Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.
TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.
As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.
Even by his standards, Trump was remarkably strident in Phoenix. After introductory speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, lauded him for his commitment to racial harmony, the president came on stage and lambasted the media for what he called inaccurate reporting on his remarks about violence between hate groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Anger and Threats
He threatened to shut down the federal government unless Congress funds construction of the Mexican border wall he promised in his campaign. He telegraphed that he’d pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies. And in their home state, he assailed Arizona Senator John McCain for the failure of Obamacare repeal and Senator Jeff Flake for being "weak" on illegal immigration, without mentioning their names. Both are fellow Republicans.
Gigicos had staged the event in a large multipurpose room. The main floor space was bisected by a dividing wall, leaving part of the space empty. There were some bleachers off to the side, but otherwise the audience was standing — and the scene appeared flat, lacking the energy and enthusiasm of other rallies.
Although the crowd looked thin when Trump arrived at about 6:30 p.m., rallygoers filled in the space while Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Alveda King, Franklin Graham and Pence delivered introductory speeches. A city of Phoenix spokeswoman told the Arizona Republic newspaper that about 10,000 people were inside the room when Trump took the stage.
Trump’s first words when he stepped to the microphone: "Wow, what a crowd, what a crowd."
Some Trump advisers hope that the president’s anger with Gigicos, a loyal and trusted aide who is well liked at the White House, blows over and he’s brought back into the fold. A week later, Trump was still reminiscing about the Phoenix event.
“You saw the massive crowd we had,” he said at a White House news conference on Monday with Finland President Sauli Niinisto. “The people went crazy when I said, ‘What do you think of sheriff Joe?’ Or something to that effect.”
Gigicos organized all of Trump’s signature campaign events and his occasional rallies since entering office. He left his White House job as director of advance on July 31 to return to his consulting business. But he continued to work for Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Over the past two years, Trump had often assigned the blame — rightly or wrongly — to Gigicos when his rally logistics weren’t perfect. But his irritation usually blew over quickly. When his microphone had problems at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, in January 2016, Trump bellowed: "The stupid mic keeps popping! Do you hear that, George? Don’t pay them! Don’t pay them!"
Gigicos is the latest high-profile departure from Trump’s inner circle. Since July 21, press secretary Sean Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and national security aide Sebastian Gorka have all resigned or been fired. Former Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure lasted less than two weeks.
Two outside advisory councils comprised of corporate CEOs dissolved after Trump’s Charlottesville remarks, and the White House severed ties with billionaire Carl Icahn, a semiformal Trump adviser.