WASHINGTON (AP) — Stephen Miller was a teenager in California when got his first political gig as a regular guest on a local conservative talk radio show, eager to complain about his liberal high school. In columns written for local newspapers, he took on what he called its plague of political correctness.
The school's decision to make announcements in Spanish "demeans the immigrant population as incompetent, and makes a mockery of the American ideal of personal accomplishment," Miller wrote. He complained about the school offering condoms to underage students, allowing a club for gay students and failing to ask students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.
"You thought he was like a 35-year-old constitutional lawyer," Steve Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump's chief strategist and senior adviser, said of Miller's radio days. "That's how he built his reputation."
The young caller who caught the ear of prominent conservatives, including the late Andrew Breitbart, founder of Breitbart News, went on to do the same with Trump after joining his campaign a year ago. Starting Friday, Miller assumes the role of assistant and senior adviser to the president for policy, a job that starts with helping Trump as the president-elect writes his inaugural address.
If you've heard Trump speak at any point over the last year, you've likely heard Miller's work.
"I think he and Trump hit it off from the very beginning," Bannon said. "You could tell the difference in Trump's speeches. ... The ideas became more powerful, they were a little crisper."
"I think he helped Trump find his voice," Bannon said.
A throwback to an earlier era who speaks in a punctuated staccato and is rarely seen in anything but a dark suit and signature skinny tie, the 31-year-old Miller started in Trump's campaign as senior policy director, but quickly became a jack of all trades in the Republican's threadbare operation.
He assumed the role of Trump's chief speechwriter, channeling the candidate's freewheeling talking points into structured, teleprompter-ready prose. He even warmed up the crowd at Trump's signature rallies. Jason Miller, who served as the campaign's communications director, said when others were unwinding after a long day on Trump's campaign plane, "Steve has his little keyboard up and he's still furiously typing away."
Traveling from rally to rally on the plane, Stephen Miller kept a close ear on what Trump was saying, said Jason Miller said, cataloguing his comments and using them as the building blocks for the candidate's formal speeches.
"When Steve presents the president-elect with an idea, it's already something that the president-elect is supportive of or has suggested himself," Miller said. "(Trump) always knows what he wants to say and he always has key points he wants to make."
Miller, who declined a request for an interview, built on his high school days as a conservative provocateur at Duke University, quickly becoming a minor campus celebrity as he founded a chapter of Students for Academic Freedom and led the Duke Conservative Union.
In his column for the campus' student newspaper, Miller described himself as "a deeply committed conservative who considers it his responsibility to do battle with the left." He railed against liberal professors, against attempts to curb the sale of cigarettes on campus and against Hollywood movies that "promote alternative lifestyles and erode traditional values."
When three Duke students who played lacrosse for the Blue Devils were accused of rape, Miller advocated tirelessly on their behalf. When the racially charged case fell apart and the three were declared innocent by the state's attorney general, Miller was hailed by conservatives for his outspoken defense of his fellow students.
He moved to Washington after graduation, taking a job with then-Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and, later, Alabama Sen. Jeff Session. In seven years as a Sessions aide, Miller fought efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, and warned of the dangers of radical Islam and what he and his boss called the Republican Party's failure to communicate with the nation's working class.
"When it comes to policy, issues and messaging, there isn't anybody else that I've known who would be as valuable to a White House and a new administration as Stephen is," said Sessions, who is Trump's pick to serve as attorney general.
"He is not a hired gun," Sessions added in a statement. "He understands and supports the Trump movement" and he "understands America, loves her great values and people, and since high school in Los Angeles has defended them with passion and success."
Sam Nunberg, who helped lay the groundwork for Trump's campaign, said that Miller was the first aide on Capitol Hill to be really open and accessible to the billionaire businessman's campaign.
"We had a similar message and similar policies as Sessions. And we were a vehicle to promote that agenda," Nunberg said. "So we had mutual objectives."
But Garrett Murch, who worked side-by-side with Miller for five years in Sessions' office, said the Trump and his soon-to-be-speechwriter also shared an anger and attitude.
"What seemed to drive Stephen as much as anything was his rightful disgust with how inadequately Republicans communicated with everyday working Americans," he said, adding: "Steven saw a lot of incompetence in the Republican Party and its messaging that I think he'd spent years thinking about. It would only seem natural that they would bond over that alone."
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