On Sunday morning, anybody who turned on the political talk shows for their weekly cocktail of angry pushback and dubious facts from representatives of the Trump administration was instead handed a shot glass full of barrel-proof Trumpism. Straight. No Chaser.
Whiskey aficionados know that the bottle of 80-proof liquor they buy in the store is really a watered-down version of what comes out of the barrel at the end of the aging process. Barrel-proof whiskey, which approaches 130 proof, isn’t for the faint of heart, so distilleries add water to make it more palatable to the average consumer.
Until now, Trump’s defenders have been cutting the administration’s policy demands with the slick avoidance techniques of presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, or Vice President Mike Pence’s patented “more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger” rebuttals to awkward questions. But Sunday, the administration sent White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old former aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, to appear on four of the five major shows. (CNN is still in the doghouse, apparently.)
For those used to other Trump surrogates, Miller can’t have gone down easily.
Miller’s default setting appears to be barely suppressed rage coupled with a deep sense of indignation that public reaction to the Trump administration’s policies is anything other than immediate and unquestioning acceptance. And in a week where a troubled White House is facing an unusually large number of scandals and embarrassments, he mounted a full-throated defense of virtually everything that came out of the West Wing over the past seven days.
What did he think of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s insistence that the decision by the Nordstrom department store chain to stop carrying the president’s daughter’s line of clothes and accessories was a “direct attack” on Trump himself?
“I do want to say that Sean Spicer, as always, is 100 percent correct and that what he said is true and important,” Miller said. “And I agree with it.”
How about Trump’s completely unsubstantiated claim that he lost the state of New Hampshire in the presidential election because of massive and organized voter fraud that involved busing out-of-state voters into the Granite State?
On the question of Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud, he said, “I’m prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime, and repeat it and say the President of the United States is correct 100 percent.” On New Hampshire in particular, Miller went even further, claiming that “the issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It's very real. It’s very serious.”
The claim left ABC host George Stephanopoulos practically agog in surprise, but he still managed to point out several times that Miller refused, when asked, to offer even a shred of hard evidence that the claim was true.
Miller seemed particularly angry about the decision by a panel of federal judges in California to uphold an order blocking enforcement of the president’s executive order banning refugees and the citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the US. He accused the judges, much as Trump had a few days earlier, of usurping presidential power. (And, in the process, accused them of believing the US should have no border controls at all.)
“The president’s powers here are beyond question,” he insisted on Fox News.
“There is no constitutional right for a citizen in a foreign country...to demand entry into our country,” he said on ABC. “Such a right cannot exist. Such a right will never exist. This is an ideological disagreement between those who believe we should have borders and should have controls and those who believe there should be no borders and no controls.”
On CBS, he declined to specify the administration’s strategy going forward, but promised, “The end result of this though is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the President to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
One issue Miller flatly refused to discuss was the report that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed lifting US sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador before the Trump administration took office and that he misled Pence when he was asked about it. If the allegations are true -- both with regard to discussing sanctions with Russia and misleading the vice president -- there is much speculation that Flynn would have to be fired.
“There's no information that I have as a policy director for this White House to contribute any new information to this story this morning,” he said on ABC.
However, he was not reluctant to claim that the chaotic first weeks of the Trump administration have been a huge, even historic, success.
“The President of the United States has accomplished more in just a few weeks than many Presidents do in an entire administration,” he insisted.
How members of the public will react to Miller seething at them through their television screens will remain to be seen. But Miller didn’t need to wait to find out how the single most important member of his audience felt about his performance Sunday.
Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017