WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A red tie, often tied too long. A raised fist, often held high to a supportive crowd. A scowling face. A raised voice.
President Donald Trump never hid how he felt. His words and body language made his thoughts clear.
For more than four years, Trump, a Republican, cultivated a political base by sharing his thoughts and emotions – pride, happiness, indignation, rage – on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, creating an omnipresence of sorts that completely dominated the news cycle.
Like no U.S. president has done before, he made himself the center of attention, the star of a literal reality show that was his administration, always with an eye for the camera, a flair for the dramatic, an instinct for the outrageous.
His supporters loved it. His opponents hated it. Regardless, nearly everyone tuned in. The country and the world watched, and were consumed.
The show may have had deadly consequences. Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States died of the disease associated with the coronavirus while Trump played down the danger of the pandemic and did not model wearing a mask.
U.S. racial and political divides widened under Trump and migrant children were separated from their parents.
The president used the power of his words and his office to attend to his political base, with which he kept a direct line of communication via his now-suspended Twitter feed.
He remembered what he had promised them as a presidential candidate and sought with some success to deliver on those pledges to build a border wall, upend immigration and cut taxes.
He threatened and irritated world leaders during trips abroad, complicating relationships with U.S. allies who he felt were not carrying their financial weight in global alliances.
He criticized and vilified the press, while craving journalists’ attention and respect. The base enjoyed his demonization of the media and rewarded him with applause and cheering for the pejorative monikers he assigned.
Trump gave his all to his supporters. He fired them up at regular rallies and drew energy from their adulation and enthusiasm for his unconventional – critics said unpresidential – style.
“I see Trump as a fighter for the people that actually work and put the backbone into this country,” said Will Williams, who attended Trump’s June campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the coronavirus pandemic raged. “I will remember him as (a) hero.”
History may not.
With the riot on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who believed his false assertions of election fraud, the legacy of a second impeachment for spurring a deadly uprising will almost certainly overshadow any accomplishments, real or perceived.
“When a president incites an insurrection that could have killed his vice president, could have killed the speaker of the House and other members of Congress, could have destroyed a free presidential election and might have permanently impaired our democracy, there is very little good you can find that’s going to outshine that,” said historian Michael Beschloss.
On Wednesday, Trump will leave the White House for the final time as the 45th president of the United States, taking his final flight on the Marine One helicopter to Joint Base Andrews, where he will board Air Force One for Florida.
The trappings of the presidency will be taken away afterward and he will watch his successor, Democrat Joe Biden, seek to undo much of what Trump did during his term in office.
The reality show from the White House will be over. But his base, at least in part, will remain, still hanging on his statements, in whatever medium he finds to get them out.
“I think he does understand the power of his words. I think he relishes in it,” said one senior administration official who considered resigning in the aftermath of the riot. “And I think he will continue to do so.”
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)