What’s the toughest job in Washington, D.C.? Other than leading the free world, some would say speaker of the U.S. House who has to hold together an often fractious caucus to get legislation passed. Others would say the president's 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, running 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, a few of them household names. Although David Gergen, Pat Buchanan, George Stephanopoulos, Karen Hughes and a few others are well-known, Ken Clawson, Jack Koehler, Mari Maseng, Loretta Ucelli, and others toiled more obscurely.
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 beginning 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 had never 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 following the swift departure of Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted only 10 days in the post. A shorter tenure than any other person holding the job.
Hope Hicks came from a loving line of high-level public relations professionals. Both of her grandfathers were public relations guys at major PR firms. At one time, her father was the communications director for the National Football League (NFL). He still holds a senior position at one of Washington, D.C.’s premier public relations firms.
But Hope 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 adviser to the president helping to shape messages of the administration — including some of a very sensitive nature.
Being the communications director in the Trump administration is especially difficult. President Trump often fills the role himself. He establishes the message's delivery, while setting the tone — and creating themes. His tweets are legion. His impromptu remarks are legend.
On the campaign trail, Hicks reportedly took dictation from candidate Trump for the stream of tweets coming from him. More recently, many report that it was Hope Hicks working to control the flow of tweets.
Hicks tenure was not without a couple of wrinkles. She was purportedly the one who, along with the president, crafted the response to Donald J. Trump, Jr.’s secret meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign. She was also reportedly 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 told "white lies." That, of course spun through the media at warp speed. What she really meatn by that remains as a significant question. One definition was, "Remember when I greeted you by saying how nice it was to see you? That was a 'white lie.'"
Virtually all of the 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.
Ms. Hicks will quickly find other roles in which to star. She’s not yet 30 years old and her resume already looks like a veteran public relations maven. She's earned a reputation for being exceptionally well-organized, decisive, steadfast, and steady under fire.
Most importantly, she's loyal — a character trait far less common than it should be.
Charlie Gerow is a political analyst for Harrisburg, Pa.'s CBS affiliate, appearing weekly on its Sunday morning show, "Face the State," which is syndicated statewide. He serves as the first vice chair on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union. He is the CEO of Quantum Communications, a strategic communications and issue advocacy firm. For more of his reports — Go Here Now.
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