An early interview with Rob Miller

The first time I met Rob Miller, he was still a captain in the United States Marine Corps. He was having breakfast at the Capital City Club with Samuel Tenenbaum and Bud Ferillo. They were talking with him about his plan to leave the Corps and run for Congress in the 2nd District. He was in civvies — a blue blazer and conservative tie, as I recall — but he was marked as a Marine by two things: His head was shaved, and he compulsively called every man he addressed “sir” in a way that made you feel like he was just barely containing himself from saluting. (Marines always do this, and I find it disconcerting. I’m a lousy civilian; I should be calling them “sir,” not the other way around.)

When next I met him, a few months later, his hair had just started to grow out, and he was both a civilian and a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District. About all I knew about him was that he had been a Marine, he was a combat veteran, having served two tours in Iraq, and he was Bobby Hitt’s nephew (I had worked for Bobby when he was managing editor of The State in the late 80s) — and that some prominent Democrats had taken an interest in his campaign, at least to some extent.

Other than that, he was a blank slate for me, so this interview did a lot to form my impression of him as a candidate. It was not a strong impression. I did not feel like he was ready to run for this office. He seemed uncertain in talking about why he was running, and had to grope for answers to questions that simply asked him to elaborate on what he had said in his opening remarks. He had this trouble in spite of having a little notebook with him, to which he repeatedly referred.

Now, in complete fairness to Capt. Miller: This was very early in his transition to civilian life. I thought he seemed more poised and confident later in the campaign, such as in the October debate with Joe Wilson that I helped moderate. (The header photo above is from that event.) Unfortunately, the link to that video no longer seems to work, and I lost everything that I had put on my laptop in September and October of that year when my laptop was stolen (although I don’t think I had anything on him from that period anyway). So the one thing I have to refer back to is this video from May of that year.

We did not endorse Capt. Miller in the primary, which is what this interview was about. We endorsed Blaine Lotz, who had had a somewhat more extensive military career than the captain (he had retired from the Air Force as a colonel), and a far greater grasp of national security issues — after the Air Force, he had a distinguished civilian career at the Pentagon specializing in intelligence, and in 1998 he was appointed by Secretary of Defense Cohen to be Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight. Of course, he was still in that position under Donald Rumsfeld, for which S.C. Democrats were apparently unwilling to forgive him. Or maybe they didn’t even know that; he didn’t seem to get as much exposure in the campaign as did Capt. Miller. In any case, Miller won.

Even though he made a better impression in the fall, we still did what many of you will no doubt consider unforgivable — we endorsed Joe Wilson. It was a tepid endorsement, but an endorsement all the same. In that same editorial, we also endorsed Jim Clyburn (also unenthusiastically) and John Spratt (wholeheartedly). An excerpt:

Newcomer Rob Miller seems poised to give incumbent Joe Wilson a real contest this year. The Democrat is an ex-Marine, an Iraq combat veteran and a member of a prominent South Carolina family (his uncle used to be managing editor of this newspaper). He seemed uncertain about issues in the primary campaign, but still managed to beat a former Air Force general [I don’t know where that came from, since his bio online says he retired as a colonel] with an impressive resume. He has gained confidence in the intervening months with an aggressive, populist, anti-establishment message. Combine that with the Obama Effect, and you have a candidate with a chance.

But we endorse Republican Wilson, who demonstrates a greater command of the issues, and is much more attuned to the wishes of voters in the district’s gravitational center, Lexington County. Yes, he’s a hyper-Republican, and we’d like to see a less partisan candidate with competitive credentials. But Rep. Wilson is a hard-working, earnest representative who is truly devoted to serving his district and his country, and voters will be better served to re-elect him.

In the 6th District, we see both strong similarities and a stark difference. The similarity is that the incumbent, Jim Clyburn, is just as partisan as Mr. Wilson, and much more successful at it — he’s the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, the majority whip. It’s his job to line up votes for Speaker Nancy Pelosi; he takes the job seriously and does it well.

Where this district, which runs from Richland County through the Pee Dee and down the I-95 corridor, differs from the 2nd is in the fact that Mr. Clyburn is strongly supported in every part of it. He is closely attuned to his district’s wants and needs, and passionately devoted to serving its people. Consequently, he faces weak opposition in Republican Nancy Harrelson, who is running on a populist platform in some ways similar to Mr. Miller’s.

We endorse Mr. Clyburn, a highly experienced and savvy public servant who is clearly better qualified.

By the way, about that reference to “a populist platform in some ways similar to Mr. Miller’s” — while he seemed more confident and polished by the fall, the persona he had adopted was that of the somewhat ticked-off champion of the common man, which was sufficiently at odds with his previously self-effacing junior-officer demeanor that it seemed contrived. At least, that’s the way I remember it. I wish I could find that video to check my memory.

Anyway, my point in sharing all this is to answer the question that a couple of folks have asked, which is, what do I mean when I say Rob Miller was unimpressive, and that I’m distressed that Joe Wilson’s outburst has now put so much money in his campaign coffers that it seems no other, stronger challenger is likely to emerge?

Again, I offer the caveat that this video is from very early, but this is how I initially formed my impression of Rob Miller. After that my impression was modified, but not entirely. Bottom line, I think it’s a lousy situation that here we are in the market for a replacement for Joe Wilson — a moment in which a challenger might have a chance — and the flood of money to Rob Miller (because he happened to be the guy standing there at the time) has probably precluded the possibility of a stronger candidate emerging.

See what you think.

17 thoughts on “An early interview with Rob Miller

  1. Brad Warthen

    Here’s one more item to add to my anxiety over this: Kathleen Parker wrote in her latest column:

    “Both he [Joe Wilson] and his opponent, Rob Miller, reportedly have raised more than $1 million each since Wilson’s eruption.”

    Actually, NO, Rob Miller is not technically Joe Wilson’s opponent. He is running as a Democrat, and does not have the nomination. If he were running as a Republican, challenging Joe Wilson for that nomination, he would already be his opponent. So far, he is merely offering himself to become the nominee who will then oppose Wilson.

    But all that money has made him so inevitable that people speak (and write) this way…

  2. Lee Muller

    Impressions are what politicians want to create, instead of concrete positions which would enable voters KNOW how they will legislate.

    The vague rhetoric of Clintons and Obama should be a red flag to anyone by now to back away from any candidate who avoids laying out his positions in public, in writing, and sticking to them.

  3. doug_ross

    Here’s all the qualifications that are necessary to hold public office:

    1) Is he honest?
    2) Is he reasonably intelligent?
    3) Is he fair?
    4) Does he understand that he represents his constituents both in terms of his positions on issues and (in my view more importantly) how he decides the people’s tax dollars should be spent
    5) Does he rely on his party affiliation to craft his message?
    6) What tangible results has he accomplished outside of public office? Tangible does not include serving on/chairing committees, writing position papers, etc. I want someone who has got his hands dirty.

    Experience as a politician counts for ZERO in my book. It’s experience that turns good people into lousy politicians. McCain is a perfect example. I once voted for him in a primary but lost all respect for him when I watched him transform himself into whatever he thought he had to be in order to win. Palin was the end result of that sad process.

  4. Lee Muller

    Vague, and meaningless, bromides…

    reinvesting in the American worker
    bringing change to Washington
    new ideas and solutions
    get our country back on track
    balance budget and reduce the deficit
    reinvest in American industry
    sensible exit strategy for Iraq
    overhaul healthcare system… access for every child
    not right that people cannot afford healthcare

    I believe in walking quietly and carrying a big stick
    I have concerns with our move to privatize…uh…issues
    I believe in a middle ground between government and business

    I support free trade as long as it is fair
    United Nations should play the lead role… we should support them
    We should take care of America first.

    No follow up from the interviewer.
    No attempt to pin get an explanation or detail.
    The interviewer leaves knowing nothing.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Umm… there WAS follow-up by the interviewers. Quite a bit of it. Some of it is in this video — whenever you hear Warren or me talking. But my point was to include as much footage of Rob Miller (not Brad Warthen) talking as possible within a five-minute YouTube video…

  6. Brad Warthen

    But you’re right, Lee, about the vague bromides. The things he was saying were SO generic that I found it sort of painful to listen, which is sort of my point. I just thought this young man had not thought NEARLY enough about these issues he was talking about…

  7. martin

    I’m sorry I haven’t watched the video yet, but I don’t want to. From what I infer about what you say, he sounds like the type of amazingly superficial politician we are falling for lately.
    Someone like Sanford and Palin who have realized they can make more money in high office, with no to little experience, than they ever hope to make if they actually got a job based on their education, experience and ability to make it through a real job interview. Plus, a lot less work and amazing perks.

    Where else can he make as much as a Congressman does while doing only as much as he feels like doing?

    Did I miss something? Did he look for a job when he got out of the military or go directly to campaigning? Is he working now?

  8. martin

    Brad, the more I think about this, you should run. At least you have put the time and effort into thinking about issues.
    You need a job. Mr. Miller sounds like he needs some more diverse work experience before he goes to Congress.

  9. doug_ross


    My guess is that Brad can’t run because it would require him to choose a party. You cannot win without aligning with one or the other. And choosing a party would give the plenty of his former readers the ability to say, “I knew it!”.

  10. Lee Muller

    What Rob Miller said about needing a turnover strategy in Iraq, is that we already had that strategy in place in 2007, and it was being implemented two months before Miller gave this interview.

    If recent USMC Captain is not up to speed on the subject closest to his work experience, he has a lot of studying to do on that an the other issues. Good intentions are not enough.

  11. Brad Warthen

    Doug’s put his finger on the problem. I might be able to swing an UnParty candidacy for the legislature (it would be a stretch, but conceivable), but a congressional campaign is big and expensive and hard to pull off without the resources of a party. Only way an independent could do it is if some really rich person wanted to underwrite it. And since Bill Gates never came forward to give me the money to buy the newspaper back when I asked, I’m not holding my breath on that.

    Thing is, I might want to get involved in politics one way or another in the coming election, if whatever job I’m doing allows it. It’s a very important election for South Carolina, and I care deeply about the issues involved.

    And whatever campaign I chose to help, everyone would say, “Aha! He was a (Democrat, Republican, take your pick) all along!” But that wouldn’t be true. I would just be going with the person I thought was the best candidate in that particular race. So if I take that step, I’ll just have to brace myself to absorb those accusations.

    Now, just speaking hypothetically — if I DID run for Congress, and didn’t have a wealthy and eccentric “angel” backing my campaign, and were therefore forced to work within one of the parties…. Well, this situation would tend to argue for running as a Democrat, for purely pragmatic reasons. Joe Wilson’s base is embracing him protectively now, and it seems highly unlikely that a challenger would be able to beat him for the GOP nomination. The opportunity would seem to be in the non-incumbent party.

    Anybody see any flaw in that reasoning? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Joe is more vulnerable within his party than I think. Thoughts?

    Trouble is, we’ve got Rob Miller sitting there on a mountain of money, so the Democratic route might be a dead end, too — which is what I’ve been lamenting. I don’t see how ANYBODY new is going to break into this thing.

  12. kbfenner

    Uh, just because Bill Gates didn’t buy The State doesn’t mean an angel wouldn’t fund an independent’s campaign. There are plenty of rich angels out there.

    Warren Buffett? Stephen Colbert?

  13. Lee Muller

    How about the same Muslims who funded Barack Obama’s campaign through illegal donations through his website, using Wal-Mart cash cards?


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