The White House has begun its long-awaited game of musical chairs, and the man in nominal charge of communications finds himself without a chair first. Michael Dubke signed on in mid-February and has now departed, according to Axios’ Mike Allen. That’s only the first of the changes, and the music may end soon for more than one of Donald Trump’s current staff:
- Dubke served for just three months before tendering his resignation May 18. He offered to stay through the overseas trip, and Trump accepted. He has been trying to help restructure the press and communications operation, and is parting on good terms, a senior administration official said.
- Insiders say Dubke came in with few patrons, and never gelled with the originals. His departure is a reminder of how hard it is for newcomers to thrive in Trumpland.
- Dubke is still coming in to work, and his last day hasn’t been set. His job is likely to remain open for a bit.
NBC confirmed it almost at the same time, as did WaPo’s Robert Costa:
JUST IN: @NBCNews confirms Mike Dubke, President Trump's communications director, is leaving the White House
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 30, 2017
I've confirmed that WH comms dir Mike Dubke has submitted a letter of resignation. First reported by @mikeallen…
— Robert Costa (@costareports) May 30, 2017
Surprisingly, the man most mentioned as on the verge of departure will stick around after all … at least for now. Sean Spicer will deliver an on-camera press briefing this afternoon but not every day any longer, as more briefings will be off camera (but still on the record). That seems odd, given that the on-camera briefings actually drew a pretty good audience from people wondering what would come out of them next.
Instead of having Spicer serve as on-camera front man, Trump will take more questions from the press himself. That seems a little risky, especially given Trump’s propensity to complicate White House communications rather than make them work, as his shifting explanations of the firing of James Comey demonstrated. Allen’s source explained that Trump “says things exactly the way he wants them to be said,” but Trump hasn’t exactly been disciplined about his public statements. One has to wonder whether Dubke was pushed or whether he jumped after learning of this plan.
During his three month tenure, Dubke kept a very low profile. Allen reports that Trump may make another change to a much more public position, replacing Reince Priebus with GOP lobbyist David Urban as chief of staff. Urban has a personal connection with Trump and helped engineer the win in Pennsylvania, with “no personal agenda,” as Allen puts it. Priebus could find himself on the way to Greece as US ambassador, as the Washington Post reported over the weekend, despite a strong White House denial:
Underscoring the uncertainty of what lies ahead, some Trump associates said there have been conversations about dispatching Priebus to serve as ambassador to Greece — his mother is of Greek descent — as a face-saving way to remove him from the White House. A White House spokeswoman strongly denied that possibility Saturday.
Priebus might also be looking for a standing spot when the music stops, considering some of the other changes. Trump appears to be shifting back to his inner circle, with Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie coming in to run a political war room. The ambassadorial posting to Greece is significant, and not without its own headaches, especially given the somewhat skeptical view of the EU in this White House, but it might be a more straightforward job for Priebus.
Or perhaps the changes will be limited to Dubke. Replacing him as comms director could be as simple as moving Spicer back into that role; he’ll have more time to run the shop if he’s not doing daily briefings. The WaPo report from this weekend included mention of an idea of having a rotation of White House officials giving those briefings, which will alleviate Spicer’s workload even more, and have the effect of lowering his public profile to boot. Kellyanne Conway could take over the role too, but then why would Spicer stay on at all in that case? Right now, it seems hard to believe anyone else would actually want Dubke’s job in the current maelstrom of this White House.