White House Communications Director Hope Hicks announced her resignation on February 28. Hicks, a twenty-nine-year-old former model who had previously been employed by one of first daughter Ivanka Trump’s businesses, has been a key member of President Trump’s team since she joined his presidential campaign in 2015. When Hicks took the reins as the head of the forty-person communications team in the summer of 2017, she had very little political experience. However, she had the confidence of President Trump and quickly built a reputation for herself as not only a very effective Communications Director, but also one of President Trump’s closest advisors. Her connection and perceived value to the President was such that her office was situated right next to his.
Hicks’s departure is significant on so many levels. First of all, she was the fourth person to hold this position since President Trump’s inauguration. The Trump Administration was launched in January 2017 with Republican National Committee alumnus Sean Spicer serving as both Press Secretary and Communications Director. Spicer held both positions until March 2017 when Mike Dubke, a communications pro who had previously been employed with Crossroads and Black Rock Group stepped into the top Communications spot. Unfortunately, Dubke reportedly never obtained the full confidence of President Trump and was abruptly dismissed in May 2017 creating a scenario where Spicer was once again on double duty, a situation which continued until July 21, 2017 when hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci was abruptly hired as the new Communications Director.
The hiring of the flamboyant Wall Street whiz had a domino effect which led to the near simultaneous resignations of Spicer and then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the former chair of the RNC. It was not long before the “Mooch” had a meltdown describing Priebus as “a paranoid schizophrenic” and making additional disparaging comments about then Chief Strategist to the President Steve Bannon to a “New Yorker” reporter in what he thought was an off the record conversation. On July 31, Scaramucci was fired by the new Chief of Staff John Kelly, a mere ten days after his initial hiring. Hicks who became Communications Director shortly after the Scaramucci public relations debacle has been credited with creating some stability within the department.
The need to hire White House Communications Director number five begs the question as to why the past appointments have not lasted in the position. There have been two reasons for their departures; failure to maintain the confidence of the President and the inability to be a story-teller, not a story-maker. Dubke and Spicer, who was later replaced in his principle role as Press Secretary by Sarah Huckabee Sanders fall into the first camp. Neither one of them was able to successfully capture and hold the support of President Trump.
Scaramucchi and Hicks despite all of President’s Trump public praise of her fall into the other camp. They both ultimately failed in their primary responsibility which is to strategically communicate the President’s agenda. Scaramucchi’s rise and fall was that of a flame that flickered too brightly and choked on its own smoke. Hicks’s fall from grace was much more nuanced especially since she was exceptionally competent. She also approached the Communications Director job as the behind the scenes role for which it was intended. She stayed out of the spotlight leaving interviews and other formal press communications to the Press Secretary, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and others, while quietly strategically developing and delivering the President’s message. And perhaps the only reasons for which she initially received any press coverage at all was her beauty, her youth and her success in a highly coveted but difficult position.
All of her good work fell apart when the competent thoughtful right hand of the President became embroiled in two scandals. First, she gathered headlines for dating White House Staffer Rob Porter who was under the glare of the media spotlight after two ex-wives came forward claiming that he had physically battered them. Hicks was criticized for not properly handling the external and internal communications efforts regarding the allegations against Porter. And while she reportedly ended her relationship with Porter, who was later allowed to resign from his White House position, questions about her credibility and personal judgement surfaced.
Second, it came to light that Hicks played a role in drafting a memo about the President’s son Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with Russian representatives during the summer of 2016 which led to her having to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. It was during this testimony that she said that she had “told white lies” for the President. Now a number of people have come forward in defense of Hicks saying that the question was posed in a manner that was extremely broad. Representative Chris Stewart of Utah went as far as to say that the line of questioning was a set up. By “white lie”, Hicks asserted that she may have said the President was not available when he was available or something to that effect, but that she did not tell a “white lie” about anything “substantial”.
However, once again the damage was done. And while The White House, President Trump, Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway and many others in the administration have expressed nothing but praise for Hicks and have insisted that her departure was completely voluntary and something she had been planning for some time, her resigning the same day as her appearance before the House Intelligence Committee adds a hollowness to her announced intentions.
Furthermore, the departure of Hicks along with that of other key staffers, including Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell, Deputy Communications Director Josh Raffel coupled with other White House developments such as reports that presidential advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s security clearance has been downgraded, speculations that Chief of Staff John Kelly may be resigning and that President Trump may be calling for the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions all contribute to the palace intrigue narrative of the main stream media. Said another way, the Trump Administration is in a state of chaos with tremendous turnover.
The Trump Administration will ultimately survive the departure of Miss Hicks just as it has survived the departure or dismissal of other key staffers. Hopefully, the next person to wear the Communications Director hat will be someone who has the perfect mix of behind the scenes savvy, communications acumen and discretion. After all, one of his/her first assignments will be to create a narrative to replace the main stream media’s White House revolving door saga.
Image: Excerpted by: The White House – https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?lang=en, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63948410