Attention-loving Trump disappears in final days of term

By Tara McKelvey
BBC News, White House reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Why has the president been so quiet? He loves the spotlight. Yet this month he has been holed up for 14 days in the White House. Here is how he has been spending the final weeks of his term in office.

A US Marine, wearing white gloves and a dark mask, guarded an entrance to the West Wing earlier this week - the president was in his workspace.

Yet Donald Trump was not involved in the kind of work that usually occupies presidents at this point in their term. Four years ago, he was in the Oval Office getting advice from Barack Obama, the man he was soon to succeed as president.

He was instead stewing about the election and watching TV, as his tweets have shown. His days of relative seclusion after the election stand in stark contrast to what he was doing before the votes were cast.

Back then, he travelled constantly. In one day, he went to four states. He spoke at rallies and was seen on TV practically round the clock. He often joked about the reclusiveness of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, or "Basement Joe", as Trump called him.

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Since the day that the election was called for Biden, however, Trump has holed himself up in the White House. He has appeared on camera only on two occasions - at Arlington National Cemetery and at a White House press event about Covid. He did not take questions.

Another appearance looms on Friday afternoon when he will make an announcement about drug prices. And he is expected to take part virtually in an Asia-Pacific political summit on Friday.

He also could not resist a drive-by wave to his followers who were gathered in Washington on Saturday to protest about the election loss. And he takes weekend trips to Virginia to play golf - a place where he feels comfortable and loved.

Media caption,
"The campaign, which I won, by the way": Trump falsely claims election win

Still, within this cloistered existence, he has been busy. He closely follows the One America News Network, a conservative cable channel that is known for its conspiracy theories.

He has also been firing people.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who baulked at the president's suggestion to deploy troops to quell protests in US cities, and Christopher Krebs, a cyber security official who contradicted the president's claims about election fraud, have both been sacked.

The president has also overseen policy shifts, such as a reduction of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

These actions, made behind closed doors at the White House, will have long-term effects on the nation and the world. They will certainly complicate matters for Biden when he takes office in January.

Aside from these dramatic steps, the president has been monitoring the work of his campaign lawyers who are contesting the election results with little success. Partly for that reason, say some who know him, he has been keeping a low profile.

"He's trying to let the legal challenges play themselves out," says Kurt Volker, who once served as the president's special envoy to Ukraine, and later testified at the president's impeachment by the Democratic-run House of Representatives.

As the legal challenges to the 2020 election play out, Trump has accused his enemies, the "Radical Left Democrats", of election meddling, among other offences.

Media caption,
Will Trump supporters accept Joe Biden as president?

This reflects the president's style.

The president, as Volker points out, takes things personally. He recalls speaking with Trump in the West Wing about US policies in Ukraine and other matters.

During their discussion, says Volker, the president spoke as though people were out to get him: "He said they tried to take him down - whoever 'they' are. He feels like he's fighting for things he believes in - and that people are conspiring against him."

In recent weeks, the president's critics have been dismayed at the way that he has refused to help with the transition. "It's a really tragic situation to see something like this - him putting himself ahead of the American people," says Lawrence Korb, who served as an assistant secretary of defence in the Reagan administration.

"Even if he disputes the election, he could be briefing the Biden people and getting them ready."

The president's supporters sympathise with him, however. Millions of people across the US share his views. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans, according to one poll, say they have doubts about Biden's win.

Media caption,
How other incumbents left the White House after losing

Meanwhile many of those who work at the White House seem resigned to their fate and are preparing for the new administration. Desks in the West Wing are tidy.

Some have been almost cleared off. One staffer carried a bulletin board with mementos out of the White House, and another had a box of chocolates. "Going away party," someone told me and hurried past.

One former White House official, a foreign policy expert who still works for the government, says he and his colleagues are just waiting for the end.

"There isn't a whole lot to do except watch it play out," he says.