President Donald Trump’s former communications director, Hope Hicks, comes off pretty well when compared to the cabal of con men, cretins, tricksters and ne’er-do-wells that otherwise orbit the president. So it’s tempting for Trump’s critics to express a degree of sympathy for the former fashion model and native of Greenwich, Conn., whose reputation is for inner strength and quiet perseverance.
That sympathy is deepened by her appearing to have been victimized— by a child-like president who can’t function without her and by the president’s former body man, Rob Porter. Porter left the White House after his ex-wife accused him of domestic violence. Before leaving, his affair with Hicks was revealed. The impression was of a woman whose loyalty and courageous spirit had been nearly broken and who, after leaving the White House last month, will be in the search for a safe place to heal.
Don’t buy it.
To have sympathy for Hicks, or anyone who works in any White House for any president, is to treat her like a normal person. She is not normal and won’t ever be. This is not to say she’s inhuman. To the contrary, she’s all too human. Those who seek power or those, like Hope Hicks, who seek to be in power’s orbit, have made fateful and irreversible decisions that normal people do not make. If you’re going to feel sympathy for the powerful, qualify it. People who seek to be near power benefit from appearing normal. It helps them avoid accountability when justice calls.
It also helps them ease back into normal polite society. I expect Hicks will do something similar to what we are seeing from Trey Gowdy, the former chair of the House Oversight Committee. You’ll remember the South Carolina congressman for his $5 haircuts and for spending millions investigating Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks, and found nothing.
He won’t seek reelection in November, but before returning to the Palmetto State, he’s doing his best to rehab a reputation indelibly stained by partisanship. He’s standing out as one of the lone Republicans to risk asking Trump, as he continues to face Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry, to act as if he were an innocent man.
Hicks won’t have as difficult a time rehabbing her reputation, but the Trump stain will be nonetheless hard to rub out, even at home among Greenwich Republicans. The Republican Party’s tax overhaul is costing affluent professionals in Fairfield County tens of thousands of dollars (the law eliminates deductions for state and local taxes). Trump’s law is driving them into the welcoming waiting arms of Democrats.
More vexing for Hicks will be the stink of apparent criminality. There’s no getting around it. That was on the mind of a former classmate who talked to a local reporter after Hicks announced her resignation. “Back in October and November when she was mentioned as a person of interest, I was freaking out. I don’t think she’s stupid enough to end up in prison. I think she jetted out of there right in time.”
But the stink lingers and remains strong enough that another classmate, this one an attorney in Connecticut, told the Greenwich Time that as an attorney she “would probably advise [Hicks] to do a name change, you know, because people get name changes if their last name is ‘Madoff’ even if they have no relation, just because it’s a nice way to disassociate yourself from that kind of background.”
Changing her name probably won’t help, however, as Hicks is now a key witness in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties to the Russian government. Because she was his closest and most trusted adviser, she’s likely to remain central for as long as the investigation unfolds. Over time, she and other former associates may be as famous, or infamous, as the cast of the Watergate scandal. Indeed, more so.
John Stoehr is a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, an associate fellow at Yale’s Ezra Stiles College, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly and a columnist for the New Haven Register.