Shifting White House Press Strategy May Lift Conservative Media

Battered by bruising leaks and a poor response to the resulting stories, President Donald Trump returned from Europe to Washington, D.C., over the holiday weekend, bringing the winds of change with him.

The first was the resignation of Mike Dubke, the White House communications director.

A White House official confirmed to LifeZette that Dubke tendered a resignation, shortly after a string of controversies that rocked the West Wing, before the president’s trip abroad but agreed to stay on until Trump returned.

The New York Times and others obtained the email Dubke sent to fellow staffers. It read: “The reasons for my departure are personal, but it has been my great honor to serve President Trump and this administration. It has also been my distinct pleasure to work side-by-side, day-by-day with the staff of the communications and press departments.”

Dubke was never fully embraced by some pro-Trump conservatives, who suspected the Virginia operative of being too moderate, and too close to Old Guard figures in the GOP establishment. Dubke was a co-founder of Crossroads Media, an organization tied to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS SuperPAC.

A top White House adviser told LifeZette that he was not sure who would replace Dubke. But two old hands from the campaign have been spotted at the White House a few times in May.

One is Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s original campaign manager, who helped Trump muscle through the grueling debate-and-primary election calendar in late 2015 and early 2016.

Also seen has been David Bossie, the president of Citizens United and Trump’s former deputy campaign manager in the general election.

Both men are known for their bare-knuckle approach to politics, and both have a history of working with conservative media to push narratives avoided by the liberal, anti-Trump mainstream media. And according to reports, Trump supporters are eager to get more aggressive defending the president and advancing his agenda, after months of stalled efforts and negative press.

Dubke’s resignation comes after weeks and weeks of pounding press reports. Trump may have felt that the response to the negative reports — on everything from Russian hacking to the firing of FBI Director James Comey — did not properly defend his presidency.

A portion of the problems may have been caused by Trump, who is far from conventional and has a tendency to push messages without first filtering them through his press shop. A top White House source told LifeZette that Trump did not give his communications staff much notice before he fired James Comey, the former FBI director, on May 9.

The news kicked off days of garbled response from the Trump White House, including an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, who seemed to get Trump to admit that the FBI investigation into Russian hacking was a factor in his Comey firing. Already exhausted, White House officials were then hit with a double whammy on May 15 and May 16. The first, respectively, was that Trump shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials on May 10. The second was that Comey kept detailed memos on meetings with Trump, including one that reportedly alleges that Trump told Comey he hoped the FBI would drop an investigation in Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

Dubke offered his resignation two days later, delaying his departure until Trump returned from a major trip to Europe and the Middle East. The changes are not likely to stop there.

While Sean Spicer, press secretary, is expected to stay, according to multiple reports, it is unclear if daily afternoon briefings for the media will continue. White House officials are weighing a mix of on-the-record and background briefings with the press and keeping many of them off camera. That strategy would help ensure that video clips of Spicer defending the president on tough issues and hostile stories don’t overwhelm the news coverage that day.

The White House may also give Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary, more time at the podium, both on and off camera.

Meanwhile, the president himself would take a more active role in messaging the key priorities of his administration.

Axios reported on Monday morning Trump may be considering speaking more regularly with reporters, especially during travel on Air Force One. The president is also reportedly considering holding more rallies to connect with Americans outside of Washington and is weighing participating in more press conferences.

The changes made to the White House communications strategy also may include a shift away from playing nice with often hostile mainstream media outlets.

The New York Times reported that Trump would “seize more opportunities to communicate directly with his core supporters through campaign rallies, social media appearances such as Facebook Live videos, and interviews with friendly news organizations.”

By “friendly,” the Times may mean more conservative outlets that cover the Trump administration fairly, without engaging in the sort of Trump-Russia hysteria that has dominated the mainstream and left-wing media.

Dubke, several figures in conservative media told LifeZette, was a large driver of the administration’s early desire to court outlets like The New York Times and networks such as NBC and CBS.

With Dubke gone, many think, conservative media may get more access to regular interviews and scoops.

Conservative outlets have complained to The Washington Post and The Hill about their difficulty getting time with Trump or stories from his White House.

“There’s still this outsize focus on trying to work with the establishment media,” one unidentified editor of a conservative outlet told The Post in mid-May. “The people who gave Trump 306 electoral votes aren’t reading The Washington Post or watching CNN. They’re reading Breitbart, the Daily Caller, listening to [Laura] Ingraham, and watching Fox News. I think they run a risk [with Trump’s core supporters] by keeping the conservative media at arm’s length.”

  1. Donald Trump
  2. James Comey
  3. Mike Dubke
  4. Reince Priebus
  5. Sean Spicer
  6. white house press briefing

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