Oddly enough, this might serve as a clearer concession than Donald Trump’s video statement yesterday. At no time in that statement did Trump concede the election, or even mention Joe Biden by name, although he did declare that “Congress has certified the results” and that a “new administration will be inaugurated on January 20.” A few people wondered whether Trump deliberately left room that the “new administration” might be his.
This morning, Trump dispensed with that theory … as well as 152 years of tradition:
To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2021
Is anyone surprised? And perhaps more to the point, will anyone really mind? We’ll get back to that question momentarily, but there is a longstanding tradition to demonstrate solidarity in the orderly transition of power. For instance, Hillary Clinton showed up to Trump’s inauguration four years ago, even though she hardly looked enthusiastic about it, due to the tradition of former presidents (Bill Clinton) attending inaugurations. No one would think that Hillary supported Trump, or even that she didn’t question the results, about which she had been rather vocal. But she showed up, and didn’t make a scene at the inauguration.
However, this is not a singular anomaly in this tradition either. CBS notes three other occasions in which outgoing presidents refused to participate in an inauguration, including one involving our founding fathers. All three have the same thing in common — very bitter relations between the presidents:
Mr. Trump is the first president to skip his successor’s ceremony since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Johnson, a Democrat, was so unpopular with his own party that he didn’t secure a nomination for a second term, and Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the election of 1868.
Johnson and Grant detested each other so much that they refused to even ride in the same carriage on Inauguration Day, according to political historian Ronald Shafer.
Johnson was also the first U.S. president to be impeached — and Mr. Trump is the third, following Bill Clinton.
Before Johnson, only two previous presidents had snubbed their successor’s inauguration. John Adams left Washington in 1801 before the ceremony for Thomas Jefferson, who had defeated him. Adams, the second U.S. president, and the first to lose an election.
Adams’ son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, skipped the inauguration of Andrew Jackson after also losing the presidency.
This of course doesn’t count the transitions that resulted from the death of a president. However, in the (hopefully) last such instance, Jackie Kennedy stood by Lyndon Johnson while he took the oath of office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Richard Nixon didn’t attend the inauguration of Gerald Ford, but that’s because he resigned and didn’t want his baggage to impact Ford any more than necessary.
At any rate, the bitterness of these other exceptions certainly exists in this case, both between the two men and between their factions as well. After the riot and sacking of Capitol Hill this week, it’s tough to imagine that Trump would be a welcome presence anyway. However, some still want to hew to tradition:
GOP Sen. Rick Scott, who voted to throw out PA electoral votes, says: “I am urging the President to reconsider his decision to skip the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. …I can imagine losing an election is very hard, but I believe he should attend.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 8, 2021
Frankly, the justification for this — paying homage to a peaceful and orderly transition of authority — evaporated in the mob action on Wednesday. No one thinks for a moment that Trump wants to acknowledge that he lost, let alone honors an orderly transition of authority. Furthermore, would anyone trust him to sit quietly through such a ceremony without distracting from it?
We’re all better off if Trump watches this from Mar-a-Lago, even if he tries holding a competing rally once he’s there. This is the rare instance in which (to borrow LBJ’s timeless metaphor) where you’re better off having someone outside the tent micturating into it than the other way around.