But Trump removed any lingering doubt Friday morning, tweeting: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
It’s probably the final norm Trump will break in office, though advisers say he is unlikely to maintain a quiet respectful distance after Jan. 20, as other presidents have.
Trump’s absence at Biden’s ceremony fits with a pattern — Trump frequently insults adversaries during speeches or online, but rarely in person. He has fired aides via Twitter rather than in the Oval Office or even on the phone.
It is also of a piece with Trump’s obsession with being seen as a winner, both admirers and detractors said. Watching a man he has called stupid and feeble take power was never going to be easy for Trump.
“Looking at President Trump’s actions and words, it was always highly unlikely he would accept a negative verdict on the election and that he would assist his successor’s transition,” said Tim Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
“Trump had no interest in letting the job and its history and traditions shape him. Whatever belonged to the job that wasn’t consistent with his whims he rejected, rather than reconsidering his whims,” Naftali said. “It’s consistent that he does not show up for a ceremony he doesn’t believe in and doesn’t agree with and which doesn’t feature him as the star.”
Trump will be the first president since Andrew Johnson to voluntarily skip the formal handover of power, just as he was the first in modern history to refuse to concede his election loss and to actively undermine the nation’s election system with false claims of fraud and a “rigged” vote.
Biden said Trump won’t be missed.
“One of the few things he and I have ever agreed on,” Biden said. “It’s a good thing, him not showing up.”
Addressing reporters in Wilmington, Del., Biden also called Trump wholly unfit for office and directly at fault for the riot at the Capitol. “This had the active encouragement of a sitting president of the United States,” Biden said.
The assault forced a temporary halt to the normally perfunctory process of certifying the results of the presidential election, the last step before a new president takes office. It left five people dead, the building damaged, and Democrats and even some Trump allies calling for the president’s removal from office.
Trump hasn’t appeared in public since he addressed a rally of supporters behind the White House on Wednesday with a cri de coeur about a stolen election and conspiracies against him by the press, Democrats and technology companies.
“You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said then, as he urged the crowd of thousands to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.
He pledged to join them, but instead returned to the White House, where he and his family watched men and women invoking his name overrun police and ransack the seat of the national legislature. A video shows Trump peering at television screens while his son and others celebrate.
Trump has issued two video messages. On Wednesday, he defiantly repeated falsehoods and sympathized with the mob, saying, “We love you.” The next day, as Cabinet secretaries and former political allies such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) began to abandon him, Trump told supporters for the first time that he will not remain president for a second term.
In office, Trump has discarded the conventions of the office from the start.
He attacked the institutions of government, including the intelligence agencies whose conclusions he disliked and a justice system he complained treated him and his friends unfairly.
He pardoned political allies and war criminals. He flouted advice about how to deal with dictators, and evicted aides from a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He threatened Ukraine’s president, leading to impeachment and a trial in the Senate.
He pressured Cabinet secretaries to sing his praises during televised meetings at the White House. He pretended that the coronavirus pandemic would “go away,” sidelined the medical experts and held large political rallies and other events where the illness spread.
Hewing to some version of regular order on Inauguration Day would have required Trump and first lady Melania Trump to receive Biden and Jill Biden at the White House ahead of the ceremony, perhaps leaving a letter in the presidential desk wishing Biden well. Recent outgoing presidents have accompanied the incoming one for the short limousine ride from the White House to the Capitol.
It is not clear what Biden will do ahead of the ceremony now, although his efforts to adhere to pandemic social-distancing recommendations might have forced changes to the routine no matter what.
Vice President Pence has not yet said whether he will attend the ceremony.
Naftali said Biden is better off without the symbolic send-off from Trump. But the country still loses something for Trump’s petulance, he said.
“The inauguration is not supposed to be a celebration of the winning side,” Naftali said. “It’s designed to celebrate and consecrate the transition of power, and that’s why it matters whether the president, and the soon-to-be former president, attends.”
Trump’s terse announcement followed the sort of bellowing online missives that were a hallmark of his presidency. Trump tweeted to his 90 million followers that Washington hasn’t seen the last of him, even as he no longer claims he will remain in power.
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” he wrote.
In a stunning comedown for the Twitter president, the platform permanently suspended his account Friday evening, muting the president’s favorite loudspeaker and limiting his reach once out of office.
Twitter cited the “risk of further incitement of violence.”