Hope Hicks: The woman who 'totally understands' Donald Trump


US President Donald Trump speaking with Hope Hicks during an interview at the White House on Jan 17, 2018.
US President Donald Trump speaking with Hope Hicks during an interview at the White House on Jan 17, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES, AFP, WASHINGTON POST) - Ms Hope Hicks, one of Mr Donald Trump's longest-serving aides, is known around the West Wing for her close relationship with the president's family and as a keen defender of his image.

The 29-year-old former model and public relations operative had never worked in politics before she was asked to become a spokesperson for the Republican's campaign.

Ms Hicks was working for Ms Ivanka Trump's luxury lines and for the Trump real estate brand when the candidate called her to his office in early 2015.

"Mr Trump sat her down and said, 'This is your new job,'" her mother Caye Cavender Hicks told The New York Times. "It was a shocker."

Ms Hicks had trained at Hiltzik Strategies, the powerful public relations firm that represents Hollywood clients and corporate executives, before Ms Trump brought her in-house.

She had been commuting from an apartment she shared with her sister in Greenwich, Connecticut, above the dive bar where her father had his first beer at 18. Suddenly, she found herself a near-constant presence by Mr Trump's side during the campaign, flying in his jet, living rent-free in a Trump-owned apartment and attending to his mercurial moods.

She was criticised for her lack of political background - she "is arguably the least credentialed press secretary in the modern history of presidential politics," as The New York Times put it.

But for journalists who covered the elections, she was sometimes the Jekyll to Mr Trump's Hyde, e-mailing angry complaints from her media-bashing boss and often concluding with her own polite sign-off: "Best, Hope."

Seemingly unfazed by her boss' outbursts, she could detect the best moments for reporters to make requests - knowing, for instance, not to bother Mr Trump while he is watching a major golf tournament.

"Her most important role is her bond with the candidate," said Mr Paul Manafort, the veteran Republican adviser who served as Mr Trump's campaign manager. "She totally understands him."

Or, as Ms Trump said in an interview: "My father makes people earn his trust. She's earned his trust."

PR PEDIGREE

The former model, who favours Burberry trench coats and heels, is the third generation of her family to represent a powerful but highly controversial client.

Her grandfather led public relations for Texaco during the 1970s oil crisis.

Her father, Mr Paul B. Hicks III, represented a major tobacco company in Connecticut and later was the top communications executive for the National Football League, where he dealt with scandals over player safety and the Patriots' deflated footballs.

Her establishment pedigree aside, Ms Hicks did not fit the part of the typical campaign press secretary.

Among journalists, she was not known to wrangle, cajole or mingle, serving as more of a conduit for her media-savvy boss.

She was also a multitasker, whose tasks during the campaign included steaming the candidate's pants before his rallies, often while he was wearing them.

She is known to be unfailingly deferential to her employer, whom she refers to only as "Mr Trump" or "sir."

And Mr Trump, who sometimes affectionately referred to her as "Hopey", seems to appreciate it.

"I'm lucky to have her," he said in a telephone interview in 2016.

"She's got very good judgment. She will often give advice, and she'll do it in a very low-key manner, so it doesn't necessarily come in the form of advice. But it's delivered very nicely."

ON MODELLING AND POLITICS

On her free nights, Ms Hicks retreats to her parents' home in Greenwich to unwind.

Her sister, Mary Grace, is a paramedic there, and her father, a former town selectman or member of the local government board, remains a prominent figure. In 2016, Greenwich proclaimed April 23 as Paul B. Hicks III Day to recognise his philanthropy.

 
 
 

Ms Hicks grew up in Greenwich swimming and golfing. When she was in sixth grade, a neighbour invited Ms Hicks and her sister to a Ralph Lauren tryout; soon their photographs were in Bloomingdale's.

She made a cameo on television show Guiding Light, appeared on the covers of young adult paperbacks like Gossip Girl and once read lines for a film role with Alec Baldwin.

At age 13, Ms Hicks told Greenwich Magazine, for a cover story about the Hicks sisters' modelling careers, that she was "not ready to decide if modelling is what I want to do with my life."

"If the acting thing doesn't work out," she said, "I could really see myself in politics. Who knows?"

She also played lacrosse in high school, leading her team to a state championship. She then attended Southern Methodist University, where she majored in English, graduating in 2010.

LOW PROFILE

After she was named interim White House communications director in August 2017, just over two weeks after the firing of Anthony Scaramucci, Ms Hicks worked to stabilise, to some extent, a fractious press department of about 40 people who were often at odds with one another.

She maintained one of the lowest public profiles of anyone to ever hold the job, declining to sit for interviews or appear at the White House briefing room podium. That mystique added to the outsize attention she received.

She was thrust into the spotlight in early February 2018 when another top Trump aide with whom she had become romantically involved was accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives.

Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter - who denies the claims - resigned following the allegations. Ms Hicks had helped craft the official response to the scandal, despite her personal involvement with Mr Porter.

After the announcement about the resignation on Wednesday, Ms Trump tweeted: "Hope Hicks is loved & admired by all who know her. It's with a heavy heart, but tremendous gratitude, that I wish her well in her next steps."