Politics

Hope Hicks, the powerful adviser who floats above the controversies in Trump's White House

She is the spokeswoman who almost never speaks in public. Almost invisible on TV, her name appears in hundreds of news stories about Donald Trump. The stealthy 28-year-old has accompanied the president since the first day of his high-flying political career, but has managed to avoid the intrigues that have damaged the image of the rest of the team.

Only a select group close to President Donald Trump had the honor of meeting Pope Francis in a stately private audience last month at the Vatican.

Among those who covered their head with the mandatory black veil was Hope Hicks, who stood alongside First Lady Melania Trump and the presidents' eldest daughter, Ivanka.

Trump introduced the pontiff one by one to the members of the U.S. delegation, noting that Hicks, 28, had been working for him for a long time.

The influence of Hicks, whose title is director of strategic communications, is evident in photos that show her laughing alongside heavyweights in Trump's sphere, or talking in the ear of her boss.

However, although she mingles with some of Washington's biggest egos who all highlight the appeal and elegance of the young advisor, she does not seek protagonism and is rarely heard from publicly.

That stealth, in addition to her hard work and loyalty, are perhaps the keys to her being one of the few White House insiders whose image has not been tainted by the intrigues and chaos that have muddied her peers.

Those who know her point out that the president has complete confidence in her. Like other advisors close to Trump, Hicks does not spare words when it comes to flattering him, sometimes with such cloying statements that have been parodied and compared with the propaganda of autocratic regime spokespeople.

“President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him,” Hope Hicks told the Washington Post in a statement for an article about hurt feeligs in the White House.

"He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor ... and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible," she added.

Part of the reason why Hicks has come out unscathed from controversy in the White House is because she appears to have no agenda, which has kept her neutral in the apparent rivalry between the "globalists," led by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law (the husband of Hicks' friend Ivanka Trump), and the "nationalists," whose champion is Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist.

"The base of her influence is that President Trump trusts her and respects her," Christopher Ruddy, founder and editor-in-chief of the conservative news outlet, Newsmax, and a friend of the president, told Univision. "She discusses with the president personnel issues and can give feedback about information that he might not have paid attention to," he added.

"In a White House where everyone talks about who has power and who does not, she is one of the people with the most influence," commented Philip Rucker, the Washington Post's White House bureau chief.

From PR to politics

Hicks first appeared on Donald Trump's radar after she joined a PR firm in 2012 that did work for Ivanka Trump, and the two women hit it off. The real estate magnate hired her in October 2014 to make her the communications director for his corporation, the Trump Organization.

Apparently Hicks had little idea of the roller coaster political ride that was about to take off. For months, Donald Trump had been talking to family and friends about his intention to run as a candidate.

It was late next January when Trump summoned Hicks to a meeting in his office to give her the news, according to GQ magazine. There, Hicks met with Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and with Sam Nunberg, a Republican consultant from New York who had been working for the businessman for years.

They were joined on the phone by Corey Lewandowski, whom Trump had hired a few days before to be his campaign manager.

Trump told them, "We're going to Iowa." Hicks, who was raised in the refined city of Greenwich, Connecticut, later confessed, half jokingly, that she wondered just one thing: how do the people of Iowa dress?

Her boss asked if she knew anything about politics and she responded honestly, "Absolutely nothing." However, that did not disqualify her and he said: "Congratulations, you have entered the world of politics."

She had come to New York three years earlier to work for Hiltzik Strategies, the firm of public relations guru Matthew Hiltzik, who represented celebrities and powerful business people. Hitzik had worked for Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign in 2000.

It was Hicks' most important job since graduating in 2010 from Southern Methodist University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English Literature and played for the lacrosse team.

She did not excel in class, according to some of her former teachers. "She wasn't an outstanding student," said the head of the Department of English Literature, David Dickson-Carr, who taught a class on satire. The brighter pupils tended to intervene often and be good writers. "She did not have much to say," said his ex-teacher.

Hiltzik met her at the pre-Super Bowl party in Arlington, Texas, in February 2011, where she accompanied her father, Paul Hicks, who was at the time the NFL's vice president for communications. At that time Hicks had not yet decided whether she wanted to model, as she had done during her adolescence, or make a career in public relations, following in the footsteps of both her father and her maternal and paternal grandfathers.

The following year Hiltzik hired her and she started working in his office serving a portfolio of clients that included entertainment figures and large corporations, among them Ivanka.

According to Hiltzik, Hicks entered a team of about twenty employees and quickly stood out for her commitment and work ethic. "She understands it's about the client and not about you. Her focus is on service and that's the recipe for success in PR," he told Univision.

Muted

Hicks made her political debut on January 24, 2015 at the Iowa Freedom Summit, one of the earliest events in the electoral cycle where prospective Republican candidates flock to test the waters.

She was in charge of managing interviews and issuing releases to the media. At that stage, her boss's plan to enter the race was still a secret known to her and a few others. On one of the first occasions that her name appeared in the political press coverage it was in answer to a journalist from the McClatchy newspaper group, David Lightman, which hinted at the future motto of the Trump campaign:

"Mr. Trump participates in political events to advance his goal to make America great again," Hicks wrote to him in a story that appeared on Jan 28 which questioned Trump's seriousness as a presidential candidate.

In another response Hicks was quoted by Britain's The Daily Mail in early February in a story about the drug use history of ten potential candidates.

"'Mr. Trump has never used illegal substances ... He has also been a long advocate against drugs and alcohol abuse."

Soon, after Trump's thunderous launch as a candidate on June 16, Hicks would be part of a small clique with access to the most sought after man of the moment. Lewandowski liked to say that the campaign was nothing more than "five people and one plane" and that was because Trump wanted to keep expenses down.

Hicks had to take on a huge workload. Dozens of requests accumulated daily in her mail box.

She became a invaluable person for journalists seeking access to the president, though they did not overlook the peculiar behavior of a spokesperson who never wanted to appear on camera or be quoted.

On one of the most surreal occasions, Hicks refused to be interviewed by GQ journalist Olivia Nuzzi for a profile about her, but agreed to sit in on an interview with Trump where he talked about her with the reporter as she watched from a red velvet lounge chair.

True to form, Hicks declined to be interviewed for this story.

In addition to deciding who could talk to Trump, Hicks also opined about speeches and op-eds, as well as providing insights on strategy.

"She immediately was an asset, she immediately came up with great ideas, and she could also see that not only could she do communications but she really does strategic communications," her former colleague Sam Nunberg, told Univision.

"She's able to see five steps ahead," he added.

According to Nunberg, he and his work mates were surprised how quickly Hicks adapted to life on the campaign trail despite having no prior political experience.

In fact, Hicks was not a complete stranger to this world because her parents had worked in it, and in fact had met in 1981 during a speech by President Ronald Reagan to a joint session of Congress, according to The Hartford Courant.

Her mother, Caye Cavender, was a legislative assistant to a Tennessee Democrat and her father was the chief of staff of Republican congressman from Connecticut, Stewart McKinney.

Her father approached his future wife and asked if she had mistakenly sat in his seat. A year later they would marry. Paul Hicks then entered local government in Greenwich, the richest city in Connecticut, and was seen as a rising star in the Republican party, but decided to leave politics and take up public relations.

Today he is managing director of Glover Park Group, which is dedicated to sports communications and works for the NFL.

Survivor

Hicks is one of the few White House employees who have accompanied Trump from the start.

Others who have survived the continuing staff shake-ups are Don McGahn, a campaign attorney and now White House counselor; Dan Scavino, social media director for the campaign and now for the White House; and Trump's bodyguard Keith Schiller, who was appointed Director for Oval Office Operations.

Unlike other employees, she has not been peppered with scandal, except for one gossip item in May of last year in the New York Post, according to which she and then campaign chief Lewandowski had a verbal fight in the middle of the street.

"I am done with you" she shouted at him, her fists clenched, according to an anonymous witness.

Trump sued over the leak, accusing Nunberg, who had already left the campaign. In a complaint Trump demanded $10 million for violating a confidentiality agreement he signed when he left the campaign.

Nunberg denied in a court document being the anonymous source and added a new twist by denouncing that the campaign was trying to silence a love affair between Hicks and Lewandowski.

The case was settled amicably and no further details have emerged. Lewandowski was fired a month later, but Trump is now considering hiring him back to manage a communications crisis unleashed by campaign's contacts with Russia. Last Monday he was seen in a coffee shop near the White House.

In part, Hicks' avoidance of trouble may be due to her reluctance to appear on camera, unlike the embattled White House spokesman Sean Spicer, as well as adviser Kellyanne Conway and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Their credibility has been challenged by being caught in what seem like lies to defend the president.

The protection afforded by her low profile is also seen by some as a limitation for her own political rise.

One day after the victory in November, Trump invited her to approach the microphone, warning the audience that she is "a bit shy," adding that it is not a problem because she is "very, very talented."

In one of the few times she has been heard from, she laughed nervously and said: "Hi! Merry Christmas to everyone and thank you Donald Trump!"

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