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The Final Two Months of Trump’s Presidency Were The Most Important Ones

The lame duck part of President Trump’s tenure will likely be defined by his relentless effort to overturn the 2020 election results, which culminated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after Trump urged his supporters to go to Capitol Hill to try to stop the certification of the results. But Trump’s fight against electoral reality wasn’t the only important thing that happened in his final two-and-half months in office. Here’s a look, via several key numbers, at some of the really big things Trump and his administration did and didn’t do in its final weeks …


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6 executions

The use of the death penalty at the state level has been declining, particularly in liberal-leaning states but also in conservatives ones. At the federal level, the government had not executed someone since 2003 — through most of George W. Bush’s presidency and the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency — until this past July. But former Attorney General William Barr, backed by Trump, made it a priority to allow federal executions to move forward. The federal government has executed 13 people since July, including six people since it became clear that Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

Put another way: Almost half of the federal executions in the last 18 years have occurred in the final two months of Trump’s tenure.

Those six executions, in particular, have infuriated liberals, since Biden opposed the death penalty as a candidate and his team may have delayed these executions once in office.

77,000 deaths

More than 77,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in December, according to the COVID Tracking Project, the deadliest month of the virus outbreak in the United States so far. (December is notable because it was Trump’s last full month in office.) Deaths from the coronavirus have surged since early November, going from around 1,000 deaths per day to more than 3,000 per day in the last few weeks.

[Related: The Pandemic And The Attack On The Capitol Will Likely Define Trump’s Presidency]

Some of the increase was expected, since people were more likely to retreat indoors as it got colder during the fall and winter, so the increase was certainly not solely Trump’s fault. But this level of daily death likely would have been treated as a huge crisis by another president. Instead, Trump was basically disengaged from dealing with the virus in the post-election period.

3 million vaccinations

About 3 million Americans were vaccinated against COVID-19 in December, far short of the 20 million that had been the Trump administration’s goal. Again, the struggle to get more people vaccinated is not something that can be pinned solely on the Trump administration, since state and local governments are heavily involved in the vaccination effort. And the pace of vaccinations is speeding up. But it is likely that another president, Democratic or Republican, would have made vaccinations his or her top priority in a way that Trump did not.

13 judges

Thirteen of Trump’s judicial nominees for federal district or circuit courts were confirmed by the U.S. Senate since Biden was declared the winner of the election. (In contrast, no Obama judicial nominee was confirmed after July 2016, well before the end of his term, with Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans in the majority.) Putting more conservatives on the bench has been a huge priority of both Trump and McConnell, and they continued to push forward even post-election.

[Related: It Will Be Tough For Biden To Reverse Trump’s Legacy Of A Whiter, More Conservative Judiciary]

The confirmation of Thomas Kirsch was particularly notable. He replaced Amy Coney Barrett on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals after Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. With Kirsch’s appointment, Trump has appointed 54 judges to the nation’s 13 federal courts of appeals, about the same as the number (55) President Barack Obama appointed in eight years in office. More than a quarter of currently active federal judges were appointed by Trump, an impressive feat considering he will only serve a single term in office.

1776

In one of its final acts before leaving office, the Trump administration released a 45-page document called “The 1776 Report.” The report, written by conservative scholars and administration figures, was intended to serve as a rejoinder to The 1619 Project, published in 2019 by The New York Times Magazine, which argued that much of America’s history is best understood by thinking of the nation’s founding as in 1619, when enslaved people from Africa were first brought to the United States. The White House report was a forceful denunciation of so-called identity politics, criticism of America’s founders for tolerating slavery and other ideas often espoused by more liberal-leaning Americans.

Many scholars refuted the 1776 report’s findings. But the report’s content and its release right before Trump left office was an apt conclusion for an administration that has in many ways been defined by its racial (and at times racist) politics.

5 pardons

In the post-election period, Trump pardoned five people who had been convicted of crimes as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of potential connections between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. These pardons were the ultimate show of presidential power — Trump basically eliminated the results of a probe that he long complained about and sought to undermine. And the pardons are one of the clearest examples of Trump’s willingness to completely break with democratic values. These pardons undermined the idea of equal justice under the law, as they were part of a broader pattern of Trump granting clemency to friends and allies. And Trump undermined the law enforcement process by hinting to former campaign chair Paul Manafort that Manafort would get a pardon if he did not cooperate with Mueller.

[Related: How Trump Used His Pardon Power]

Trump will leave office much more unpopular than he was when Biden secured the election victory. Trump’s net approval is now -19 (39 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove), compared to -7 (45 percent approved, 52 percent disapproved) on Nov 7. But much of that dip is likely due solely to Trump’s role in stoking the Capitol attack, as opposed to the things mentioned in this article. It’s likely that many Americans don’t even know that, in its final days, the Trump administration essentially restarted the federal death penalty, tried to undermine one of the most prominent projects of perhaps the nation’s most important news institution and wiped away convictions from the Mueller probe. Polls suggest most Americans already thought Trump was handling COVID-19 poorly, so the high number of deaths and low number of vaccinations may not affect the public’s perception of Trump much.

So Trump’s final days probably wouldn’t have mattered in his terms of his poll numbers if not for the Capitol attack. But polling aside, when you consider the Capitol attack and everything else that happened, Trump’s final weeks in office were perhaps the most consequential of his entire tenure.


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Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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