Hope Hicks, West Wing Alum, Begins Her Second Act on the West Coast

Hope Hicks, West Wing Alum, Begins Her Second Act on the West Coast

In early October, shortly after the newly spun-off Fox media company
announced her appointment as chief communications officer, Hope Hicks
flew to Los Angeles and set up shop at the Century City InterContinental
to meet with her new counterparts, the Hollywood trade press. During her
years flacking for Donald Trump, Hicks had developed a reputation among
political reporters as a fair broker of sorts. Her stoic disposition may
have belied an assassin-level fealty to her boss, but she was
nevertheless polite and competent in a milieu otherwise defined by chaos
and turbulence. Perhaps more importantly, she had juice.

Over the years, Hicks had become an ever present Trump appendage, a
surrogate daughter, de facto whisperer and translator. She was a
Zelig-like character in the White House telenovela—a witness in the
Mueller probe, a young woman who admitted to Congress that she had told
“white lies” on behalf of her boss. She was allegedly party to a
campaign relationship, a West Wing fling, Cabinet tribalism, and
remained, indisputably, one of the most influential voices in the
president’s ear. She touched everything but had fingerprints on nothing.
Everyone and no one knew her. E-mails and phone calls typically began
with “Off the record.” She was the elusive person familiar with the
situation. And she was familiar with just about every situation.

More than anything, though, Hicks was an enigma. Not yet 30 years old,
was she a neophyte or a calculating and ambitious striver who advanced
her way up the greasy pole by blithely defending Trump’s
behavior—someone who had willingly stood by him during the Billy Bush
tape, the Muslim ban, and “Lock her up”? Was she attracted to power,
or simply quite skilled at managing the most powerful person in the
room—at interpreting his whims for everyone else bewildered by the
behavior? Was she in that role because, given her obvious beauty, she
appeared perfectly “cast” for it, in her boss’s parlance? (According
to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Trump referred to Hicks as “the best
piece of tail” that his former aide Corey Lewandowski, the partner in
that alleged campaign tryst with Hicks, would “ever have.”) Or was it
all sexist bullshit, and was she merely the only competent one in this
viper’s den of a West Wing?

Everyone had a take, it seemed, but no one knew. Hicks, after all, was
virtually unknowable. Keeping her boss’s hours, she woke up at four
o’clock in the morning to answer e-mail and exercise. She could run only
inside, on a treadmill, because she needed to have her two phones in
front of her. (Most of her workouts, according to a person familiar with
the routine, consisted of running as fast as she could for three minutes
at a time before the next call came in.) She arrived at the White House
at 7:30 for a meeting with whoever was chief of staff, and then spent
virtually the entire day within earshot of the president. She declined
to participate in interviews and turned down offers to pose for
legendary photographers.

Among Hollywood reporters, few knew what to expect when Hicks arrived in
Los Angeles. Many, naturally, had opinions. “All bets were already
against her, because there was an innate disrespect and dislike for the
work she did for Trump,” one Hollywood media executive told me,
referring to Hicks’s reported role in crafting the president’s infamous
responses to Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in 2016
and his foreknowledge of the Stormy Daniels payoff, among other things.
“She’s the person who lied for him and worked for him, and seemed to
have no problem with it, and could sleep at night.”

But given that newsrooms are really just like high-school cafeterias,
many had tapped colleagues in Washington and New York for useful gossip.
A handful of reporters who met Hicks for coffee told me that they were
instructed to anticipate someone kind and hardworking. In these
conversations, Hicks was clear that the job marked a new start for her.
She also told the reporters that they should not assume anything about
her beliefs based on comments espoused by her previous “principal”—a
reference to Trump.

After these conversations, according to numerous people who met with
her, Hicks seemed saccharine yet somehow sincere. She was also unlike
any publicist they had ever seen. In Hollywood, beauty is defined by the
sort of effortless, invisible cool made possible only by a great deal of
effort and a whole lot of money. Hicks, a former Ralph Lauren model and
a student of the Trump aesthetic, often arrived in black sunglasses,
blown-out chestnut hair, and a full face of makeup. “It was four P.M.
when I met her, and it was like an alien landed in the middle of Los
Angeles,” one reporter told me. “That’s not the L.A. vibe. That
doesn’t play out here.”

Hope Hicks getting off a plane

Within the Trump White House, Hicks became accustomed to holding her own among often older, male colleagues.

Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.

A few weeks into her job, Hicks found herself in a little hot water.
Several reporters had gotten a tip that longtime Fox executive Gary
Newman was being relieved of his duties after tense contract
negotiations. Newman had wanted a shorter-term deal that would extend
only through the Murdoch family’s sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney—a
$70-billion-plus mega-merger whose remaining unsold assets, such as Fox
News and Fox Sports, would constitute the new Fox entity for which Hicks
worked. But Fox wanted Newman to sign on to a longer deal. Several
reporters asked Hicks about Newman, and she insisted that the rumors
were untrue and she would let them know if something were to change.
Things moved faster than she anticipated, though, and on October 19, Fox
distributed a press release saying that Newman was out and Charlie
Collier, an AMC executive, would become head of entertainment for Fox’s
broadcasting division.

In Washington, Hicks may have been able to pull out an excuse for
reporters—the situation was fluid, her principal had changed his mind,
et cetera. But in the world of entertainment reporting—where
journalists churn less frequently, develop their own soft power, and
work on a timeworn barter system—some felt as if Hicks may have
committed a legitimate foul. “The journalist-publicist relationship in
this town is all about the trust in the exchange of information,” the
reporter explained. “I’ll sit on a story about A-B-C in the short term
in exchange for X-Y-Z down the line. It’s all about the long-term gain,
and I don’t think that she got that.”

Other reporters moved on. It was a fairly minor issue, they told me,
that was probably blown out of proportion because most people didn’t
want to like her. But the media executive made clear: “You do not lie.
Not here. You will be run out of town.”

In some ways, Hicks has always been better suited for Hollywood than for
Washington. Raised comfortably in Greenwich, Connecticut, her parents
met while working as aides on Capitol Hill. Her father eventually went
on to flack for a tobacco company and, later, for the National Football
League. (Her grandfather handled the P.R. for Texaco during the 1970s
oil crisis.) In sixth grade, at a neighbor’s suggestion, Hicks and her
sister, Mary Grace, auditioned for a Ralph Lauren campaign and were
booked. She posed for Bruce Weber in a campaign for Naturalizer shoes
and appeared in an episode of Guiding Light and a Nickelodeon program
about golf. She auditioned for a part in a movie alongside Alec Baldwin.
At 13, she posed for a cover story in Greenwich Magazine, explaining
that “if the acting thing doesn’t work out, I could really see myself
in politics.”

Around that time, she filmed an audition tape for a kid’s edition of the
hit show Weakest Link. (On the tape, she performed an improvised rap,
and offered her best James Bond imitation.) The tape impressed
executives enough that the studio flew her and her mother out to L.A.
for a final audition. They spent the days leading up to the meeting
being very “L.A.”—visiting the store Julia Roberts got kicked out of
in Pretty Woman, and shopping on Rodeo. Once she arrived at the
audition, however, reality set in. She did some quick math: there were
eight podiums on set and 10 kids in the room. “You still have to
audition,” her mom told her, explaining that not everyone at the studio
would get selected for the show.

Hicks, now known for her sangfroid, panicked; she blew the performance.
It became somewhat of a running Hicks-household joke for years. Before
every job interview or tryouts for sports teams or auditions, her mom
would playfully remind her to not “Weakest Link” when it came time.
Hicks never wanted to feel that way again; it gave her a Trump-like
drive to win whenever she was reminded of it.

At Greenwich High School, she lettered in swimming and, like her father
and sister before her, went on to become captain of the lacrosse team,
which she led to a state championship. To celebrate her graduation, her
family took out a full page in her yearbook with family photos and
modeling shots of her and Mary Grace collaged together and the lyrics to
the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic” typed in little black
letters. “Hope Charlotte Hicks,” it reads at the top. “To the girl
with magic in her heart.”

“She got about as elegant of an exit as anyone could possibly get,”
says one Hicks confidant.

Hicks majored in English literature and started the lacrosse team at
Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, but stumbled into a circuitous
path that would lead her to the White House when she joined her father
at a tailgate event for Super Bowl XLV, in February 2011, in nearby
Arlington. There she met Matthew Hiltzik, a New York public-relations
executive who had worked with Hillary Clinton and Harvey Weinstein,
among others, and whose firm represented Alec Baldwin at the time.
Hiltzik Strategies also represented the Trumps and managed Ivanka’s
burgeoning clothing brand. Hiltzik would eventually hire Hicks, who was
subsequently enlisted to work on the Ivanka account. The two quickly
developed a rapport, and Hicks was hired at the Trump Organization to
handle public relations.

When Donald Trump announced that he was running for president, Hicks was
26 and commuting into Manhattan from an apartment she rented with her
sister in Greenwich. During the campaign, she spent almost a year and a
half living between Trump Force One, as the candidate referred to his
private jet, and a Trump-owned condominium. From the time she woke up,
at about four o’clock in the morning, until the time she went to bed,
which could be after midnight, her phone vibrated with incoming calls
and e-mails from reporters, and she answered almost all of
them—because she was the communications staff. After the election, her
ascent to the Trump administration was a certainty. “She’s one of the
people who was most candid and most honest with the president, whose
advice he valued tremendously,” Ivanka Trump told me. “It’s because
she doesn’t opine on issues she hasn’t studied. Any of the roles she’s
stepped into over the last decade, people would try to argue that she
didn’t have qualifications for this or that. But she did so anyway
because she knew her level of intelligence, confidence, work ethic, and
conviction and ability to jump in. You could literally assign her
anything and she would be successful.”

Sure, it was unusual that Hicks had no political experience, but neither
did the president and many of his top aides, including his daughter and
son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Reporters seemed to like her and, eventually,
grew to respect her. They also knew that she was umbilically connected
to her principal. Not only did she sit right outside the president’s
office, but she was also in touch with him constantly during the few
hours they were apart. Often, she would be on the phone with Trump as
she hurried through the White House security checkpoint early in the
morning. According to someone familiar with the situation, Hicks would
ask the Secret Service agents if she could go through the metal
detectors with her cell phone. They didn’t much care who was on the
line; she would need to follow protocol. “Hang on,” she would tell the
president, according to this person. “I’m putting you through the
conveyor belt.” Then she’d pick right back up talking as she entered
the building, where she would see him a few minutes later.

Over time, however, the schedule and scrutiny, the mix of heightened
professional responsibility and lack of control over her personal life,
started to weigh heavily on Hicks. Close as she and Trump had become, he
could blow up her day with a pre-dawn tweet. Hicks also faces the
prospect of legal bills stemming from the various federal investigations
into the campaign. Her entire life played out within a short radius
around the White House. Hicks considered leaving, and she labored over
the rollout of her departure. For a time, Ivanka and Kushner persuaded
her to stick it out. According to people familiar with her thinking, she
also didn’t want to create the impression that one particular news event
had hastened her exit. But her departure was unfurled soon after the
paparazzi discovered that she was dating White House staff secretary Rob
Porter.

In late January 2018, Hicks and Porter joined other members of the White
House communications team, including Hogan Gidley and Josh Raffel, who
had become Hicks’s closest friend stemming from their time together at
Hiltzik, at Gidley’s apartment. After a subsequent group dinner at Rosa
Mexicano, a photographer with a long lens caught Hicks and Porter
kissing in the backseat of a taxi on their way home together. EXCLUSIVE:
WHITE HOUSE ROMANCE! read the Daily Mail headline on the first day of
February. The plot quickly grew darker after the tabloid published
interviews with Porter’s two ex-wives, who claimed that he had
physically and verbally abused them. (At the time, Porter called many of
the allegations “slanderous and simply false.”)

“It’s grating on anyone when you come with a group to my apartment and
there are pictures of you downstairs when you get in a cab, and there
are pictures of you when you are in that cab. It’s so much more creepy
and invasive when the paparazzi is strategically hidden with a telephoto
zoom lens taking photos from afar—and that’s what they did to Hope
every single day,” Gidley said. “She chose to make her role a
behind-the-scenes one and not be an out-front spokesperson …
because she wanted a level of anonymity. At a human level, she just
wanted to work hard and live her life without some picture being taken
on every street corner.” By the end of that month, The New York Times
broke the news that Hicks was leaving.

Hicks cried when she told the communications team of her decision.
Gidley, himself emotional, teared up. “I’m ashamed to admit I was
selfishly upset and upset for the administration, because she was so
incredibly good at her job,” Gidley said, recalling Hicks laughing
through tears when he told her he didn’t like change. “I should’ve been
consoling her, but she came over and hugged me.” Trump did not erupt
when she told him the news; he had expected she would move on someday.
He gave her an uncharacteristically kind public send-off. “I consider
it a skill to leave that White House with an elegant exit,” one person
who has advised Hicks professionally told me. “And she got about as
elegant of an exit that anyone could possibly get.” On her last day,
she handed out notes to each staffer in her loopy, girlish penmanship.

After her departure, Hicks decamped to Greenwich to recuperate with her
family. For a while, things had been tense in the Hicks house as her
parents worried about her punishing hours, physical safety, and mounting
negative publicity. Initially, it wasn’t easy to transition from the
fast-twitch, Trump-staffer lifestyle. “You’re used to your phone
ringing every 10 seconds,” a former White House colleague told me,
explaining the phenomenon, “and you start to take your phone out of
your pocket to check your e-mail, and you say to yourself, Oh, I didn’t
get an e-mail. And then you check 10 seconds later and, again, you say,
Oh, I didn’t get an e-mail.” She made time for old friends, ran outside
without fear of having both phones in front of her, took some weekend
trips out of town.

Hicks didn’t totally disengage. She monitored the news and kept in touch
with Trump, Ivanka, and the White House communications team about
stories and messaging. She accompanied staffers on a trip aboard Air
Force One to central Ohio, prompting rumors that she might re-enter the
White House. She was even floated as an outside contender for the
chief-of-staff position amid the enduring John Kelly drama.

Speculation was fueled, in part, because the private sector had not been
kind to Trump alums. Reince Priebus had returned to his former law firm;
Sean Spicer had barely caught on as a Fox News commentator. Rex
Tillerson and Gary Cohn had yet to chart their new courses. Raffel would
land on his feet at the controversial e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, and
Dina Powell settled back into a larger role at Goldman Sachs than the
one she left before she joined the administration. Hicks solicited
advice from Ivanka and Kushner, Powell, Cohn, and Hiltzik, who all
encouraged her to take meetings. And she did—sometimes one at
breakfast, another at lunch, and then for post-work drinks or for
dinner. There were opportunities flacking for private-equity firms and
representing wealthy finance guys. She constantly fielded the suggestion
that she go on television. She was attractive and articulate and no one
knew the administration better, the suggestions went. But Hicks is
conflict-averse by nature, and the idea of slugging it out on cable news
did not appeal to her. Sure, she had opinions and a story to tell, but
now did not feel like the right time to use her voice. She considered
memorializing her thoughts on paper, perhaps for a book. Nothing has
been formalized yet.

One adviser told me that Hicks had initial trepidation about whether she
had been tarnished by the Trump brand. But Hicks also realized that her
ability to work with Trump made her valuable to a narrow, but lucrative,
market. “She was very deliberate in figuring out what would be right,”
Ivanka told me.

Months after her departure, she had lunch with a high-profile host of a
popular Fox News program who had become a friend. He, like many others,
suggested that she take a job in TV. When she demurred, he told her she
should meet some people at the network anyway. They walked over to the
Fox headquarters on Sixth Avenue, where she met with a few people, who
followed up a couple of weeks later saying that, it so happened, Lachlan
Murdoch was looking for someone to run communications for New Fox, the
company he was starting once the assets were spun off in the Disney
sale. The two had lunch at the Sixth Avenue headquarters.

A person familiar with the hiring process told me that they called White
House reporters, inquiring about what she was like to work with and
whether she was strategic. “With me, she had to overcome her
relationship with Trump, which was a straight down, not an up,” this
person explained. “I wondered if everyone who worked for him was out of
their minds, but all of the reporters I called, from papers that were
pretty tough on the administration, all said she was smart, responsive,
and had integrity.”

Around the same time, Trump had a scheduled chat with Rupert Murdoch,
and he mentioned that Hicks was interviewing for the job and, of course,
recommended her. Hicks flew to L.A. for a final round of meetings and
interviews. As she had for the audition nearly two decades earlier, her
mom tagged along for fun, and joked with her not to “Weakest Link” it.
By the end of the trip, New Fox offered her the job of communications
director. She thought about it for a few days before she accepted.

In some ways, New Fox was an easy, familiar choice. It was run by a
wealthy, occasionally dysfunctional family and traded in a familiar form
of loudmouth conservatism. “It’s a little bit of Trump-lite,” one
person close to her told me. “You can still be a little drunk on the
Kool-Aid.”

It also seemed oddly manageable given her experience. Hicks’s chief
talent is being someone’s barely visible hand. Lachlan Murdoch, who
would be her new principal, is not Donald Trump, and New Fox is not the
Trump Organization or the White House.

But, in another regard, it was going to be a challenge. In the White
House, technically she answered to the American public, but her job in
the West Wing was always about serving her audience of one. Running
communications for a public company, where you answer to shareholders
and are constantly held accountable by the Securities and Exchange
Commission and no-fucks-to-give veteran reporters, is a
truth-elasticity-free zone. White lies are possibly fireable offenses.

But the job offered one undeniable advantage. It was in a place where
long-lens photographers would stake out other, far more famous young
women, outside the psychic mindlock of the Acela corridor. Hicks was
hesitant to move so far from her family. But her relationship with
Porter had ended months before; she had no long-term lease on an
apartment. She decided to follow her new principal. “I don’t think she
was looking one way or another to move or not to move,” one longtime
close friend explained. “But it was an opportunity. It was a fresh
start.” She joked with friends that her parents wanted her to have a
healthy relationship, so she decided to move to L.A.

The sun still had not fully broken through the late-fall darkness when a
twentysomething woman in a neon sports bra and black Lululemons cranked
up an old Chris Brown remix and pulled down a set of multi-colored
resistance bands suspended from the ceiling. The boutique fitness
studio, heated to well over 90 degrees, was filled with a half-dozen
young women who were there to bounce about the springy, wide-paneled
wood floor, pull down those bands with their lithe, twiggy arms, and
lift their ankles strapped with 1.5-pound weights about a million times
in a row while the remixes blasted. On any given morning, Gwyneth
Paltrow or Jennifer Lopez or Tracee Ellis Ross could have been there.

That morning, though, there were no celebrity celebrities. There was one
woman in the back row, though, in a navy moisture-wicking turtleneck and
a headband, as if she were dressed for a brisk winter run at Deerfield.
To be fair, it is unlikely that anyone would have expected to see Hicks
in a dance cardio class fit for Hollywood starlets at six o’clock in the
morning. That is the beauty of Hollywood for Hicks. No one
batted an eye when she went to dinner at Spago at the end of the year,
because Oprah was at a table behind her. (Her mom pleaded with her to go
up to the mega-star. “Go tell her you’ll run her 2020 campaign!” she
teased. Hicks did not, but she did take a not-so-great photo of her on
her cell phone.) No one paid attention to her when she attended a Drake
concert, or spent an afternoon at Universal Studios. When she walked
into the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel for coffee one November
morning—reveling in the plaids of her Greenwich youth—no one in the
place looked her way. Hicks didn’t check her phone during the entirety
of the class, which ended near midday on the East Coast. There was no
fear of a missed call or tweet, a new fresh hell.

Hicks still wakes up at four A.M., though more out of habit than
necessity. She has not once turned on the television in her apartment,
according to someone familiar with her new routine, and opted against
installing one in her office. She reads the paper in print leisurely in
the morning, and listens to audiobooks at home and on her commute to
work. Once she gets to the office, around nine A.M., she, like her
former boss, will make notes on paper copies of stories and send them,
snail mail, to her family, or to people in the administration who might
get ideas about speeches or policy positions. She tells her assistant to
keep the first hour of her day free, her own executive time.

Most days, she is home by six P.M., and is content to keep to herself,
at least for now. She never mingled much with the Washington set or
reporters in a social way when she was on the campaign or in the White
House, and so far her life in Los Angeles seems to be much the same.
“She’s focused on setting up a good life, and she is all-in on work,”
one longtime friend told me. “Hope is not someone who needs a lot of
acquaintances and 10 girlfriends. She values quality over quantity, and
she invests in people who she is really close with.” She still texts
with Ivanka and Gidley and sees Raffel when he visits Los Angeles. The
president still calls her, too.

There are many questions about what will happen to New Fox, which is
competing in a universe against far larger media behemoths as consumers
continue to cut the cord and pivot to streaming services. Fox News still
throws off more than a billion in profit, but its audience is well
beyond retirement age, and the company’s other core properties (its
sports networks and Fox Business) may not provide a bulletproof hedge
against the digital future. Media observers wonder whether Rupert
Murdoch, who has traditionally led with his gut, has erred in entrusting
so much responsibility to a 30-year-old with no experience at a public
company and major Trump baggage—not to mention whatever potential
legal entanglements she might face down the line. Meanwhile, Hicks has
done little to offer clues to political junkies. Was she a
co-conspirator in Trumpworld, or someone just along for the ride? A
cunning political operator, or an indifferent player with highly attuned
Greenwich-style social skills? Younger than the vast majority of her
former colleagues, will she forever be remembered for something she did
in her 20s? The Murdochs, for their part, have told people they’re
impressed with her work so far, according to those who have spoken with
them about Hicks.

Perhaps the greatest indication that Hicks is, in fact, highly skilled
at this kind of work is the way in which she has managed her own P.R. In
a campaign and White House where nearly every person became the story at
some point, Hicks was able to largely stay out of sight. She’d be lucky
to maintain this quality in her new life, as she starts the rest of it
fresh. Indeed, where better to test that out than in L.A.—a city based
on re-invention? “This is where people come to re-write themselves,”
the Hollywood executive told me. “If, at the end of the year, if she
lasts that long, and she’s at a party, I can’t see people not
gravitating towards her. She has a big job. People don’t stay in
Hollywood jail forever, not if you’re that pretty.”

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