Politics

Faces of the RNC: This Is Mike Miller's 14th GOP Convention

And he can laugh now, looking back at snafus like the time confetti dropped early and caught on fire

Mike Miller says he's at his last Republican convention - maybe. (Melinda Henneberger/CQ Roll Call)

CLEVELAND — This is the 14th Republican National Convention  79-year-old Mike Miller has worked on — and his last, he swears, though his friends have heard that before.  

A former Scripps-Howard reporter who covered Congress and then the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, he’s a seven-time RNC media operations director who always pushed for more access for his former colleagues “because I believe that’s how I best serve the party,” he says.  

The convention’s chief operating officer in 2012, he’s a senior adviser this year — and has plenty of experience as a troubleshooter. Like in Dallas in 1984, when he found himself pinned between Ray Charles ’ baby grand piano and reporters, led by Sam Donaldson . As Miller recalls, he barely kept the famed ABC News reporter from rushing the stage in the final moments of the convention.  

Now, Miller can laugh about how in Houston in 1992 , there was a power failure just as nominee George H.W. Bush was to arrive. And though a backup battery kept the audience from catching on, the teleprompter only had five minutes of power left, so they had to put a message on the prompter asking President Gerald Ford to “cut it short” — and then were afraid he would read that to the crowd, too. (He didn’t.)  

Once, his crew so overdid the balloon-drop that some people were up to their necks in them on the floor. Another time, the confetti dropped early and little patches of it were starting to catch on fire, so his staff was on hands and knees trying to snuff them all out.  

So much has changed, of course, since his first convention, in 1964 at the San Francisco Bay Area’s Cow Palace, “had a great big billowing cloud of cigar smoke” hanging over it. But though his work has changed in the 52 years since by satellite technology, cable television and then digital journalism, “we didn’t really come up with any significant structural changes” to the basic presentation or even the process of “coming together to mix, argue, meet each other and hopefully, leave more unified,” he says.  

Living here in Cleveland for the last year, he’s weighed in on everything from the size of the press seats we're sitting in during an interview to how flashy, literally, signs on the TV network booths can be. (Last week, he says NBC had to remove some “unauthorized peacocks” and CNN “has their feelings hurt” because they missed the memo that yes, the images on the signs can change from hour to hour.)  

But his favorite part of every convention is its last hour, when he tries to stop running around and just listen to the nominee’s speech — like the one Poppy Bush gave in New Orleans in 1988 , where to Miller’s mind, “he gave the speech of his life — never made one like it before or after.”  

The longtime Washington, D.C., public affairs consultant is mostly retired now, near his hometown of Knoxville , Tennessee, where he can see the Smoky Mountains from the top of his driveway. Whatever happens here, a week from now, he’ll be back there, hiking and golfing.  

And four years from now? “I may come back as a volunteer or a guest,’’ he says, “just to keep my string going to 15.”  

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