has said, ‘No more of this old-style, ridiculous politics that can’t get anything done. I want results for all Americans. I want opportunities for all Americans.'”
It would seem early expectations of success in the area of diversification and outreach were overstated among members of the Trump campaign, with substantial minority gains failing to deliver re-election or put a dent in Biden’s record-high popular vote totals.
Regardless, the fight was fierce on the 2020 presidential campaign trail — a fitting and respectable end to a feisty administration.
That fighting spirit was certainly a welcome, if unofficial, addition to the Republican platform in recent years.
Trump taught a party of pansies to push back for once. And that is a lesson that should not soon be forgotten — no matter how much Mitt Romney and the Republican establishment would like to roll over and take it lying down from the incoming administration.
In just four years, conservatives were transformed from a group gagged by an onslaught of allegations of hate from the left to a group given teeth by a president that called out the media and the Democratic rumor mill.
Nowhere did that show through more strongly than in the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
There is little doubt that a weaker Republican president would have handled those proceedings differently, pulling Kavanaugh from contention the moment Democratic detractors accused him of assault or sandbagging the Barrett nomination in an attempt to satiate the left after former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing.
It was the president’s unwavering support for both candidates that provided cover for the Republican caucus to rally to their cause, with neoconservative establishment figures like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham going on the offensive rhetorically, and carrying that hardball approach into a number of other debates throughout the term.
Trump’s winner-take-all tactics were not without fault, however, creating a tempestuous climate within Washington, the Republican Party and the American political system writ large.
Unwillingness to apologize made an enemy of key allies, and unwillingness to compromise in turn compromised a Trump agenda postmarked for success on more than one occasion.
While “maverick” moderate Sen. John McCain may have deserved a swift kick in the rear for his failure to fight back against progressive thuggery, the 2015 “not a war hero” attack left Trump without a pivotal legislative figure in the Obamacare replacement conversation.
In fact, the bitterness that moment created may have lost the president Arizona in 2020.
It should almost go without saying that Trump shot himself in the foot on more than one occasion with his failure to stick to the script, no matter how refreshing that might have been.
President Trump: "Thank you and farewell." pic.twitter.com/qDXedlIMTQ
— The Hill (@thehill) January 19, 2021
When words were prepared, the former president was poised and powerful, from the 2019 State of the Union to his farewell address.
When they were not? Well, Trump may have had himself to thank for 57.9 percent unfavorability. The incidental steps too far may well have soured the nation on an era of immense economic and cultural success spurred on by conservatives.
With luck, Trump’s Republican successor will carry his unique and efficient torch with a touch less flare in 2024.