The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hope Hicks flies quietly in the eye of the Trump storm

Hope Hicks celebrates the debut of the New York Observer’s Real Estate Section at Bookmarks Rooftop Lounge at The Library Hotel, NYC on July 23, 2014 Photo-RONALD RIQUEROS/
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The only young woman in Donald Trump’s inner political circle sits a few feet away from him on his private jet, head down, working on a laptop.

This is the eye of the storm, and this is Hope Hicks: Trump’s media handler, corporate aide and the figure responsible for executing the details of the most surprising and divisive political rise in recent memory.

Hicks, 26, remains a mostly invisible character on the campaign trail, but the New York public relations scion has become an important piece of the Trump apparatus.

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Friends and former colleagues described Hicks as a consummate professional: likable, loyal and resilient. The Post spoke with several of them for what is Hicks’s first real media profile, though only three agreed to be quoted. (Hicks herself declined to be interviewed on-the-record for this piece.)

On his plane, Trump flips through cable channels, reads news articles in hard copy, and makes offhanded comments. He’s throwing out his signature bombastic, sometimes offensive tweets. Hicks takes dictation and sends the words to aides somewhere in the Trump empire, who send them out to the world.

Next to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and other Trump advisers, Hicks cuts a striking figure. Friends joke about her resemblance to model Hilary Rhoda, once the face of Estee Lauder.

Trump would be lucky to have Hicks with him at the White House, they say. But could he really make it there?

As Trump spins in all directions, a truth has emerged for members of his team: while political operatives like Lewandowski might be risking their credibility on this adventure, the experience will likely cement Trump’s loyalty to corporate aides like Hicks, regardless of the outcome in 2016.

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Hicks’s formal connection to the Trumps began in 2012, when the Greenwich, Conn., native joined New York public relations powerhouse Hiltzik Strategies and began working on accounts related to Trump’s vast real estate, hospitality and fashion ventures.

Last August, she went in-house at the Trump Organization, where Trump eventually chose her for campaign work from the staff of his daughter, Ivanka. (Hicks is currently employed by both the Trump Organization and the political operation, a situation the campaign said was in line with Federal Election Committee rules and guidelines from Trump’s attorneys.)

The political world hardly took the thought of Trump’s campaign seriously at the beginning of the year. But by the time of Trump’s announcement, Hicks was devoting the bulk of her time to managing the flood of press requests for the unlikely candidate.

In some ways, Hicks is following in the footsteps of her former boss, Matthew Hiltzik. A Democratic PR operative known for his ties in both politics and the world of Hollywood celebrity, he has worked for both Hillary Clinton and film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“There has always been a very strong connection between politics and entertainment,” Hiltzik said. “Hope has a very good sensibility … She worked in situations that required the same attention to detail and sensitivities that a political campaign would, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for her to make that transition.”

Praised for her poise and stamina, Hicks is an unfamiliar figure in D.C.’s tight-knit world of political communications. But she is no stranger to the world of elite PR.

As executive vice president of communications at the NFL, her father, Paul B. Hicks III, is Roger Goodell’s right-hand man. Prior to that, he was regional CEO of the Americas for Ogilvy Public Relations. Her late grandfather, also Paul Hicks, was vice president and general manager of public relations for Texaco.

The family has important roots in D.C. Hope Hicks’s maternal grandfather, G.W.F. “Dutch” Cavender, was assistant administrator for the Department of Agriculture during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, while her maternal grandmother was a bureaucrat at the Department of Transportation.

In the event Trump is elected president, Hicks could return to the city where her parents’ marriage started. At the time of their wedding in 1982, Paul and Caye Cavender Hicks were congressional aides to former Reps. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) and Rep. Ed Jones (D-Tenn.), respectively.

Hope recently scrubbed her social media presence, a sign of her desire not to distract from Trump’s candidacy, friends said. But a handful of photos and interviews around the Web hint at her life outside Trump’s world: local charity events in Greenwich, family gatherings, and a talent for Lacrosse at her alma mater, Southern Methodist University.

“Her four years of leadership, as captain, provided the groundwork for our program,” e-mailed Liz Holmes, Hicks’s former Lacrosse coach. “She is highly intelligent and brought that to the field in every game … When needed, she carried the team and would score, but preferred to have assists. She was the ultimate team player and competitor.”

Hicks, who is described as a sweet-natured counterpoint to Trump, is not known for a particular political leaning. (Her father made a donation to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2007, but the family is otherwise publicly discreet with its political views.)

Former colleagues say the experience on the campaign will be good for Hicks, regardless of her boss’s antics and wild statements.

“What I look for as a hiring manager is the skill set,” said David Shane, executive vice president at Relativity, a Hollywood studio, who became friends with Hicks when they worked together at Hiltzik Strategies.

“When looking at Hope [as a job candidate], I’d be less interested in how intimately she was involved in crafting Trump’s persona and more interested in how she functions under pressure, works with reporters and carries herself with integrity — all of which she does very well.”

— Robert Costa and Alice Crites contributed reporting.