Trump’s Original Four: The Staffers Behind His Historic Victory
Only four of Donald Trump’s original inner circle of senior staff have survived all the turmoil, at Trump’s side from the earliest days when his ambitions for the White House were a constantly mocked long-shot, to his historic trip to the nation’s capital on Thursday.
They were the staff who kept Trump buoyed amid the incessant drumbeat of predictions that he had no chance.
“We lived it 24/7—and began with a one percent chance of winning the nomination,” Dan Scavino, the campaign’s social media strategist, said in an interview.
Trump’s four constants: Scavino, who first met Trump as a teenage caddie at one of the billionaire businessman’s golf courses and rose to a senior position within the Trump Organization; communications director Hope Hicks, a fashion model-turned-press secretary who had never been involved in politics before her boss ran for president; Michael Glassner, deputy campaign manager and a former aide to former Senator Bob Dole and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin; and George Gigicos, Trump’s director of advance, who organized every single one of his rallies.
“We have a very close bond,” Hicks said.
When Trump weighed who to take with him to Washington on Thursday to meet President Barack Obama and begin his transition to power, he tapped Scavino, Hicks, and Gigicos.
“They understand him, and understand what he needs and wants. They’re his core advisers,” said Glassner, who stayed behind at campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in New York to handle some transition planning.
Although jobs haven’t officially been offered yet, it’s likely all four will be a part of the new administration, according to two people familiar with Trump’s thinking who asked not to be identified because the selection process is private. Trump said Friday on Twitter that he had a “busy day planned in New York” and would “soon be making some very important decisions on the people who will be running our government!”
During his 17-month campaign, Trump campaign staffers were fired, pushed out, or quit in frustration. How did the final four survive in the mercurial world of Trump?
Two had personal relationships with Trump before he announced his bid for the White House: Hicks and Scavino. The other two didn’t know Trump, but quickly made themselves indispensable. They avoided running afoul of Trump’s oldest three children, who were deeply involved with the campaign. They also shied away from talking on the record to the press and stayed in their lane as infighting raged in other parts of the campaign.
Asked to describe Glassner, a 53-year-old Oklahoma native who grew up in Kansas, his coworkers used the same word: disciplined. He doesn’t raise his voice. He doesn’t drink alcohol. His escape is to go home to small-town New Jersey to see his wife and daughters, ages 12 and 14. He runs three to five miles on weekdays and 10 on Saturdays. His meals consist of a plate of asparagus or potatoes or some other pile of vegetables.
“I’m a hamburger guy,” said Gigicos, whose office is next to Glassner’s on the 15th floor of Trump Tower. “He’s a vegetarian. We meet in the middle.”
Glassner and Gigicos orchestrated Trump’s rallies, converting empty arenas into the made-for-TV spectacles that were the electricity of the campaign—and the one consistent strategy since the very beginning.
Trump was at center stage, then Scavino amplified his message on social media. It was a new model for campaigns, said Glassner, who recalled the tediousness of organizing small events in all 99 of Iowa’s counties when he worked for Dole’s presidential campaigns in 1988 and 1996.
‘Thank You, Girls’
Gigicos, an Alabama native, has worked on and off in logistics for campaigns or organizations since he was a college kid working in President George H.W. Bush’s administration as a travel assistant in the Treasury Department. When Trump’s rally schedule was raging, Gigicos, 49, rarely left the office before 10:30 p.m., his coworkers said. In the beginning, it was just him. Later, his staff grew to 100 workers, who he sent out in rotating four-person advance teams for events booked for the next week. Gigicos helped them scout and guided them via live Facetime video.
Gigicos associates very closely with his Greek culture, and is an archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church. He flew home to see his two daughters, 6 and 9, for their ballet recitals. On their first day of school this fall, he grabbed a flight that arrived at midnight, saw the girls off in the morning, then raced to the airport to fly back to New York.
But he was in California when his daughters had a big school performance. Trump knew he was distressed about missing it, and recorded a video aboard his jet for Gigicos to send to them. “Girls, your father really loves you,” Trump said in the recording. “We’re running for president. If it’s OK with you, I’ll steal your father for the day. He's a very talented guy and I need him. Thank you, girls.”
Gigicos was deeply touched. His girls just said, “Cool.”
Hicks, 27, entered Trump’s orbit by working public relations for his daughter Ivanka Trump’s company. On the campaign trail, he didn’t go anywhere without Hicks, who handled media requests and offered counsel.
“Hope has a beautiful mind,” Gigicos said. “She’s probably one of the smartest people that I’ve ever met. If you ask Hope where we were on June 17 at 3 p.m., she can tell you—and she can say what color my tie was.”
Scavino was the titular head of the multi-million-strong virtual community called the Trump Train, creating content and building memes that fueled passion for Trump into a victory. He was one of the few who had access to the @realdonaldtrump Twitter account and would send out tweets on Trump’s behalf. “His genius,” Glassner said, “is that he can read the candidate extremely well and understand the messaging he’ll want to put out at any given time, every given day. It’s being a spokesman times a hundred.”
As a 16-year-old, Scavino had ambitions to work for Trump, and climbed his way up through the company to become a general manager. Scavino, a devout Catholic, is now so close to the Trumps that the campaign staff said they view him as more like a member of the family.
In the early days, the four went everywhere Trump went, strategizing on the fly as they jetted between the early states. Trump’s “motorcade” in those pre-Secret Service days consisted of a couple Suburbans rented from a car service—one with Trump in the front seat and Hicks and original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the back, and Scavino, Glassner, and head of security Keith Schiller in the second SUV.
Schiller was part of Trump’s entourage in Washington on Thursday, along with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and John McEntee, campaign trip director. The Trump aides said they were excited to get an inside view of the White House that Trump will soon occupy, and said they were pleased with how the Obamas and their staff treated them with nothing but warmth. White House staff led them on a tour through the West Wing. But it was when the Marines saluted them that it got very real, one said.
Lewandowksi, who was forced out in June, remains a behind-the-scenes confidant and is likely to have a role in shaping the administration.
After many dark days of scandal and controversy, and 16-hour work days, Tuesday’s triumph was particularly poignant for the original four, they said.
On Trump’s private jet between a rally in New Hampshire and the final campaign rally in Michigan on Monday, Trump aides debated whether they were going to win. The original four believed the odds of victory were 100 percent.
At the Trump election night party at the Hilton in mid-town Manhattan, all four were standing backstage with Trump, uncertain what to make of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s 2 a.m. speech about how she wouldn’t have anything more to say that night. They knew Trump had enough electoral votes to win, but none of the news outlets had called the race for Trump yet.
At 2:30 a.m., Kellyanne Conway, who was appointed campaign manager in mid-August, got a call on her cellphone from Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Clinton wanted to speak to Trump so that she could concede the race.
Conway recalled that Trump said, “You’re a smart, tough lady and you ran a great campaign. Thank you for calling.”
Trump had called the original four onto the stage with him when he won New Hampshire, the victory that revived his prospects after a devastating loss in Iowa, and had gathered them around him at a press conference during the national convention. So it didn’t surprise them when he said: Family first on stage “and the rest of you, too.”