So this is how it ends. The tenure of America”s 45th president comes to a close in less than two weeks’ time – although he would love you to believe otherwise.
Donald Trump began his four years in office in 2017 with promises of unity, safety and pride, telling voters: “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable”.
This “America First” agenda was front and centre at his inauguration speech, which he delivered while surrounded by Republican allies on Capitol Hill, encouraging citizens to maintain “loyalty to our country” and “rediscover our loyalty to each other”.
Fast forward to this exact location on Wednesday, however, and the national picture looked much angrier – and far more divisive.
A pro-Trump mob had stormed the Capitol building as Congress prepared to certify Joe Biden’s electoral win, apparently acting off the back of Trump’s obsessive and baseless dispute of the November vote. His lawyer Rudy Giuliani had also weighed in, encouraging a “trial by combat”.
The incursion ultimately concluded with four people dead – a woman who was shot in the neck and three others who suffered medical emergencies – and a broken and vandalised Capitol.
Numerous Republicans publicly condemned the violence, some of whom had asked the president to do the same.
Trump, however, usually known for his consistent use of social media, initially said very little, before eventually releasing a video to tell the mob: “We love you, you’re very special” and asking them to go home.
His Twitter account was later suspended for failing to condemn the violence, while Facebook and Instagram blocked him indefinitely, closing the curtains on his enormous online following.
The former reality TV star has been gradually losing Republican support since Biden emerged victorious from the election. His repeated and unfounded allegations of electoral fraud, losing case after case in court, were immediately criticised by the Democrats – as to be expected – but the GOP took a little longer catch up.
In a bid to drum up support on the ground, Trump also asserted – without evidence – that the election had been “stolen” from him, and that, in fact, _he_ was the true victor – trying to paint an image not of a sore loser, but an underdog hard done by.
It, therefore, left Republicans faced with the difficult choice of fragmenting the party and distancing themselves from their president or maintaining a doomed-to-fail united front.
One after another, Republicans eventually began recognising Biden for his victory, pushing Trump into an even more desperate state.
Audio released by The Washington Post this week revealed the incumbent had begged Georgia’s top election official to help him flip the state’s result to red. Trump was heard pleading with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his general counsel in the hour-long phone call to “find” him enough votes to hand him the victory.
“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said, adding: “Because we won the state.”
Raffensperger, a Republican who previously described himself as a “proud Trump supporter” can be heard repeatedly pushing back, warning the president his data is “wrong”. This prompted Trump to respond with a suggestion of criminal liability: “You know what they did and you’re not reporting it. You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offence.
“And you know, you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”
Denting Trump’s armour even further, Representative Liz Cheney said the phone call made for “deeply troubling” listening, while Pennsylvania Senator Patrick J Toomey added that it marked “a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode”.
On Wednesday, Trump was ready to play his last card. Speaking at a rally near the White House, he referred to Republicans denouncing his effort to subvert the election as “weak” and “pathetic,” before promising supporters that Vice President Mike Pence could save the day.
He maintained – wrongly – that Pence would be able to reject the overall election result while presiding over the Congressional session to certify Biden’s win.
A short while later, in what Trump likely saw as a knife in the back from his second-in-charge, Pence released a letter rejecting the request.
“Vesting the vice president with unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be entirely antithetical to the system of checks and balances between branches of the government designed by the framers of the Constitution,” he wrote.
Pence did also reiterate the baseless allegation of voting irregularities but added: “The presidency belongs to the American people, and to them alone.
“When disputes concerning a presidential election arise, under federal law, it is the people’s representatives who review the evidence and resolve disputes through a democratic process.”
Hours later, when the joint Congressional sitting was underway and Trump’s supporters had gathered outside, the president sent one of his final tweets: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our constitution, giving states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.
‘USA demands the truth!’
Overnight, more and more top-level Republicans began to publicly condemn the Capitol riot as they also called for a peaceful transition of power. Senator Ted Cruz said the incident was a “despicable act of terrorism”, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced it as a “failed insurrection”.
Trump’s former communications director Alyssa Farah added: “I marched in the 2010 Tea Party rallies. I campaigned w/Trump and voted for him. But I need you to hear me: the election was NOT stolen. We lost.
“It’s time to regroup, organise, and campaign for political leaders we believe in, and let our democracy work. It is NOT and NEVER will be a time for violence.”
Across the Atlantic, Europe had watched in horror as Wednesday’s events unfolded, prompting various leaders also to react.
“This is an assault on democracy. President Trump and several members of Congress bear substantial responsibility for developments,” said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. “The democratic election process must be respected.”
Slovak President Zuzana Caputova added: “The scenes from the US Capitol show how dangerous the rhetoric of hatred is.
“Contempt for democratic institutions erodes citizens’ rights and can undermine political order. I trust the democratic and peaceful process will be restored soon.”
Perhaps the most critical response came from Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who referred to Trump’s video failing to condemn the mob: “After the awful attempted coup by Trump supporters on Capitol Hill – ‘we love you’ – can you hear the silence of the politicians in Europe who love him too?”
Back in the US, the president was now barred from his millions of followers on social media; had alienated many in his party, and was facing a host of resignations. It was at this moment that he finally – somewhat – admitted defeat.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20,” he said.
With just days left to go then – what else could possibly happen?