HAGERSTOWN, Maryland (AP) — Others tried without much success, and now the job of keeping US President Donald Trump on message has fallen to Hope Hicks, a young aide who entered his orbit not knowing the ride would eventually take her to the pinnacle of Washington politics.
Word of Hicks’ promotion to interim communications director — the 28-year-old was already in charge of “strategic” communications — landed this week just as the White House confronted one of its biggest messaging challenges.
After Trump went off script and blamed “both sides” for deadly violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, the blowback was sharp and swift.
Members of Congress in both parties urged the president to forcefully denounce the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched through the college town. Some openly questioned his competence and moral leadership.
Business luminaries whom Trump enjoyed inviting to the White House fled advisory boards they had agreed to serve on, while uniformed leaders of the armed services denounced racism and hatred without naming their commander in chief.
Repairing the breach, or at least keeping it from growing, is among the most immediate tasks facing Hicks.
She succeeds Anthony Scaramucci, the flamboyant New York businessman whose 11-day tenure as White House communications director ended after the publication of his expletive-filled tirade to a reporter.
“Hope is a terrific person and will do a great job. Wishing her the best,” Scaramucci tweeted after the White House announced Hicks’ promotion. The Greenwich, Connecticut, native will help shape and steer Trump’s messaging until someone who wants the assignment permanently comes aboard.
Those who have worked with the shy, former teen model describe her as trustworthy.
“Hope is wise beyond her years and is someone I trust to always be there for the president,” said Brad Parscale, the digital director of Trump’s presidential campaign who, like Hicks, was one of Trump’s few original campaign members. “I have been disappointed in seeing so many use President Trump as an opportunity to maximize their own self-interest.”
Hicks avoids the spotlight, unlike colleagues who got under Trump’s skin by letting their profiles rise.
Hicks has long served as a gatekeeper to Trump and plays the role from her desk near the Oval Office. As it was during the campaign, media requests to interview the president go through Hicks, who was the only aide in the Oval Office when Trump sharply criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a recent New York Times interview. She does not appear on TV.
Parscale said Hicks is dedicated to Trump’s broader aims.
“His campaign was about millions of Americans across this country who have been left behind,” Parscale said, adding that Hicks understands that and “truly wants to see President Trump succeed.”
A former Ralph Lauren fashion model and public relations pro who worked for Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Hicks had no political background when she signed on for the celebrity businessman’s fledgling campaign in 2015. Soon, she became a one-woman communications shop for an unconventional candidate who attracted unprecedented media attention.
Hicks approved interview requests, often tapped out tweets that Trump dictated and remained at his side as he barnstormed the country.
She followed her parents, Paul and Caye Hicks, into the public relations business. After graduating in 2010 from Southern Methodist University with a degree in English, Hicks moved to New York and worked with Hiltzik Strategies, which has also worked for Hillary Clinton — as did her father. Paul Hicks used to do communications for the NFL, and is now managing director at a firm in Washington.
In 2014, the daughter joined the Trump Organization to help promote Ivanka’s merchandise. Trump shifted her to the campaign a year later.
Hicks attracted considerable media attention by herself, but largely eschewed face-to-face interactions with reporters. She preferred to limit her contacts with journalists to telephone and email.
“She’s always on the phone talking to reporters, trying to get the reporters to straighten out their dishonest stories,” Trump said as a postelection rally in Alabama in December.
Don’t look for Hicks to try to curb Trump’s tweeting, as others have suggested.
“You can own the news cycle with one tweet and I think that speaks to both the power of his presence and personality, but also his message, and his ability to captivate,” she said in a brief video for Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” series. Hicks is not on Twitter.
In Mobile, Alabama, during the transition, Trump cajoled her to say a few words to tens of thousands of supporters who turned out for the “Thank You” rally after the election.
“Where is Hope? Where is Hope? Hope, get up here, Hope. Hope, get up here,” Trump said, adding that she’s a “tremendously talented person.”
“She’s a little shy, but that’s OK because she is really, really talented,” Trump added, before beseeching her to “say a couple of words.”
Hicks said nine. “Hi. Merry Christmas everyone, and thank you, Donald Trump.”