Emerging Media Narrative Pits Trump Against Aide Stephen Miller

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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As the Trump administration prepared to roll out a list of sweeping immigration reforms last week, the Washington media machine turned its attention to the architect of those hawkish policies, White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller.

The 32-year-old, who is widely seen as the last true immigration restrictionist among senior Trump aides, was the subject of no less than four pieces by prominent media outlets in the days before and after Sunday’s roll-out of the immigration principles.

A constant thread running through the articles: Miller’s influence is so strong that he was able to convince President Donald Trump to blow up a bipartisan deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to the possible detriment of the president’s political fortunes. In doing so, Miller has supposedly upstaged a fickle boss known for lashing out at subordinates who claim too large a share of the media spotlight.

The first Miller-centric piece came on courtesy of The Hill on Oct. 5, as details of the administration’s immigration principles began to circulate among political media. The Hill article highlights Miller’s influence over immigration policy, crediting him with everything from the sloppy implementation of the original travel ban to the administration’s recent decision to sharply reduce refugee admissions.

Miller has survived purges of like-minded nationalist conservatives in the Trump administration, according to the article, because he knows how to play the “inside game” to advance his policy preferences.

“Stephen learned early on, having survived multiple leadership regimes on the campaign and now in the White House, don’t worry about other staffers,” Jason Miller, a another former campaign and transition official, told the Hill. “Only focus on President Trump and what he wants to get done.”

McClatchy followed up with an Oct. 7 article examining less benign aspects of Miller’s pull in the White House. The piece quoted “four political operatives working closely with Republicans,” who blamed Miller for the formulation of immigration policies that both Democrats and moderate Republicans would refuse to accept as a part of a DACA amnesty deal.

According to sources that spoke with McClatchy, lawmakers felt that Miller had persuaded Trump to walk back his previous assurances to top Democrats, proving who was really calling the shots on immigration policy.

“We use to joke about President Bannon. Now it’s President Miller,” one senior lawmaker was quoted as saying during a meeting about the White House’s immigration policy demands.

The lawmaker’s quip referred to Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign chief executive and White House senior strategist who led the nationalist faction in the West Wing. Also an immigration hawk, the combative Bannon was pushed out of the administration in part because he had assumed too large a public profile, to Trump’s displeasure.

In an Oct. 9 Daily Beast article, Miller is described as trying to avoid Bannon’s fate by staying out of the spotlight, even as he collaborated with Republicans on a “campaign of behind-the-scenes impairment” of a DACA compromise. Democratic lawmakers were aware of Miller’s positions on immigration, but they were reportedly surprised he had enough sway to demand such hawkish reforms as a condition of DACA amnesty.

According to the Daily Beast report, Miller has taken care to operate less conspicuously than Bannon, lest he draw Trump’s ire for being seen as the true mastermind of the administration’s immigration agenda.

“The last thing he wants is for the president to see him as some showboat,” one of Miller’s West Wing colleagues told the Daily Beast.

That may be a legitimate concern for a man working for a boss that prefers to be the center of attention, but for now, Miller seems firmly ensconced in Trump’s good graces. The day after the White House formally presented its immigration wish list to Congress, The New York Times published a lengthy profile on Miller that traced the origins of his conservative politics and his rise to powerful White House advisor.

TheNYT noted that Trump appreciates Miller’s “fierce loyalty” and has “embraced his [Miller’s] instincts” on immigration policy. As a result, “it is Mr. Miller’s worldview, as often as anyone’s, that the president projects on the grandest scale,” the NYT explained.

At least one of Trump’s closest advisors appears to agree with that assessment.

“We have this running joke,” Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told the NYT, “that if we were going to get key man’s insurance on anyone, Stephen would top the list.”

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