As a first-term Republican congressman from New York State, Elise Stefanik was so reluctant to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for president that she refused to speak his name out loud, instead referring to him as “ the candidate of my party’.
Four years later, Stefanik had become one of the president’s fiercest defenders. In a coveted speaking spot at the 2020 Republican National Convention, she offered Trump her full approval, describing the Democrats’ impeachment investigation as an “ groundless and illegal. ” . . appearance ”.
Today, Stefanik, 36, is on the eve of the Republican party leadership. She is widely expected to be elected as the House GOP conference chair this week, making her the oldest Republican woman on Capitol Hill. Trump backed her up for the role last week, calling her a “tough and smart communicator.” She also has the public backing of Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the number one and number two House Republicans respectively.
Stefanik will replace Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who argued with her party over her vote to impeach Trump earlier this year for his role in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol left. five people dead.
“Elise coming in is a perfect symbol of the Trump era,” said Brendan Buck, a former senior aide to Paul Ryan who served as Speaker of the House from 2015 to 2019. Stefanik worked on Ryan’s debate prep team when he was Mitt Romney’s rider. partner in the 2012 presidential election.
“In every way she’s actually less conservative than Liz Cheney, but in terms of the measures that matter – support for the president, willingness to wage the culture war, willingness to fight the media – she checks those boxes,” he added. add to it.
Cheney is a staunch economic and geopolitical conservative. But she has repeatedly called on colleagues to encourage Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him.
Stefanik appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast last week and said she was “completely” reversing Republican efforts to reverse the election results in Arizona, where Joe Biden defeated Trump. She was one of 147 Republican lawmakers who voted against Biden’s election college certification even after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
For many in Washington, that voice reinforced Stefanik’s bona fide as a Trump loyalist – and underscored the dramatic change in style and substance for the Harvard University graduate. Stefanik has long been seen as a rising star of the moderate wing of the Republican Party, with a resume working for former President George W Bush and ex-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, among others.
Stefanik was born and raised in Albany, New York, by parents who owned a triplex distributor. She showed an interest in politics from an early age: a local newspaper article from 1998 documented how then 14-year-old high school student Stefanik skipped class to attend a signing session for a Republican legislator.
She went to Harvard, where she was active in student journalism and politics and earned a degree in government. As a student, she co-authored an op-ed with Jeanne Shaheen, the former Democratic Governor of New Hampshire who is now a United States Senator.
In 2014, she ran for Republican and won her race for the United States House of Representatives at the age of 30, making her the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress.
In the 2016 cycle, Stefanik first backed John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, before reluctantly backing Trump as a candidate for the Republican Party. Shortly after his election, she became co-chair of the Tuesday Group, a caucus of moderate Republican lawmakers committed to working with Democrats.
But less than three years later, she had crossed sharply to the right, joined Trump’s defense team on his first impeachment, and became one of his loudest supporters. As a 2020 candidate, Stefanik adopted many of the president’s rhetorical feats, including giving her Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb, the nickname “Taxin ‘Tedra”.
Stefanik’s critics and allies say her political transformation reflects the changing attitudes of voters in her congressional district.
“What [Stefanik] saw and realized that the district was no longer a place that wanted a soft, moderate Republican, ”Buck said. ‘It wanted a hunter. It wanted what Donald Trump sold, so she reinvented herself. “
Stefanik represents New York’s 21st congressional district, which covers a significant portion of New York State. The largely rural, white working class district voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, before flipping to become firmly Republican in the 2016 presidential election. Trump beat Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden by 14 and 11 points, respectively.
“The people here, as on a national level, were very willing to turn to Donald Trump’s message to reinvent … this America that existed, because things were objectively better here 60 years ago than they are now. , ” said Alexander Cohen, a professor of political science at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, who said Stefanik now has a ‘stranglehold on the chair.
Stefanik is one of the top Republican fundraisers on Capitol Hill, bringing in $ 13.3 million in the 2020 campaign cycle alone, according to OpenSecrets. Its leadership fundraising vehicle, E-PAC, funneled $ 435,000 to other Republican women, causing the party to double the number of female representatives in the House between 2018 and 2020.
The track record sets her in good stead with fellow Republican lawmakers who will seek to take back control of both the House and Senate from the Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
But it will do little to offset the attacks of Stefanik’s critics, who accuse her of flip-flopping when it comes to both personality and policy.
Cohen said he did not know whether Stefanik’s political evolution reflected “naked ambition” or “real, ideological belief.”
But he added, “Of course it’s hard to tell the difference between the two in politicians.”