Trump left increasingly isolated after Hope Hicks departure
And in recent days fresh rumours have swirled that other key figures may be on their way out
The resignation of Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s director of communications, leaves an angry, isolated US president at increased risk of lashing out as his once tight inner circle shrinks, according to White House watchers.
In recent days fresh rumours have swirled that other key figures may be on their way out.
Although the Trump administration has been marked by a high staff turnover, the departure of Ms Hicks is a particular loss, according to some of those who know the president best.
“Outside of Melania, there was no one closer to the president in the White House,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of Mr Trump.
“This will be a major blow, because she has been not only a trusted and loyal aide, but very competent and had brought the White House communications office to a new level.”
Mr Trump arrived in the White House with a close band of staff and relatives who had been with him through an election campaign they were never supposed to win.
Analysts say they played a vital role for the president, providing stability in the unfamiliar surroundings of the White House. Ms Hicks’ departure now leaves only a handful of the “Trump originals” – mostly relatives such as his wife, Melania, his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Ms Hicks, who had no political experience before being brought in from Ivanka Trump’s clothing and licensing business to run the Trump campaign communications office, was seen as a calming influence, able to read the president’s moods.
As a result, her departure could leave a more volatile Oval Office, said Robert Shapiro, professor of political science at Columbia University.
“In the context of his need to blow off steam he may be more at risk of going off the deep end and derailing,” he said. “He’s shown enough of that in the past and we may get more of that.”
Mr Trump's family and friends were one of the distinct factions established when the president set up his White House, dividing it between competing power centres. Vying for influence alongside them were the retired generals – such as John Kelly, now chief of staff, and National Security Adviser HR McMaster – and the bankers, including Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser who arrived from Goldman Sachs.
Former chief strategist Steve Bannon led a band of populists before his departure in August last year, while the Republican mainstream was represented by apparatchiks, such as Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer.
Ms Hicks’ exit follows the departure in September last year of Keith Schiller – who, along with Ms Hicks, was thought to be one of the aides closest to Mr Trump. The former cop had worked for the president since 1999 and became his director of security in 2004, a role that grew until he was seen as Mr Trump’s bagman.
In office he became director of Oval Office operations, essentially acting as the president’s gatekeeper and sounding board. When aides wanted to know Mr Trump’s mood and whether it was a good time to present a policy proposal, it was Mr Schiller whom they consulted.
Now, with Ms Hicks also gone, Mr Trump is left with a depleted inner circle of trusted long-term aides.
One of those who remains in the White House is Dan Scavino, director of social media. His rise was typical of the unorthodox way in which some of these political outsiders came into Mr Trump’s orbit and ultimately followed him to the White House.
He was a golf caddie for Mr Trump in 1990 before advancing to become general manager of Trump National Golf Club Westchester and then joining the election campaign when it began.
And then there are the family members such as Melania, Mr Kushner and Ivanka. But even they have come under increasing pressure.
It emerged last week that Mr Kushner had been stripped of his high-level security clearance as fresh concerns swirled about the way his web of business interests may create conflicts of interests.
And in January Melania decided not to accompany her husband to Davos for the World Economic Forum and also travelled alone to his first State of the Union address, sparking speculation she was punishing him for reports that he had an affair with a stripper.
The result, said Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College in New York, was a deeper sense of chaos. In recent days the president has flip flopped on gun control and signalled a trade war, while briefings against Mr Kelly and Mr Kushner have intensified.
“I think we do see a tightening of that circle around a president, who already by his own admission feels isolated – as most presidents do in the White House,” she said.
“This is a president who needs people around him that he trusts and can speak the truth to him.”
However, Mr Ruddy said the president had developed a good rapport with new figures in the White House and that it was a mistake to look only at staff on the payroll. Mr Trump still seeks counsel from friends outside Washington.
“I speak to them fairly often as a number of friends and associates do, and the president’s going to continue that contact because he wants to avoid being in the Beltway bubble,” he said.
Updated: March 4, 2018 11:23 AM