President Donald Trump lost one of his longest-serving advisers, communications director Hope Hicks, on Feb. 28. Hicks began her involvement with the Trump family six years ago, working under Ivanka Trump in her personal apparel and licensing brand. In 2015, Trump invited her to work in his political staff, which she accepted. Despite being in her late-twenties and having no experience in politics, her power as an adviser to the president continued to grow, becoming one of the few aides who was truly able to understand and contend with the president and his unusual leadership style.
Since the announcement of her departure from the White House, a number of staff members have commented on her work to unite the fractured press department as communications director. Additionally, Hicks had become known as a protector against many of the challenging aspects of working with Trump – making a strong effort to tone down his Twitter usage and generally shielding other staff members from his anger.
One of the greatest ironies of Hicks’ role as communications director was best noted by Saturday Night Live in their skit utilizing an impression of Hicks this past weekend. Colin Jost hosted the show’s “Weekend Update,” and spoke to Cecily Strong, acting as Hicks.
“I feel like I’ve never heard you speak,” Jost said to Strong. The New York Times mentioned this “communications” director as having “maintained one of the lowest public profiles of anyone to ever hold the job.” Hicks often refused to appear at the podium in the White House briefing room and declined to sit for interviews.
Her approach to the job has been critiqued by many, notably Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who saw her open access and heavy influence over Trump to be problematic to a “consistent approach to governing,” according to the New York Times. Her approach often left other staff members fearful of her, indicating that her departure may not be the worst thing for a more stable government.
Hicks’ exit was accompanied by the exit of Gary Cohn, a top economic adviser of Trump. Cohn has served the administration well for the past 14 months. His departure comes after his failure to derail the president’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs. While he has seen some success in his role, such as overseeing changes to the tax code and the altering of financial rules, he failed to keep the United States in the Paris climate accord and has made little headway into the president’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program.
“Had Cohn stayed, he would have been viewed as the counterbalance to temper future protectionist measures,” Mike O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading, said.
In a more immediate impact, Cohn’s announced exit has already damaged investor sentiment. Shaken investors have already led U.S. stock futures to fall. Investors also have seen the resignation as a sign that Trump will be moving forward with his proposed 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Many fear that this may be the gateway to a trade war, which would likely damage the economy.
With the outflux of many close aides to the President and his family, other staffers are worried that the president may struggle on his own. Hicks and Cohn’s departures coincide with the departures of Reed Cordish, Josh Raffel, and Dina Powell. The latter three are particularly known for their close ties to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. As so many staff members who are close to the Trump family leave the administration, many people in the administration and the media are concerned about the loss of an essential buffer to the family. Others have expressed worry that the loss of Cohn and Hicks, along with those who are close to the more economically and socially moderate part of the White House, may indicate that it is on the decline, while the populist wing appears to be on the rise.
In an already unique administration, stability is essential. However, the loss of so many trusted aides and the constant turnover of advisers certainly serves to dramatize this presidency. Trump’s claim that there is “no chaos” in the White House certainly runs counter to what we are witnessing. This lack of internal stability makes it come as no surprise that the administration cannot seem to promote stability externally as well.