This is a note to Mike Dubke, the new White House chief communications strategist, which lately seems like an oxymoron.
Mike, you have a tough job but you appear to be a pro (if Brian Jones says so, I believe him). I have never worked in the White House but I have led a global communications team for one of the world's most important companies and worked as a press aide in state government. So please take this advice for what it is worth.
You have to try to change the way the White House is telling its story. It is not good. The president's peppery press conference yesterday might have made him feel good, but it was actually demeaning to him as a person, to the presidency and to America.
Before you stop reading, I want to assure you this note is not about the president's policies; it is about how you can use your influence and expertise to help the president and the country succeed. It starts with remembering that you work for the president but you serve your fellow citizens. I hope you and your team reflect on this privilege every day.
I'll also admit I am not a supporter of the president but I am rooting for you and him because I am an American. I am the grandson of Italian immigrants, the son of a veteran, and the father of four smart young adults who are frightened by the spectacle of the last month. I hope you will view my advice in that perspective.
So here are a few quick thoughts as you embark on this amazing and challenging job.
If you want more people to support the president's policies, you have to restore civility and respect to his communications. Stop the name calling. "Liar," "dishonest," "loser," "clown" are the words of an insecure and weak person, not a strong one. Stop the breeding of suspicions of people and institutions, the degrading of those who disagree, and the appeals to base instincts.
Please push the president to speak to all Americans, not just those who voted for him. He has not tried this yet. This starts with listening, even to those who disagree with you. Communications is just noise without listening (as my friend Russell Wilkerson once told me).
Tell the country in simple but specific terms what the president stands for without the dark apocalyptic language. Ditch those campaign platitudes. Stop looking back. If you show people where you are going, more are likely to follow.
Try to establish a sense of calm confidence in the administration. Today it looks desperate and frantic. Be a sea of calm amidst the storm and others may mimic your chill.
Muzzle sycophantic spokespeople who bully their way through interviews with anger and lies or who proclaim that "the president is brilliant." Any administration is going to have a set of talking points, but if you are constantly bulldozing, the only thing you will find is that you've dug yourself into a big hole (as my friend Jeff DeMarrais once told me).
Tell the truth.
Keep Stephen Miller off TV.
For you and your team, spend your "off podium" time building relationships with the news media and your colleagues in government. Your credibility is based on respect and trust. The absence of it creates conflict, frustration, and irrational and emotional responses that are the enemy of progress.
Hire communications pros and put them in the big executive agencies -- Defense, State, Treasury. You will need steady hands there.
Try to answer questions directly. You'd be amazed at how liberating and effective it can be.
Admit mistakes. We all screw up, particularly in a new job.
Turn the president's tweet storms into celebratory or aspirational communications. Have the president recognize an American who has done something extraordinary or thank a public servant whose work is exceptional. Use your pulpit power positively.
Stop your new boss from constantly attacking the news media. Hold reporters to account but do not demonize them. More practically, the president will not win his fight with the media because our Constitution ensures that the free press will outlast any person or president. Learn the hard lessons of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
Be bold while rejecting extremism. They are two different things. It has been my experience in business and government that the people with the most extreme views are usually wrong.
I am not naive about how politics works. Every decision is not logical or rational. You will win some fights and you will lose others. But I am confident that if you consistently advocate for truth, civility, clarity, and what is right, you will win more than you lose -- and so will the president.
Mike, congratulations and best of luck.