This post was originally published Feb. 9, before Mike Dubke accepted the role of White House communications director. It has been updated, now that he has resigned.
Public relations pros didn't clamor to be White House communications director, and President Trump didn't really want any of them to do the job, either. The truth is, Trump would rather handle all messaging himself.
Mike Dubke, who accepted the role of White House communications director on Feb. 17, has resigned after just three months. He issued a gracious statement, saying that “it has been my great honor to serve President Trump and this administration,” but his was one of the worst jobs in Washington.
Politico reported in early February that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was struggling to fill what is, in theory, an extremely prestigious post; at least two people had turned down offers, at that point.
Anyone who witnessed Sean Spicer's first few weeks as White House press secretary may have been understandably reluctant to join the Trump media shop. But communications director is more of a behind-the-scenes role. It does not require the person who fills it to go through the gantlet of the daily news briefing, which means you will not be mocked on “Saturday Night Live” and may be subject to fewer withering critiques from the president.
The real problem is that it is hard to imagine any communications director feeling empowered to do what the gig typically entails: create a strategic messaging plan for the White House.
Axios reported that Dubke submitted his letter of resignation on May 18, the end of a nightmarish stretch leading up to Trump's foreign trip. Imagine being in Dubke's position as the White House projected total incoherence after the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. The clear, initial message was that the president acted on the recommendation of his deputy attorney general. Then Trump blew the message to smithereens when he told NBC News that he “was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
Trump does his own thing. This is the man who, before entering politics, was so determined to control his own messaging that he sometimes used a fake name, John Barron or John Miller, to pose as a spokesman in telephone interviews with journalists.
As a politician, Trump has appeared similarly unwilling to delegate. Recall that then-candidate Trump went through three surrogate communications directors in a seven-week span last summer.
On a conference call with supporters in June, Trump insulted and overruled aide Erica Freeman, who had sent an email to surrogates instructing them to stop talking about Trump's attack on a federal judge presiding over a case involving Trump University.
“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said, according to a Bloomberg News report at the time. “Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Trump continued. “That's one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren't so smart.”
A couple of weeks later, the Trump campaign hired Kevin Kellems, who was Vice President Richard B. Cheney's communications director, to oversee surrogates. Although he was not publicly embarrassed the way Freeman was, Kellems quickly determined that the gig was not for him. He quit after 10 days.
Bryan Lanza took over for the remainder of the campaign and served as a deputy communications director during Trump's transition into the White House, but he did not assume the top job after Jason Miller, the original pick, resigned before Inauguration Day.
At best, a communications director in Trump's White House has to put up with micromanaging from the Oval Office. At worst, the person could be undermined and humiliated whenever the president decides to tear up the script.