Politics

Trump is ‘losing a limb’ with the departure of Hope Hicks

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 21, 2018 White House Communications Director Hope Hicks watches as US President Donald Trump takes part in a listening session on gun violence with teachers and students in the State Dining Room of the White House. Hope Hicks, the White House communications director and one of President Trumps longest-serving advisers, said Wednesday that she was resigning. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Hope Hicks in February.

When Hope Hicks walked into President Donald Trump’s private study Wednesday to inform him that she planned to leave the White House — concluding a can’t-make-it-up run in which Hicks, a woman with zero political experience three years ago, became the closest aide to the most powerful man in the world — the president responded like a father whose daughter had outgrown the nest.

According to a person with knowledge of their conversation, Trump expressed an understanding of Hicks’ desire to pursue a new phase of her life. But, the person added, he also acknowledged something else: that Hicks’ happiness in her role had begun to wane lately, after a trying few weeks in the public glare.

The departure of Hicks, arguably the least experienced person to ever hold the job of White House communications director, capped an astounding rise for a political neophyte whose seemingly implausible career hinged on a deep understanding of, and bottomless patience for, her mercurial charge.

Advertisement

But as someone with a pull toward discretion — Hicks, 29, who grew up in the buttoned-up suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, the daughter and granddaughter of prominent public relations men — seeing her name splashed across international tabloids had taken a toll.

Get This Week in Politics in your inbox:
A weekly recap of the top political stories from The Globe, sent right to your email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

In explaining her decision to friends, Hicks, a communications director who rarely spoke publicly, made clear that she had no interest in being at the center of the public conversation.

That aversion to the spotlight had become increasingly difficult to maintain.

Hicks’ role in helping write a statement by Donald Trump Jr. about a 2016 meeting with Russian officials has drawn attention from federal investigators. On Tuesday, she testified for eight hours before the House Intelligence Committee and made headlines for admitting that she had sometimes told fibs as part of her job.

Last month, the man she had been dating, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, was accused by his former wives of domestic abuse, sparking an ongoing scandal that offered a glimpse of her closely guarded personal life and drew paparazzi to her apartment building. There were rumblings that Trump questioned Hicks’ judgment after the White House initially defended Porter, although a bevy of administration officials, including the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, later vouched for Hicks in on-the-record interviews.

Advertisement

Hicks had stopped monitoring news coverage of herself, restricting her television intake to Fox News, which she often watched on mute, assuming that the Trump-friendly network would rarely include her name on its chyrons.

Friends who reached out to her, offering support or guidance, acknowledged that Hicks had been distressed. But they also received text messages from her in which she declared that she was tougher than people assumed.

Hicks’ career followed a curious trajectory. As a young model, she appeared on the covers of young adult paperbacks and in Ralph Lauren catalogs before going to work for Ivanka Trump’s apparel and licensing brand. Even after she had begun serving as an Oval Office gatekeeper, she maintained a low public profile, which fueled the fascination — and sometimes disdain — of those who watch national politics closely.

Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker’s television critic, often tweeted whimsically about Hicks, calling her an “It Girl.” (Hicks was once the face of a “Gossip Girl”-spinoff book series called “It Girl.”) Others dismissed her as a mere factotum, especially after a report that she was once tasked during the campaign with steaming Donald Trump’s suits, sometimes while he was wearing them. On Wednesday, after news of Hicks’ exit was announced, New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino tweeted: “Goodbye to Hope Hicks, an object lesson in the quickest way a woman can advance under misogyny: silence, beauty, and unconditional deference to men.”

In Washington, however, Hicks’ success was viewed as a product of other qualities, including her nuanced understanding of Trump’s moods, her ability to subtly nudge him away from his coarser impulses and her skill as a liaison for some of the most prominent journalists in the country.

Advertisement

“When she tells you something, you know she is speaking to the president, because she is with him all the time,” said Steve Scully, senior executive producer at C-SPAN and coordinator of the network’s White House coverage. “It was amazing how often he would turn to Hope and ask her questions and ask her point of view. You can really tell, seeing the two of them interact, that there’s a trust between the two of them.” Hicks was a key point of contact for reporters, editors and executives at television networks and major newspapers. Often, she could single-handedly arrange time with the easily distracted president. At a Paley Center panel discussion Wednesday, NBC News anchor Lester Holt described Hicks as his first contact for coordinating his interview with Trump last May. “She was quite helpful,” Holt said.

And in an administration riven by infighting, Hicks’ privileged position with the president meant that, for journalists, she was among the few officials whose information was deemed reliable, or at least not often compromised by personal squabbles. Of course, she always advocated for her boss, lamenting that reporters did not see the empathetic and charming Trump whom she said she knew.

Hicks, a reluctant émigré to insular Washington, kept a tiny circle of confidants, complaining that she could not trust anyone in a company town. She frequently visited family in Connecticut and friends in New York, where she felt she could comfortably walk down the street without being accosted or asked for a favor.

Hicks has told friends that, for now, she has no definite ideas for her life after the West Wing, except that she will not be living in Washington. An extended vacation with her family is planned. Book agents have come calling, but Hicks has told acquaintances that she is reluctant to write anything — although she has joked that a massive advance could change her mind.

“I think she would benefit from taking a minute or two to get some perspective on all of this,” said Michael Feldman, a Clinton White House veteran who is a family friend of Hicks.

“I don’t worry about Hope,” Feldman added, echoing other friends interviewed for this article. “I fully expect her to land on her feet.”

Those confident in Hicks’ future prospects sounded more concerned about Trump and his ability to work without an aide he has relied on nearly every day for three years.

“This is not losing a staffer,” Feldman said. “This is like losing a limb.”