By Susan Crabtree for RealClearPolitics
After Donald Trump stepped down the marble steps of the south portico of the White House for the last time as President, he couldn't help it.
He paused to chat with the press before taking off aboard Marine One for his final farewell ceremony and the unknown next chapter.
Trump wore his scarlet tie and black topcoat and was far more reserved and incisive than usual when he reached out to the throng of reporters he had demonized daily as "enemy of the people", "shame" and "false news".
Gone were the anger and accusations – at least for that moment.
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"It was a great honor – the honor of your life," he said. "… We had an amazing four years. We have achieved a lot. We love the American people and it was very special again."
Standing by his side in a black suit, dark sunglasses and stilettos, First Lady Melania Trump ended the brief remarks with a tight smile and a wave.
"And I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it's not a long-term goodbye," concluded Trump before folding Melania's hands, turning around and walking to the helicopter. "We'll meet Again."
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The short, almost wistful remarks served as a meaningful farewell. The press and the reality TV star / business tycoon turned populist president fed on during the five years that Trump commanded the national political stage.
Some of the 45th President's critics have blamed CNN chief Jeff Zucker for Trump's early GOP rise.
CNN's broadcast of Trump rallies became a bonanza for ratings, and the network continued to delight viewers by recording the now-debunked Russia collusion narrative, funded by Camp Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, even before Trump moved into the White House .
Now CNN and MSNBC executives are reportedly concerned about how to act in a post-Trump future after reaching new heights in ratings and revenue during his tenure.
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The mutually beneficial open war between the combative president and an army of reporters obsessively covering up every one of his Twitter insults has come to an end – or will it just be a forced break?
Trump's over-the-top nationalist tendencies and bombast have energized supporters and unsettled his enemies, leading to even more media-rating wars.
Just a few steps away from the south portico, Trump accepted his party's nomination again a few months ago, this time on the South Lawn in front of a thousand supporters who sat in rows of tightly packed chairs despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump gave his acceptance speech on a large stage, adorned with red, white and blue bunting and huge campaign signs.
Elaborate fireworks with the inscription "Trump" and "2020" against the backdrop of the Washington Monument crowned his remarks, followed by an opera singer who appeared from the balcony of the Blue Room.
The extravagance on the White House grounds was denounced by critics as obscene partisan damage to a government building.
Trump said he decided to give the speech there after being forced to cancel plans for a Florida convention due to COVID.
"Trump is doing everything possible to blow up the Hatch Act," complained the Washington Post, referring to the law, which is supposed to separate official actions in government buildings from partisan politics.
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However, the intervening five months were dark and anything but solemn as Trump refused to acknowledge his loss to Joe Biden and claimed massive election fraud.
He was forced to control his defeat only after a crowd of his supporters stormed the Capitol, killing five people and terrifying the nation.
Trump's widespread role in inciting violence will forever affect his legacy. It has also baffled his last two weeks in office.
Even before the attack on the Capitol, Trump had refused to say whether he would attend Biden's inauguration, a symbolic act that marked the traditional peaceful transfer of power.
In the days that followed, when Democrats and some Republicans blamed him for the ugly events on Jan. 6, Trump announced he would break with tradition and skip it.
It was the first time in 152 years that an outgoing president did not attend the inauguration of his successor.
Instead, Trump focused on the symbolism of his own exit. He had envisioned a grand military-style goodbye with a possible overflight full of patriotically funded patriotic pomp competitions.
In the end he decided to give a speech in front of his favorite backdrop, Air Force One, after the military band had played "Hail to the Chief" and a salute with 21 cannons echoed across the asphalt.
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A close-knit crowd of aides, loyalists, and family members were present at Joint Base Andrews on departure. However, his own vice president, Mike Pence, chose to honor the tradition and attend Biden's swearing-in ceremony.
Before going to Florida, Trump extolled his White House achievements, including tax cuts, placing three Conservative judges before the Supreme Court, overseeing a burgeoning pre-pandemic economy, developing a COVID vaccine in record time, rebuilding the US military and the creation of a new space force and ensuring better care for veterans.
Of course, he left out that the U.S. coronavirus death toll had surpassed 400,000 or that jobless claims had soared this week to their highest level since August.
Just creating a space force yourself would be a great achievement for "regular administration," he emphasized. “We weren't a regular administration” – a characterization the media saw as a rare example of honest self-reflection and understatement.
Trump did not even mention Joe Biden's name in his remarks, but wished the new administration well and appeared to be anticipating Biden's future successes.
"I will always fight for you," he said. "I'll watch. I'll listen. And I'll tell you the future of this country has never been better. I wish the new administration the best of luck and success. I think they have a great foundation from which to do something really spectacular .
"Goodbye. We love you. We'll be back in some form. Have a good life."
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As his remarks ended, the villagers “YMCA,” the optimistic staple of the Trump campaign, boomed from the speakers as the outgoing president clapped into the music despite not hopping along and happily hitting the sky after the rally customary.
In a new twist, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" boomed from the speakers as Air Force One rolled over the tarmac.
Even his most ardent political enemies could not argue with this swan song. Exactly what the next act has in store for Trump is the subject of a major national debate.
Will the 45th President continue to break the GOP by founding a new political party, the Patriot Party, as several media outlets have reported?
At least one conservative strategist believes Trump will recognize that such a move is a monumental endeavor with little upside potential.
The strategist argued that his populist personality and massive following were far better suited to being presented on a media platform that was forged in his image.
"Since Trump is not represented on social media, the demand for him increases massively, which will only increase," the strategist, who asked for anonymity, told RealClearPolitics.
“I think a media company is a better way for him than a third party. He feels comfortable in this arena. He can still do rallies, his network would cover them if no one else did, and they would still get good reviews. "
Christopher Ruddy and Trump, CEO of Newsmax, are already good friends, and this conservative outlet has been stealing the Trump audience from Fox News since election night, resulting in staff restructuring and several layoffs at the latter in recent days.
A Trump-Newsmax partnership would provide a pre-made platform for the former president and further undermine Fox's longstanding influence on conservative viewers.
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Just 11 minutes before his term ended and Biden became president, Trump arrived at his home in Mar-a-Lago. Supporters had gathered on the boulevard between the airport and the lavish resort.
The President's last motorcade moved slowly forward as Trump waved to a crowd of well-wishers, some in tears, others with signs showing their undying loyalty.
"Trump 4 always my president," said a sign. Others offered kind words: "Praying 4 Trump!" "Thank you very much. We love you." Another contained a spell against Biden.
One notable political figure stood out from the crowd: Roger Stone, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. Stone, who served as Trump's campaign advisor, was convicted of lying by Congress and witnessing tampering allegations by Special Adviser Robert Mueller, who was investigating whether Trump had worked with Russia to win the 2016 election.
"I came to pay my respects because I love the man," he told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. Trump pardoned Stone last month after commuting his sentence in July.
Earlier in the day, Stone appeared at a rally for Trump in West Palm Beach and predicted his friend would not step down from the political landscape.
“You see this as the end. I see it as the beginning, ”he told a local news agency. "… I don't think you saw the last one from Donald Trump."
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House / National Political Correspondent.
The opinions of contributors and / or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Political Insider.