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All the Weird New Details About Trump’s Infamous Escalator Ride

July 16, 2015.
Photo: Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign by descending an escalator in the atrium of Trump Tower, cheered on by his family, staff, and tourists plucked off the street and handed first-printing MAGA shirts. The event was profoundly weird, even before Trump started speaking.

This Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of Trump’s campaign launch, and with his reelection bid slated to kick off Tuesday in Florida, both Politico and the Washington Post recently published behind-the-scenes accounts of that momentous day in midtown. The accounts from Trump campaign staffers, journalists, and members of rival campaigns suggest the weird day was ever weirder than previously known. Here’s what we’ve learned.

They thought “it would look amateurish and not remotely presidential,” according to the Post. And they were right. George Gigicos, an early campaign hand, suggested Trump take the escalator up after the speech, but the future president insisted on riding it down.

 “No, I’m going down the escalator,” he said — an early example of him flouting the norms and conventions of politics at nearly every juncture, and often prevailing.

Back in 2015, Michael Cohen was still Trump’s right-hand man. Why Trump didn’t end their relationship after these suggestions is a mystery though:

Some in Trump’s orbit — including Michael Cohen, Trump’s then-fixer and personal lawyer, who is serving a three-year prison term for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, among other misdeeds — pushed for a circuslike spectacle, complete with elephants and women in bikinis.

Initially dressed in black, Trump switched out one ill-fitting suit for another at the last minute, for reasons that former adviser Sam Nunberg explained to Politico:

Sam Nunberg, Trump political adviser: He came down [to his office on the 26th floor] in the black “Apprentice” suit. So he says, “What do you think?” And I say, “It’s great … You’re the businessman, you’re the business candidate.” Right? Because he had told me about black or blue [in a conversation about which suit to wear]. And I said, “I think you should wear black, myself.” OK? I just said, “Go with black. You know, you’re the celebrity, you’re the icon.” It’d be like Reagan — Reagan always wore the same black suit on his announcements. So then he goes to me, “So you like the black suit?” And I go, “Yeah.” He goes, “No, you’re a fucking idiot. Get out.” And he closes the door. And he switches into blue.

In the summer of 2015, there were a lot of reasons to not take Trump’s presidential campaign seriously. He’d flirted with the idea of running before, but always as a publicity stunt. Few expected anything different four years ago, especially after a launch event that looked like sideshow. As two members of Jeb Bush’s team told Politico, the whole thing seemed like a joke.

Michael Steelsenior adviser, Jeb Bush campaign: I was sitting with the policy team at Jeb’s headquarters, kind of an aging office building on the outskirts of Miami, and the policy shop had a TV, like a projection TV or something. Anyway, I remember the screen was really big but not very clear, and we all watched it as he was coming down the escalator … It seemed like a joke at the time.

Tim Millercommunications director, Jeb Bush campaign: A complete joke. Not serious. Not actually running for president.

Reporters on the scene spoke to some of the assembled supporters and found that Trump’s base wasn’t quite as strong four years ago as it is today.

William Turton: I stood outside interviewing folks with signs … Basically, none of them spoke English. There was this one Italian family, I remember, who had these Trump signs, and I just asked them, “Why do you like Trump?” And they could barely string together a sentence in English.

Joel Rosecorrespondent, NPR: You would ask people why they were there, and they would give you these weird, vague answers.

Juliet Papareporter, 1010 WINS Radio: Somebody said they were, like, a part-time actor. So I just started assuming that they were sort of rented for the occasion.

To those around Trump in 2015, the word “campaign” had nothing to do with politics.

Hope Hicks — who at the time handled publicity for the Trump Organization and would eventually become the White House communications director — wasn’t sure what Trump was talking about when he called her into his office to tell her he was headed to Iowa and wanted her to be the press secretary for his campaign.

“Which one? The Doral marketing campaign?” Hicks asked, referring to one of Trump’s golf properties, according to an account by Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, in his book, “Let Trump Be Trump.”

To which Trump replied: “No. My presidential campaign! I’m running for president.”

Weird New Details About Trump’s Infamous Escalator Ride

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All the Weird New Details About Trump’s Infamous Escalator Ride

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Four years later, Trump’s campaign launch sounds even stranger. But at least Michael Cohen’s call for elephants and bikini-clad women was scrapped.

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When President Trump announced his seemingly quixotic presidential bid on June 16, 2015 — four years ago Sunday — he descended a golden escalator into the atrium of his Trump Tower Manhattan skyscraper and upended the course of political history.

But at the time, nearly every member of his nascent political team urged Trump not to ride a moving stairway down to his announcement. They fretted it would look amateurish and not remotely presidential. At one point, George Gigicos, the campaign’s director of advance, offered a compromise: that Trump instead take the elevator, give his speech and then ride the escalator back up once he was done — like a mechanical rope line, Gigicos suggested.

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