National Opinions

OPINION: The telltale heart of Cassidy Hutchinson

Cassidy Hutchinson’s parents had separated only recently when her father sent her a text saying he’d left her a present. He hadn’t handled the split well, the former White House aide writes in her new memoir, “Enough,” but there he was, telling her there was a surprise in the mailbox of the New Jersey home where she lived with her mom. Teenage Cassidy went out and retrieved “something weighty wrapped in aluminum foil.” She unwrapped the package at the kitchen sink and found two deer hearts, “still warm and dripping with blood.”

Was the gift a threat? A performance? Was it the only convoluted way that a man like him - a hunter untrusting of government and hospitals and appendix removals and “wimps,” in his daughter’s telling - knew how to express love? Hutchinson doesn’t plumb the event too deeply in the book, where the bloody heart gift is just one in a series of kooky behaviors from her complicated dad. But if you’re reading “Enough” not as a political potboiler but as a character study in what a nice girl is doing in a place like this, then boy, the deer heart is going to haunt you for days.

Hutchinson was in her early 20s when she went to work for Donald Trump’s White House. A scrappy striver, she’d already completed internships in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and she hoped that a tour in the West Wing, as an eventual assistant to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, would round out her professional introduction to American politics.

She was still in her 20s when, in 2022, her live testimony to the House Jan. 6 committee brought 13 million television viewers into the inner sanctum of “Trump World,” as she calls it, on the day of the U.S. Capitol riot. She wore a white blazer as she described overhearing the president demand that magnetometers be removed from rally grounds, because people who might have weapons were “not here to hurt me.”

In “Enough,” we learn the backstory of her cinematic whistleblower moment: How Hutchinson had already testified privately several times while under the watchful eye of a Trump World attorney who advised her to keep her answers vague and say “I don’t recall” a lot. How she’d come to realize she could only live with herself if she told the full truth, so she backchanneled with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), letting the select committee’s co-chair know that, if the panel summoned her once more, she’d spill it all. How the white blazer was newly purchased on discount. Hutchinson was by then unemployed and scraping the bottom of her checking account, so while her subpoenaed former bosses were “hiding behind executive privilege,” as Cheney put it, Hutchinson had done what thousands of 20-something women in Washington have done for years before a big interview and hit up the clearance rack at Zara.

By now you may have already read about the passages from “Enough” alleging that Rudy Giuliani crept his hand up Hutchinson’s skirt on the morning of the Stop the Steal rally (Giuliani political adviser Ted Goodman called the claim “a disgusting lie”). If you dig into the rest of the book, you’ll also read how she allegedly may have helped get the deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs fired by telling her boss the deputy was sexist. How she inadvertently became responsible for Trump refusing to wear a mask during the height of covid when she pointed out that his makeup left stains on the mask straps that made it clear he was, yeah, wearing makeup.

We’ve all heard plenty about how Trump’s White House was obsessed with leaks and loyalty, and that’s in here, too, with Hutchinson grilled by her superiors on a regular basis to see if she was disloyal or knew anyone else who might be. At one point she says Meadows asked her - again, a junior aide, not a trained member of the Secret Service detail - whether she would take a bullet for Trump.


Hutchinson wasn’t a natural fit for Trump’s White House. Her first political hero was moderate Mitt Romney. She did intern for ultraconservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), but mostly because his office was the first to offer her a job after she papered the entire Senate with résumés. During the 2017 Obamacare debates, she found herself admiring not Cruz but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who crossed party lines to vote his conscience and uphold the health-care plan as Trump and his allies were trying to tear it down.

But once she started working for Trump, it’s fascinating to watch how easily she acclimated, spamming congressmen with Trump’s latest talking points (“Please, for the love of Jesus and America, stop,” responded an exasperated Midwestern Republican), and freezing out Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) - whom, in Hutchinson’s telling, everyone seemed to hate to an almost comical level - and telling Meadows that, okay, she’d take that bullet, but could it be to the leg?

At this point in the memoir you’ll want to deliver her a stern “Girl, run,” but you know she’s in too deep. In fact, we learn later on, Hutchinson had plans to move to Florida and continue working for Trump even after the events of Jan. 6, nixing those plans only after she was informed the job might not materialize. “Enough” reads as deeply sincere, but a cynic might wonder how much of Hutchinson’s truth-telling at that famous hearing was due to a crisis of conscience and how much of it might have been a desire to safeguard her reputation now that she was no longer part of the host organism.

I cannot count the number of times, during the Trump administration, that I looked at the young women surrounding him - the Hope Hickses and Alyssa Farahs and Sarah Matthewses - and wondered what in God’s name they were doing there. John F. Kelly, Mark Meadows, you could understand. They must have decided they could either steady the ship or party on down with it - and if the latter happened, hey, they had their entire careers in the rearview mirror. But when you’re a 20-something woman, what about Trump’s mangy persona or misogynist tendencies made you decide to serve at the pleasure of this president?

“Enough” is most interesting when it serves as a case study to answer that question. Hutchinson didn’t come from money. She didn’t go to Harvard. She was wait-listed from her dream school, which wasn’t even an Ivy but a decent liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania. She ended up at Christopher Newport University, a fine institution in Virginia that you will be forgiven if you’ve barely heard of. She didn’t have a buffet of family-connection job offers awaiting her upon graduation. She got a little lucky with a college boyfriend whose family let her live with them rent-free in the D.C. area so she could work unpaid internships. But otherwise - this was a young American who got patriotic stars in her eyes the first time she visited Washington as a child, and who decided then that she’d do what it took to work there as soon as she graduated college. It was her bad luck that the White House administration coinciding with her job eligibility was an absolute toilet bowl.

“Enough” is a profile in courage, but it’s equally a profile in panic. A profile in realizing that the toilet is never going to flush you out into an open ocean of possibility; that you just work in a toilet now. You are 24 years old, caught in the middle of something far bigger than you, and it turns out all your mentors are snakes.

In the background of all of this is Hutchinson’s father. Her descriptions of him paint a picture of a needy, aggrieved man who delighted in mocking weakness and thrilled at considering himself a “warrior,” who demanded Hutchinson’s fealty while offering jeering and insults in return. If this sounds an awful lot like someone else in her life (and ours), it won’t surprise you at all to hear that “The Apprentice” was her dad’s favorite television show. Her father, Hutchinson writes, “fixated” on Trump and on the important business lessons he felt the man was sharing with the country.

A daddy metaphor feels a little on the nose here. But reading this book about Hutchinson’s bid at redemption makes you wonder about how ours might go, as we careen toward 2024 and the likelihood that most Republicans are sanguine with the idea of restoring Trump to the White House, despite what Hutchinson and others have told us about what it was like in there with him in charge. Legions of young graduates need to decide where to direct their résumés and their loyalty. The future may be advertised as a gift. But it feels like the country is standing at the kitchen sink, unwrapping a wad of aluminum foil, dreading whatever is inside.

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Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse is a columnist for The Washington Post's Style section and author of "American Fire."