Joe Scarborough is trying to use whatever influence he has over Donald Trump to change the president's mind about Stephen Miller. It hasn't worked so far.
The MSNBC host previously blamed Miller for mishandling the rollout of the travel ban and on Monday resumed his campaign against Trump's senior policy adviser, who made a series of breathtakingly forceful statements on the Sunday political talk shows, including:
- “Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon 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.”
- “Sean Spicer, as always, is a hundred percent correct.”
- “It is a fact, and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of noncitizens in this country who are registered to vote.”
Scarborough got so worked up about Miller's comments that he appeared to take his criticism further than he and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski had discussed before going on the air, as the following exchange suggests:
SCARBOROUGH: “It is a fact, and you will not deny it.” He learned this, I guess, in autocracy for young political —
BRZEZINSKI: Okay, you told me not to say it.
“It,” presumably, was Scarborough's suggestion that Miller spoke as if he were representing an autocratic ruler. Scarborough just couldn't resist going there.
But what is truly notable about his criticisms of Miller is the extent to which they appear designed to appeal directly to Trump. Observe:
No, no. They are questioned, my young, little Miller. They will be questioned by the court. It's called judicial review. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote about it in the Federalist Papers. It was enshrined in Madison's Constitution.
Andrew Jackson — you go into your president's office; you know, that one — and you look on the walls, and there are all these pictures of Andrew Jackson and books of Andrew Jackson. He talked about judicial independence. He talked about the importance of the judiciary. You really need to go back and read the Constitution.
And, seriously, the White House has got to stop embarrassing themselves by putting this guy out. … I had people working me: “Oh, wasn't Miller great?” No. That is the worst performance of anybody — that made Susan Rice [on] the Sunday after Benghazi look smooth. I mean, that was horrendous and an embarrassment.
There's a lot to unpack here. Let's start with “little Miller.” Scarborough debuted the unflattering nickname a couple weeks ago and is not-so-subtly telling Trump that Miller is weak and reminiscent of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whom Trump dubbed “Little Marco” during the Republican presidential primaries. Scarborough also compared Miller to Rubio in a Sunday-night tweet, using the hashtag #SweatsLikeMarco.
The logic here is pretty simply. Miller is like Rubio. Trump doesn't like Rubio. Therefore, Trump shouldn't like Miller, either.
Then there's the Andrew Jackson thing. Trump is such an admirer of the seventh president that he hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office. Scarborough argued that Jackson wouldn't like Miller's rhetoric, so Trump should dislike it, too.
Another strategy: Trump hates to be embarrassed, so Scarborough called Miller an embarrassment. Twice.
Trump also hates the way Hillary Clinton's State Department handled the 2012 attacks on two U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. He talked about it frequently during the campaign. So Scarborough said Miller was even worse than Rice, the former U.N. ambassador who became a favorite target of Republicans after she appeared on the Sunday shows in the wake of the attacks and said they appeared to have stemmed from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video posted online.
Though it is unclear what Rice knew at the time, Republicans cast her as a liar as it became clear that the attacks were planned, not spontaneous. The episode torpedoed Rice's chance to become secretary of state. By comparing Miller to Rice, Scarborough is making the case to Trump that one of his top aides is becoming a liability.
Scarborough certainly knows which buttons to push. But, for now, Trump remains pleased with Miller.