The first time I laid eyes on Stephen Miller was in October 2005, in a dingy conference room at Duke University. Miller’s Students For Academic Freedom had organized a discussion, with the campus chapter of the ACLU, on political bias on campus. Miller came in a suit and tie; his primary interlocutor was the literary theorist Michael Hardt, who sauntered in wearing jeans and rumpled hair. Miller came with carefully prepared talking points and his now-trademark stentorian diction. Hardt refused to take him seriously, and casually dismantled his arguments for regulating politics in the classroom. It was, to the audience that had gathered, a rout.
I thought about that debate on Sunday, when Miller, now a senior adviser to the president, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union opposite Jake Tapper to discuss Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. The debate ended with the host cutting Miller off, saying, “I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time. Thank you, Stephen,” and Miller reportedly had to be escorted off set. Miller’s debate tactics haven’t changed in the last 12 years: Come with a few talking points. Accuse your opponents of bad faith and deliver ad hominem attacks. Shout over your opponent to make a point. But while the consensus was that Tapper destroyed Miller, I’m not convinced. Miller’s old tactics have finally found a forum and audience in which they can thrive, and he seems to have achieved exactly what he wanted from this interview. If he seems silly to many progressives and some conservatives, that’s never bothered him in the past.