During the presidential tenure of Barack Obama, one name stood out for a period among Obama’s advisors: that of Ben Rhodes, whose lengthy official title was Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication and Speechwriting.
In reality, Rhodes was more of a glorified writer of presidential addresses than a policy advisor, and the 30-something creative writing specialist was alternately praised and criticized for his prominence in the administration because of his insufficient international relations experience and lack of education in political science (he only studied the subject as one of two undergraduate majors in college).
But that didn’t stop Obama from consulting with him extensively when crafting his notorious nuclear deal with Iran and working with nations involved in the 2011 Arab Spring movement. For at least a brief time during Obama’s first term in office, some Democratic Party insiders were crowing that Rhodes was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
In the administration of President Donald Trump, a new Rhodes-like figure has emerged in Trump’s coterie of policy advisors and staff: Stephen Miller. He’s Trump’s new key advisor and resident ideologue on everything from immigration reform to international trade.
Like Rhodes, Miller is also very young (currently only 31) and has been accused of lacking sophistication in the matters he deals with. The New York Times, particularly, has lambasted Miller as “a far-right gadfly with little policy experience.”
According to The Times, Miller is “a man whose emails were, until recently, considered spam by many of his Republican peers [but] is now shaping the Trump administration’s core domestic policies with his economic nationalism and hard-line positions on immigration.”
But this ignores the fact that Miller has actually had extensive experience working for some of the best-known legislative torch-bearers of conservative strategy and action, including Republican former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Republican former Senator of Alabama (and now Attorney General) Jeff Sessions.
Under Bachmann, Miller was one of the very youngest press secretaries on Capitol Hill, at a mere 22 years of age. At 24, he became press secretary for the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Sessions was a ranking member.
It was on this committee that Miller became known for his passion and hard work on immigration policy. Miller assisted Sessions in opposing the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill which Sessions harshly criticized and ultimately was responsible for derailing.
Sessions gave Miller credit for compiling critical facts surrounding the legislation that prevented it from passing the House of Representatives (after making it through the Senate) and landing on President Obama’s desk to be signed.
“We had been working on the ideas in it for months, and Stephen put them in the handbook in a very quick time in a very cogent fashion. It was very timely, and it impacted the outcome of the vote,” commented Sessions to the liberal website Politico. According to one Senate staffer, Miller “captured Sessions’ voice” and was always “able to anticipate what he needed for an interview or a speech.”
In 2015, Sessions introduced Miller to Trump, and Miller became Trump’s primary speechwriter following the 2016 Republican National Convention. Trump even let Miller speak before Trump came out to address rally attendees, and Miller didn’t fail to disappoint.
“We’re going to build that wall, and we’re going to build it out of love,” Miller was fond of saying. Trump campaign worker Jason Miller (no relation), said that “Steve is a true believer in every sense of the word, not just in this message of economic populism but in President Trump as a leader. Steve’s fiercely loyal and has a better understanding of the president’s vision than almost anyone.”
Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the conservative website Washington Free Beacon, wrote of the young Trump advisor, “A combination wonk and flack who not only formulates policy but also writes speeches, press releases and op-eds and assists reporters with scoops and story pegs and telling details, Miller is the populist counterpart to liberal wunderkinds Ezra Klein and Ben Rhodes. He’s one of the most effective aides in Washington — despite having lived here for less than a decade.”
According to editor Rich Lowry of the conservative National Review, “[Miller] did more than anyone perhaps except Jeff Sessions himself to bring down the Gang of Eight bill. It’s easy to see how he climbed so high in the Trump world, and in the area of immigration policy, few are as committed or as fluent on the details.”
Miller has also received high praise from Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who said, “I’ve known Stephen Miller for many years, and he’s a principled conservative who played a pivotal role for the president during the campaign as a key speechwriter and advisor. I also know he’s exactly the type of person any administration needs. He’s smart, he works long hours, rolls up his sleeves and serves the president and the country and never looks for credit.”
Hannity added that “What the Alt-Left radical media is doing is systematically trying to vilify and demonize any and all people who support and serve the president. The media, generally speaking, has lost any credibility they may have had left after the Wikileaks revelations. As I have said many times, ‘Journalism Is Dead,’ and they have devolved into the propaganda arm for the Democratic Party.”
Talk radio host Laura Ingraham concurred with the above assessments, saying, “Stephen was very important from an inside policy angle in the effort to stop and expose the Gang of Eight bill and the Transpacific Partnership. He knew their vulnerabilities and understood the substantive argument that led to their defeat. The ‘gadflies’ [that the New York Times referred to] are those who spouted mindless generalities to support [those] doomed initiatives.”
Conservative author and speaker Ann Coulter surprisingly agreed with most of the Times’ article, telling Breitbart News, “I thought it was a fantastic article… It was more like the old NYT, with reporters who may have been lefties, but were at least serious reporters. Most of the drivel from the NYT these days reads like something from Salon. This article got the facts right and threw in this one snippy word [gadfly] — a word that was belied by the rest of the article. Good reporting. Good article.”
For the Times’ part, their piece recounted that Miller “has been preparing [to work with Trump] for much of his life. From his days at a public high school in Southern California where he preached against ‘political correctness’ and liberalism and called in to conservative radio shows, to his time at Duke University where he was known for controversial writings in the student newspaper… he has delighted in challenging prevailing orthodoxies.”
In 2014, after an interview with Trump ran on Breitbart News, Miller commented, “Trump gets it. I wish he’d run for president.” Then-Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Steve Bannon spoke to Miller and bonded with him during the campaign and surprise victory of Republican Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia, who defeated Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. This contest was a harbinger of Trump’s upset win in the general presidential race last November. Bannon has since described Miller as “a loyal and faithful soldier in the Trump movement — a warrior for the working class.”
Miller’s next act for Trump is working on an executive order to reform the outdated immigrant guest worker program in order to impose restrictions on cheap foreign labor that have resulted in nationwide wage stagnation for decades. Here’s hoping that Miller’s tenure with Trump will be as long as Ben Rhodes’ was with Obama.