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Stephen Miller Is a Perfectly Mainstream Republican

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Perhaps the most disheartening genre of the Trump era is the Stephen Miller profile. On the weekend, The New York Times and Washington Post both made substantial contributions to the burgeoning literature with lengthy front-page articles on the White House advisor, who has done more to shape the Trump administration’s fierce anti-immigration agenda than anyone aside from the president. Both articles are smart and well-researched. If they make for stomach-churning reading, that says more about Miller than the authors.

Miller is a colorless figure, especially compared to the gargoyles who so often swarm around Trump such as Steve Bannon or Sebastian Gorka. As repugnant as they are, there is at least something exotic about Bannon’s disheveled malice and his habit of throwing around allusions to esoteric proto-fascists like Julius Evola. Equally curious is Gorka’s propensity for wearing a pin commemorating Hungarian philo-Nazis.

Bannon and Gorka are vile in stagey and eye-catching ways. Miller, more successful than they were in pushing policy, is blandly vicious. There’s nothing quirky about him and he can’t be so easily dismissed as an oddball outlier. Quite the opposite. Miller is a white bread fanatic, a mass-produced jerk whose cruelty is all-American, shared by millions of others formed by the right-wing media loudmouths that are the ideological voice of the Republican Party.

It’s not surprising that Miller is enjoying a much longer tenure than Bannon or Gorka, who were quickly turfed out in Trump White House’s endless staffing churn. Miller’s ability to survive in a helter-skelter White House owes something to his canny avoidance of the spotlight and his extreme sycophancy towards Trump. Miller has spoken of experiencing a “jolt of electricity to my soul” when Trump announced his presidential run, “as though everything that I felt at the deepest levels of my heart were for now being expressed by a candidate.”

But beyond his obsequiousness, Miller has benefited from the fact that his anti-immigration agenda is squarely within the mainstream of the Republican Party of the current moment. Even as Miller has pushed for harsh measures like the Muslim travel ban and family separation, he has found many allies in Congress and right-wing media.

It’s easy to dismiss Bannon, Gorka, or even Trump himself as freak accidents, a collection of misfits that through a series of mishaps ended up in power. But Miller is a much more conventional figure, a standard-issue partisan Republican activist. This makes Miller all the more disturbing because it suggests that the most extreme anti-immigration attitudes of the Trump administration are woven into the fabric of the GOP and likely remain integral to the party’s identity.

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