What Elise Stefanik’s Rise Means for the G.O.P.



Donald Trump is out of the White House — and mostly gone from the public eye — but his grip on the G.O.P. base has probably never been stronger.

In the House, Representative Liz Cheney’s tenure as the No. 3 Republican appears to be coming to an end, thanks to her willingness to stand up to Mr. Trump’s fabrications. With Ms. Cheney on her way out, a new era in G.O.P. politics is being ushered in: As early as next week, every member of the House leadership could be fully committed to a pro-Trump platform.

Which means we’ll continue to hear a lot of false claims about the electoral system being broken — and less emphasis on traditional Republican policy goals.

Representative Elise Stefanik, who’s in line to take Ms. Cheney’s place, is a perfect symbol of the shift. Just over six years ago, at 30 years old, Ms. Stefanik was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time. She did it by flipping an upstate New York district that had sent a Democrat to the House for the past two decades, and since then she has legislated mostly like a moderate.

The staunchly conservative think tank FreedomWorks gave her voting record a score of 37 percent, which it called “dismal” in a tweet on Wednesday. She has actually voted with Mr. Trump far less often than Ms. Cheney has.

But Ms. Stefanik has increasingly played along to his tune, at least rhetorically, and lately she’s become a major defender of his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Thus far, the balance she’s struck appears to be working: She has won re-election by double-digit margins three times in a row in a relatively nonideological district, where loyalty to Mr. Trump is becoming the coin of the realm.

The House Republican Conference is expected to hold a vote next week on replacing Ms. Cheney with Ms. Stefanik. Our Washington reporters Catie Edmondson and Luke Broadwater published an article yesterday on Ms. Stefanik’s recent drift into Trump loyalism. I spoke to Catie to get her perspective on what this means for the future of G.O.P. politics, in the House and beyond.

Hi, Catie. Trump’s first impeachment trial was the moment when Stefanik was seen as fully casting her lot with Trump. How did that unfold, and why do you think she decided to go all-in?

When she was first sworn into the House, then the youngest woman elected to Congress, Stefanik had a pretty establishment set of credentials, having worked for Paul Ryan on his vice-presidential campaign and in President George W. Bush’s administration, and she was widely seen as a moderate. To understand her transformation, you need only to look at the way her district has changed throughout the years: Her voters swung hard to the right in 2016 after voting twice for President Barack Obama. She has publicly spoken about how stunning it was to her to see so many Trump yard signs popping up in her district in 2016.

But that transformation has won her a number of hard-right allies, like Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, maybe the most well-known Trump ally in the House. Some other deeply conservative members have been more skeptical about that metamorphosis, though.

In the last election cycle, Stefanik ran a political action committee that helped elect over a dozen female G.O.P. candidates. At a time when the party is having an increasingly hard time with female voters, how important has this résumé item been to her ascent?

Stefanik very early on in her time in the House vocalized that helping Republican women get through primary elections was crucial to addressing the party’s gender diversity problem, especially as Trump’s caustic style threatened to alienate female voters and further narrow Republicans’ appeal. Initially, her outspokenness on the issue rubbed some of her (male) colleagues the wrong way, but Stefanik is now widely seen as one of the key engineers of a strategy that saw female candidates in 2020 almost single-handedly secure the party’s impressive gains against Democrats.

Stefanik and her PAC supported many of those women, several of whom are now considered rising stars in the party, and as a result she benefits from a deep well of support.

As you point out in your and Luke’s recent article, in an interview yesterday with Steve Bannon, Stefanik hammered on the theme of voting integrity, mimicking Trump’s falsehoods about a stolen election. Despite all the debunkings, could this remain as the major theme in many Republican primaries in 2022?

Those comments really highlighted one of the ironies driving Cheney’s ouster. House Republicans agitating to purge her from their leadership ranks have insisted that the problem isn’t her criticism of Trump’s false election claims — it’s that she insists on re-litigating them.

But the fact that Stefanik championed those same claims on her media blitz yesterday demonstrates that the Republican Party isn’t going to be able to escape them just by removing the one leader willing to rebuke them, particularly when Trump continues to trumpet them almost daily.

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