I’m surprised. After Miller finished beating on Jim Acosta a few days ago, I figured Trump would put him in the cabinet instead.
It’s weird that we might end up with a nationalist in charge of the White House messaging team after Trump spent a week humiliating his nationalist Attorney General and H.R. McMaster has taken to purging Bannonites from the National Security Council. But the president’s grumbled since day one that his comms people don’t share his vision and don’t defend him aggressively enough, and Miller would solve both of those problems. Nothing but nothing is apt to please Trump more in a spokesman than being willing to mix it up with the media and come out ahead. Which is just what Miller did in his brawl with CNN’s guy.
Steve Bannon likes the idea of Miller for the job [of communications director], and Miller was the hero of the West Wing after he attacked Acosta as a “cosmopolitan” for his views on immigration.
When Miller finished that press briefing, his colleagues high-fived him, according to Sebastian Gorka, a national-security aide who’s a favorite of the president’s for his over-the-top TV hits.
The super-key point: Trump cares primarily about how people perform on TV. He’s totally uninterested in the behind-the-scenes, unglamorous planning work of a comms director.
Since his turn at the White House podium a few days ago, Miller’s been called a “white supremacist” by Ben Rhodes, accused of anti-semitism rhetoric by Politico (Miller is Jewish), and been parodied by, er, Pauly Shore. He’s already living rent-free in the heads of liberals after less than an hour of airtime. Imagine what a steady diet of him on TV would do. I bet Trump has.
Miller’s *a* contender, notes Axios, not necessarily the top contender, but he has relevant experience. Although he’s known now as a policy advisor, particularly on immigration, he was Jeff Sessions’s communications director before joining Team Trump and has written some of the president’s most significant speeches. If you like the idea of moving him over to the comms department, though, and I assume nearly all Trump fans will after the Acosta bruising, realize that that may come with a trade-off. Full-time duties as communications director will leave Miller with less time to help shape policy. Moving him into the PR wing may mean more nationalist influence over messaging but less nationalist influence over governance, a considerable gamble given Sessions’s uncertain fate and the unstable dynamic right now between Bannon and McMaster.
One point in favor of giving Miller a bigger role in White House communications is that that’s bound to mean a bigger role for immigration politics in day to day chatter. That’s risky for Trump in that Americans are broadly supportive of legal immigration, but I wonder if having Miller as a lightning rod on the subject would lead Democrats to overplay their hand. Read these pieces by James Traub and Damon Linker, both Trump critics, grudgingly admitting after Miller’s performance a few days ago that the left is a wee bit too comfortable with the idea of completely open borders. David Frum, a centrist and vehement anti-Trumper, has also attacked the left for ceding political ground to right-wing populists by adopting the most pie-eyed ideals of unrestricted immigration. Linker:
[W]hat do our universalist liberals hope to accomplish, not by raising perfectly reasonable objections to specific immigration restrictions, but by denying the legitimacy of having any immigration restrictions at all? There are many, many intellectually coherent answers to the two key questions of immigration policy (Who can come here? And how many of them?) — but many on the left seem to think there is only one legitimate answer to each question (Everyone. And all of them). This is ludicrous.
Politics has its own logic, and part of that logic is the distinction between citizens and non-citizens. Those who deny the moral permissibility of making that distinction won’t eliminate the need to make it. They will merely exclude themselves from the ranks of those the citizenry will be willing to entrust with responsibility for participating in the rule of the community. And that distrust will be fully justified.
You do not have to be a nativist or a Trump supporter to fear that immigration, like free trade, can harm some Americans even as it helps the country overall. And you certainly don’t have to be an America-first nationalist to insist that immigration serve the interests of the country rather than that of high-tech employers or agribusiness, which is what Stephen Miller was getting at when he said in his fateful confrontation that “special interests” were behind the argument for increasing the flow of low-skilled immigrants. A sensible immigration policy, if one could ever be enacted, would almost certainly take more people whose skills match the needs of the American economy, and fewer — as a fraction of the overall total, if not in absolute numbers — who happen to be a relative of a citizen or legal resident. If that’s not in the spirit of the Statute of Liberty, that’s because, as Miller put it, the statue symbolizes America’s commitment to liberty, not its immigration policy.
Having an articulate spokesman for restrictionism with policy chops like Miller doing battle with dopey poem-quoting reporters regularly could widen that fault line between the Traubs and Linkers in the center and the “let ’em in!” Merkelites on the left. That’d be a solid win for the White House.
Speaking of dopey poem-quoting reporters, your exit quotation from BuzzFeed: “Senior [CNN] executives have discussed giving Acosta an anchor position or his own show, according to a person familiar with the matter.” Miller’s career may not have been the only one launched by that brawl in the briefing room this week.