It’s the ending of the Jake Tapper-Stephen Miller interview that’s attracted the most attention in the day since it first aired on CNN on Sunday. Tapper, losing his patience with the White House policy adviser’s insecure/hyperactive shtick, ultimately declared that he’d “wasted enough of my viewers’ time” and went to commercial. After the segment, the two kept arguing; one report suggested that security was asked to escort Miller out.
Miller repeatedly declared that his frustration during the segment stemmed from not being able to simply state an unadulterated case for Donald Trump’s presidency without interruption.
“Why don’t you give me three minutes to tell you the truth about Donald Trump that I know and all of our campaign staff know?” Miller asked Tapper. But as Tapper pointed out, he’d allowed Miller to make his case on several occasions over the interview’s 10-plus minutes. And the case he made was — weak.
Here, from a transcript provided by CNN, are the arguments Miller made in defense of his boss when given the opportunity to do so.
He can revise speeches quickly.
Miller described what he’d witnessed on the campaign trail:
“On the campaign, I had the chance to travel all across the country with the president on Trump Force One. It would be the president, me, [social media director] Dan Scavino, [communications director] Hope Hicks, a few other people going from rally to rally to rally to rally. And I saw a man who was a political genius, somebody who we would be going down, landing in descent, there would be a breaking news development. And in 20 minutes, he would dictate 10 paragraphs of new material to address that event and then deliver flawlessly in front of an audience of 10,000 people.”
He repeated this later in the segment:
“I travel with Donald Trump all across the country and the world. I would — I would be with the president on a campaign plane with a rally in 20 minutes, and he would be able to come up . . . he would be able to come up with material in the blink of an eye.”
To which Tapper replied, “You have already made this point, Stephen.” Since he had.
He ran an effective campaign.
In addition to being able to incorporate new elements into his patter over a short period — a skill that would seem more remarkable for a candidate less prone to extended off-the-cuff asides in his oratory — Trump also demonstrated “political genius” in winning the campaign in the first place, per Miller.
“The reality is, is the president is a political genius who won against a field of 17 incredibly talented people, who took down the Bush dynasty, who took down the Clinton dynasty, who took down the entire media complex with its 90 percent negative coverage, took down billions of dollars in special-interests donations. And he did it all through the people and through his strategy and his vision and his insight and his experience.”
He put together a movement that carried him to victory.
“The president hasn’t gotten the due that he deserves for the movement that he put together to tap into the kinds of people whose life concerns don’t get a lot of attention on CNN. . . . He tapped into a reality that has happened in this country that is not covered on this network. And I know you think I’m interrupting you, but I think the American people deserve to have two or three minutes of the truth.”
He had a popular TV show and is a “self-made” billionaire.
Miller also pointed to successes in President Trump’s past. Trump is “a self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV and who has changed the course of our politics.” A “self-made billionaire [who] revolutionized reality TV and tapped into something magical that is happening in the hearts of this country.” (Tapper: “The president has an approval rating in the 30s. I don’t know what ‘magical’ you’re talking about.”)
That, in the entirety, is the case Miller made for Trump’s presidency. Even setting aside the questionable claim that a guy who inherited a company and a million dollars from his father is “self-made” — it’s not a strong case for Trump as a president.
All of the arguments deal with things that happened before Jan. 20, 2017. While it’s certainly true that Trump built a strong core base of support that helped power him past the crowded Republican field, it’s because of the size of that field that he was successful. If you corner 30 percent of the base and leave 70 percent of Republican primary voters to be divvied up among 16 other people, you’re going to have a leg up. Even before his inauguration, Trump held the distinction of being the first president in the modern primary era to earn under 50 percent of the vote in both the primaries and the general. Afterward, as Tapper noted, he hasn’t been terribly popular.
Miller, though, didn’t make much of a case for that popularity. Again, the extent of the positive descriptions of Trump are above; Miller, given the opportunity to describe Trump’s brilliance, told the same story about changing a speech twice.
Before he cut Miller off, Tapper isolated the problem.
“There is one viewer that you care about right now,” he said to Miller, referring to Trump. “And you’re being obsequious, you’re being a factotum in order to please him.”
That one viewer, at least, was convinced.