What’s the toughest job in DC? Other than the leadership of the Free World, some would say the Speaker of the House who has to hold together an often fractious caucus to get legislation passed. Others would say the Chief of Staff who’s required to make the trains run on time. Some would say the White House Communications Director.
Every job inside the Executive Office of the President of the United States is tough and demanding. Work days begin before dawn and run long into the night—every day. Few are tougher or more demanding than the Communications Director, especially in this Administration.
Since Herb Klein first set up the office back in the infancy of Richard Nixon’s administration, roughly three dozen people have held the post, few of them household names. Although David Gergen, Pat Buchanan, George Stephanopoulos, Karen Hughes and a few others were well-known, Ken Clawson, Jack Koehler, Mari Maseng and Loretta Ucelli and a lot of others toiled in more obscurity.
This week the latest communications director, Hope Hicks, announced her resignation.
Her resignation marks the departure of one of the president’s most loyal and trusted advisors.
Hicks was with Trump from the git-go of his presidential run. She tells how he approached her, in the earliest days of 2015 saying, “I’m thinking about running for president, and you’re going to be my press secretary.”
At the time Hicks was 26-years old and hadn’t ever worked on a political campaign, much less at the highest levels of a presidential one. Yet, at the time of her resignation from the White House staff she was Trump’s longest-serving political aide.
From zero political experience to the highest levels of the White House is a meteoric rise by any definition. Hope Hicks ascendancy always tracked the fortunes of her boss, Donald J. Trump.
Hicks had served as press secretary during the grueling days on the campaign trail, then in the same role with the presidential transition before taking a newly-created spot, White House Director of Strategic Communications, in the early days of the Trump Administration. She became Communications Director after the swift departure of Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted only ten days in the post, a shorter tenure than any other who held the job.
Heather Hicks came from a loving line of high-level public relations professionals. Both of her grandfathers were PR guys at major firms. Her father was the communications director for the National Football League at one time and still holds a senior position at one of Washington, D.C.’s premier PR firms.
But Heather Hicks took the path of less visibility than the few Communications Directors that were constant faces in the media. She rarely chatted up reporters or appeared on television. Instead she was the advisor to the president who helped to shape the messages of the administration, including in some very sensitive situations.
Being the communications director in this administration is especially difficult because Donald J. Trump often fills the role himself. He establishes the message and the delivery, sets the tone and creates the themes. His tweets are legion and his impromptu remarks are legend.
On the campaign trail, Hicks reportedly took dictation from candidate Trump for the stream of tweets than came from him. More recently many have reported that it was Hope Hicks that worked to control the flow of tweets.
Hicks tenure was not without a couple of wrinkles. She reportedly was the one who with the president crafted the response to Donald J. Trump, Jr.’s secret meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign. She was also involved with the poorly developed response to domestic abuse allegations against former Trump aide, Rob Porter.
Last week she testified behind closed doors before a congressional panel. It was leaked that she said she’d told “white lies.” That, of course spun through the media at warp speed. What she meant by that remains a significant question, but one definition was: “Remember when I greeted you by saying how nice it was to see you? THAT was a ‘white lie’”
Virtually all usual cadre of anonymous sources agree that Hope Hicks departure had been planned for some time and had nothing to do with her testimony last week.
Hope Hicks will quickly find other roles in which to start. She’s not yet 30-years old and her resume already looks like a veteran PR maven. Sh earned a reputation for being exceptionally well-organized, decisive, steadfast, and steady under fire.
Most importantly, she was always loyal, a character trait far less common than it should be.