Last Days
New York magazine|November 09, 2020
Inside the White House as inevitability—and anger—set in.
OLIVIA NUZZI

Spectators wait for election results outside the White House on November 4.

DONALD TRUMP GOING OUt with a limp seems like an oxymoron,” a senior adviser to the president told me. In width and in word, in soaring skyscrapers and Brioni suits and arena rallies and various euphemisms for great (yuge, bigly), the man has been defined by and obsessed with largeness. His presidency is ending small.

Trump is guided by instinct on most days, but the final year of his presidency was marked by something unusual: He wasn’t sure what to believe or what to do anymore. At first he feared Joe Biden, then he thought he was a joke, and then the joke was on him. By the summer, Trump understood that he could lose. Surrounded by yes-men, he yearned, on occasion, for the truth they would not give him. “At one point, he said, ‘Well, how are all the polls wrong?’ ” the adviser recalled. And by Election Day, he understood that losing was inevitable. He accepted, even if he had no plans to concede, that his presidency was over.

Nevertheless, in the residence, surrounded by senior advisers and family, he was furious. About everything. He was angry things weren’t going his way. He was angry Fox had called Arizona for Biden. He was angry that Biden had gone out on TV first. Everyone was offering him different ideas about what to say to the nation, to fight or to be measured or to say this or that, contradicting each other. Ivanka counseled Trump to be calm and measured. Don Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, said to go nuclear. Mark Meadows said to fight, but maybe not as hard as Don Jr. and Kim G. suggested. Jared Kushner seemed to reluctantly agree that it wasn’t over—not if Trump didn’t want it to be. The president grew angrier and angrier, throwing up one hand to silence people as he reviewed notes in the other. He was unhappy with the notes. He was unhappy with everything. And then he went out and ignored everybody who had tried to help.

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