Mike Dubke's office in Alexandria, Va., has a deck overlooking the Potomac River — a perfect place for the veteran Republican communications strategist and his colleagues to soak up some sun and crack open a cold one.
“We always say, 'Gosh, it'd be so nice to go out on this deck on a nice day and have a beer,'" Brian Jones, Dubke's partner at the Black Rock Group, said Friday. “The reality is we've done it once or twice — ever. He's a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person.”
Dubke probably won't be relaxing on his deck anytime soon, and not just because it is mid-February. President Trump on Friday tapped Dubke to serve as White House communications director, a job that others reportedly turned down.
I asked Jones some questions about Dubke, who is familiar to many reporters and politicians in Washington but is not nearly as visible as some of his peers. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: For folks who are reading about Mike for the first time and wondering who this person is, who is about to take on a very important role in the Trump White House, what should they know about him?
JONES: Mike is a relentlessly positive person, kind of a happy warrior. He's also someone who is relentlessly well-organized. He understands how to disseminate information and really drive a message. I've seen him do it particularly well in my time working with him, and it seems like there's a need for that in the White House right now.
THE FIX: Does he like working behind the scenes? He's stepping into this job almost a month into the administration, and you have an incumbent, in Sean Spicer, who is the White House press secretary but who effectively has also been the communications director. If their interests are too similar, there could be some tension. But maybe they're complementary?
JONES: I do think it's a complementary role. Mike is not interested in being a public face. He's interested in rolling up his sleeves, trying to figure out how to make sure the messages that the White House wants to get out are getting out through the right channels. Knowing Sean for a long time and having worked with Mike for quite a long time, I think they will complement each other. They have different skill sets.
THE FIX: So, Spicer doesn't need to be looking over his shoulder.
JONES: No, no.
THE FIX: My observation is that there hasn't been a lot of message organization in the White House. One case study that's current would be how the White House has pushed back against reports that campaign aides communicated regularly with Russia. On one hand, you've had the president and his staff saying reporters are making up stories and sources. On the other hand, they've also been saying the sources are real and are leaking. Those two messages seem incompatible. Is that the type of thing where Mike could come in and say, “We've got to pick one or the other and sharpen this message”?
JONES: It's hard for me to speculate what Mike will be doing on a day-to-day basis. I do know he is someone who is not afraid to speak his mind. He is not afraid to state something that may not be popular in the room. He'll always give an honest assessment of what the best way to proceed is for the administration. I don't know how he would play one scenario versus another.
THE FIX: Whom in the White House does he already have a good rapport with? Is it [chief of staff Reince] Priebus? Does he already have a good relationship with the president?
JONES: He's got a relationship with Sean. I would say that's where his primary relationship lies.
THE FIX: How do you think Mike might handle serving a pretty hands-on president? We know that this is a president who, before he got into politics, very much liked being his own spokesman. In one short stretch last summer, his campaign went through three surrogate directors. Mike will be working for somebody who is probably paying close attention from the Oval Office and might voice his disagreement.
JONES: There's a lot of speculation in that question, although it's obviously informed by what you've seen. Mike is very comfortable in his own skin, and his skin is very thick. He's reached a stage in his life and his career where he's comfortable dispensing counsel, and if there winds up being a negative reaction to it, my guess is he's going to be okay with it. Obviously, he's never dealt with it at this level, with this individual.
THE FIX: Any personal notes about Mike?
JONES: He's from western New York, has a strong identity with the Buffalo area. He's still a Bills season ticket holder.
THE FIX: He's serving a president who loves to talk about what a winner Tom Brady is. Is he going to be ready for that?
JONES: I hadn't even thought about that. That could make for some interesting conversations.