If the Trump administration’s chaotically implemented and legally suspect “travel ban” winds up unraveling, it looks like the person who is going to take the fall for it is White House senior adviser Stephen Miller.
According to most accounts, Miller and his mentor, “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, were in charge of drafting and promulgating the orders that put this poorly thought-through policy into place. And Bannon is way too far up the food chain in Trumpland to suffer the consequences of a screw-up. Joe Scarborough broadcast that the more junior Stephen needs to be taken to the woodshed.
“You’ve got a very young person in the White House on a power trip thinking that you can just write executive orders and tell all of your cabinet agencies to go to hell.”
Scarborough said Washington is in an “uproar” because Miller decided “he was going to do this without going through the regular agency process.”
So this raises the obvious question: Who put this guy into a position to go on a power trip and bypass the rest of the administration? Miller didn’t just wander into the White House and execute a coup.
Miller first gained big-time national attention when he was revealed as the major wordsmith (with an assist from Bannon) of Trump’s presidential nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland. He was also an important liaison between Trump and his earliest and most important congressional ally, Senator (and now Attorney General-designee) Jeff Sessions. Eventually he emerged as a sort of combination speechwriter, policy wonk, and all-purpose promoter of the Breitbartian wing of the Trump movement — a key cog in the machine that made Trump into one of the less likely populist figures in American history.
A Politico profile of Miller last summer credited him with (or blamed him for) major responsibility in orchestrating the successful GOP opposition to comprehensive immigration reform in Congress. This along with his belief that anti-immigrant sentiment was essential to Trump’s election probably convinced him that, despite his lack of legal education and any experience beyond the shadow shows of the Senate and the campaign trail, he could breeze past the two cabinet agencies responsible for vetting and implementing the travel-ban orders. But there’s something basically disturbing about Miller, who also lacks the business background of the older Stephen:
Miller also cuts a deeply unsettling figure, even to many in his own party. His nine-year career working for some of the most politically fringe figures on the Hill — he also worked for Michele Bachmann and helped David Brat in his primary defeat of Eric Cantor — was preceded by a trail of writings and provocations that go all the way back to high school, one that has raised the eyebrows of even conservative Republicans.
The realization that Miller may have accidentally wandered onto the national stage was becoming apparent well before Trump’s upset win opened up all sorts of vistas for the young man, who during the campaign enjoyed warming up crowds for the boss:
He grins at the podium, he savors the crowd’s reactions, even if they periodically boo him for not turning the stage over to Trump fast enough. “All the anger right underneath the surface just waiting to come through, about what I don’t know,” says a former staffer with the Republican leadership on the Hill. “I’ve seen the videos of him getting the crowd fired up. People that knew him when he was on the Hill, I don’t know how to describe the reactions people had to the videos of him. Maybe creeped out a little bit? Like, what’s going to happen when this guy gets the power?” He pauses as a thought dawns on him. “Oh my God,” he says. “He’s going to find out that I spoke with you and I’m going to end up in a camp somewhere.”
It’s not so funny anymore, is it?
In any event, nobody has yet explained what a near-adolescent speechwriter and policy adviser was doing during the first week of the Trump presidency, essentially firing off instructions to U.S. diplomatic and customs officials around the world and touching the lives of thousands of real people. What is his job, anyway? Immigration czar? It’s hard to say.
In the end, Miller’s relationship to Trump, Bannon, and Sessions will likely keep him from too much of a spanking, if indeed Team Trump decides there is even a problem here. If not, it would hardly be the first time these people ignored respectable opinion and brazened it out. If they really cared about the opinions of media types (even friendly ones like Scarborough) or Republican pols, they wouldn’t have gone to work for Donald Trump in the first place, would they?