In a speech that roused supporters and alarmed opponents, Donald Trump brought doom-and-gloom, nationalistic flair to his speech in Warsaw on Thursday — linking Poland's hardships throughout history with coming battles yet to be waged by the West against terrorists.
"As the Polish experience reminds us," Trump said, "the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have." The fundamental question of our time, he continued, "is whether the West has the will to survive."
"Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?" Trump said.
If those words sound familiar, it's because they were written by senior adviser Stephen Miller — a young aide who has had a stratospheric ascent, and who is seen by Trump allies as gifted yet wild-eyed, and a keeper of the Trump flame.
Miller, 31, came out of the gate wielding tremendous influence, writing both Trump's "American carnage" inauguration speech, and the original controversial ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries that was stalled in court (a watered-down version of the ban was later written, and likewise challenged in court).
Then came the awkward TV appearances in which Miller, known more as a policy wonk than political spokesperson, scared off even Trump insiders. In one of those appearances on Fox News, Miller argued that the revised travel ban would "have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you're going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues" — a comment a federal judge later used as evidence to uphold a federal injunction against the ban. Recently, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case, and partially allowed the revised ban to take effect.
Since then, Miller has receded from the spotlight, becoming much more of a behind-the-scenes player. But by writing high-profile speeches like the one on Islam during Trump's first foreign trip, and Thursday's Poland address, Miller — perhaps as much as anyone else in the president's orbit — has been able to imprint his worldview on the Trump administration.
As senior strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions drew the president's ire, Miller sought to make his own way in the administration. While a close ally of both Bannon and Sessions (Miller worked for Sessions in the Senate), he's sidled up to Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to reports — letting it be known that he wasn't exactly team Bannon after all.
"He's a survivor," said longtime Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone, adding that Miller is among those who is a keeper of the Trump flame. "He’s true to the Reagan vision — he’s indispensable there because many of the people involved don’t understand how Trump got elected.”
A senior administration official disputed that Miller ever felt the need to recede from view in the first place, noting that that characterization is often "grounded in TV appearances, which is not the correct measure."
"He is always a key player, consistently," the official said. "He has never faded."
Besides the speeches, Miller was in the news last week because of a Politico report that detailed an argument with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over demands that the former Exxon Mobil CEO be "tougher on immigration and make changes to the programs they control."
Still, a source close to the White House pointed to Miller's short-lived TV career early in the administration as one of the factors that led to Miller doing more behind the scenes.
"I think he’s an incredible mind, he’s sort of another Bannon," the source said. "What I can’t stand is having him in front of camera. He’s grating, unlikeable, he’s preachy. He's a good guy with amazing ideas, but not everyone is the right spokesman for their ideas."
Those ideas, on immigration, have found a natural home in the Sessions Justice Department, in a crackdown which has led to more people being seen as a priority for deportation. As a Sessions aide in the Senate, Miller helped lead the charge against the 2013 immigration bill.
Miller, who has a history of writing in support of strong anti-terrorism measures, again roused the president's allies on Thursday with words written for Trump on Islamic terror.
Segueing from Poland's bitter fight against communism, Trump said, "We are confronted by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe. America and Europe have suffered one terror attack after another. We’re going to get it to stop."
Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend and adviser who speaks to the president, said the speech was one of unity, and showed Trump at his purest.
"Standing up for American values with strength and resolve — at his core Trump is a uniter not a divider, and that speech demonstrated that," he said.
But others saw the speech for what it was — not just a call for unity from the West, but an expression of battle lines against terror that the United States must have the will to defend, all elucidated by Miller himself.
"Holy cow, I wanted to stand up and cheer," the source close to the administration said. "It was rousing. He has real skills in the philosophy of the movement. We just have to keep him behind closed doors."