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Elise Stefanik, Reinvented in Trump’s Picture, Embodies a Modified G.O.P.

By , in Politics , at March 27, 2022

As soon as a mainstream Republican from a reasonable district, Ms. Stefanik, the celebration’s No. three Home chief, has embraced Trumpism and the extremists in her ranks.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — On the second flooring of an upscale golf resort close to Jacksonville this previous week, Home Republicans gathered for drinks as they kicked off a three-day retreat to plot their path to successful the bulk on this yr’s midterm elections.

Consultant Jim Jordan of Ohio, dressed down in a fleece vest, stood in a single nook whereas Consultant Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia hustled out and in of the reception space. However it was Consultant Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. three Republican and an architect of the celebration’s message, who was working the present, working the room together with her 7-month-old son on her hip.

A yr in the past, the identical Home Republican retreat was fraught with drama as Consultant Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who then held the third-ranking management put up, publicly denounced former President Donald J. Trump’s election lies. That prompted a backlash from different Republican leaders, who swiftly moved to oust her and install Ms. Stefanik in her place.

This yr, with Ms. Stefanik appearing because the occasion’s organizer and M.C., there was little dissent on show. Inflation, immigration and President Biden’s failures had been performed up, whereas Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraud within the 2020 election and his denial of any accountability for the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol didn’t even benefit a point out — a mark of how completely the celebration has rallied across the former president.

That Ms. Stefanik, 37, could be internet hosting this specific celebration appeared becoming. A once-moderate Republican who labored in President George W. Bush’s White Home and was a protégé of former Speaker Paul D. Ryan, she is the embodiment of the fast shift within the Republican Occasion. In just some brief years, she has morphed from the conservative mainstream into an unlikely star of the MAGA universe and a die-hard Trump loyalist.

In an interview on the sidelines of the celebration retreat, her reinvention was on vivid show. Ms. Stefanik repeated Mr. Trump’s lies concerning the 2020 election being stolen and refused to acknowledge Mr. Biden because the legitimately elected president.

“Joe Biden is within the White Home proper now — the American folks perceive that — however they do have questions,” she mentioned in between a lunch with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a dinner with the writer of a e book known as “Woke, Inc.”

“In my district, I nonetheless get questions on it,” Ms. Stefanik mentioned, including, “I believe there are constitutional questions on the unconstitutional overreach of unelected people in states like Pennsylvania.”

And as her celebration veers towards extremism, Ms. Stefanik refused to sentence the Republicans who converse most loudly to the perimeter. Requested about Ms. Greene, who recently spoke at a white nationalist event, and Consultant Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who has known as President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine a “thug,” she mentioned the 2 had been merely reflecting the views of the voters of their districts.

“They symbolize their constituents, and they’re held accountable for the statements they make,” Ms. Stefanik mentioned, noting the Home Republican convention as an entire didn’t share their views.

It has been a fast transformation. Ms. Stefanik, who graduated from Harvard, was as soon as seen by Democrats as a vibrant spot within the Republican Occasion, somebody who was going to dig into coverage points on the Home Intelligence Committee, which she joined in 2017.

In personal conversations, Ms. Stefanik generally conceded to former colleagues and confidants that Mr. Trump was a catastrophe for the celebration, although she mentioned she didn’t see an upside to publicly criticizing him. She vented to confidants that the administration made “dumb” selections that left Republicans in Congress shouldering the blame — pissed off, for instance, at Mr. Trump’s on-again, off-again backing of sweeping immigration laws to grant authorized standing to unauthorized immigrants dropped at the US as kids, usually often known as Dreamers.

(A senior adviser to Ms. Stefanik, Alex deGrasse, mentioned she by no means made these feedback about Mr. Trump and his administration.)

However lately, Ms. Stefanik is a loud and unapologetic Trump acolyte, even defending his reward of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. (“I believe that President Trump was saying that Vladimir Putin assessed the weak point of Joe Biden, and sadly took benefit of it,” she mentioned, noting that Mr. Putin was a struggle legal.)

Scott McIntyre for The New York Instances

Whereas some Republicans have tried to stroll a cautious tightrope, supporting Mr. Trump’s insurance policies whereas distancing themselves from his false claims concerning the stolen election, Ms. Stefanik makes no such {qualifications}.

“I converse to President Trump steadily,” she mentioned. “He’s an extremely essential voice by way of rising the celebration among the many working class.” Requested whether or not Mr. Trump’s affect on her celebration was on the wane, she flatly rejected the notion.

“No, it’s on the rise,” she mentioned. “Particularly now that voters have regrets about voting for Joe Biden.”

Ms. Stefanik, who beforehand mentioned she would serve only one term in leadership, is on the rise herself inside her celebration’s ranks. She may lead a robust Home committee or throw her hat within the ring in what is predicted to be a aggressive race for whip. A part of her success in management, aides mentioned, is predicated on her effort to assist elect extra Republican girls to Congress by way of her political motion committee, which has additionally helped her construct a community of help in her convention.

She has labored exhausting to win over detractors who query her conservative bona fides and is now broadly widespread amongst Republicans, together with right-wing members who had been as soon as suspicious of her mainstream background. The most important assist in that effort has been the help of Mr. Trump, who doesn’t care about her extra centrist previous when she has proven him whole fealty.

Mr. Trump, folks near him mentioned, could be very happy to see Ms. Stefanik make historical past because the Republicans’ first feminine speaker, though he doesn’t plan to get entangled within the race for the put up and could be unlikely to face in the way in which of Consultant Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority chief, if Republicans achieve successful again the Home majority. However his fixed reward of Ms. Stefanik serves as a reminder that she has handed a loyalty take a look at with Mr. Trump that Mr. McCarthy has not.

Mr. Trump speaks with Ms. Stefanik a number of occasions every week and describes her as “one in every of my killers,” because of her key function as his chief defender on the Home Intelligence Committee throughout his first impeachment trial.

Her opportunism is criticized by her detractors, however celebrated by some on the exhausting proper, who assume she has revealed herself as somebody prepared to go to any size to rise.

At a current fund-raiser in Palm Seashore, Mr. Trump even floated her name as a potential presidential candidate in 2028.

“I’m not going to even interact in that,” she mentioned when requested about her future in Home management. “I’m supporting Kevin McCarthy for speaker. I don’t measure the drapes. It’s a very long time between now and the November election.”

(In search of to downplay any trace of rivalry, Ms. Stefanik’s aides famous that Mr. McCarthy not solely attended her marriage ceremony in 2017, but additionally campaigned for her at a biker bar in upstate New York throughout her first race. )

Her political metamorphosis has include heady rewards for an formidable politician: a prime-time talking slot on the Republican Nationwide Conference in 2020 and a jet-fueled rise within the ranks of her celebration.

“Congress has gotten more durable and rougher,” mentioned Consultant Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “She didn’t begin that. She’s confirmed she is aware of how you can combine it up, and that’s one of many qualities we search for in a convention.”

However Ms. Stefanik’s political calculation shocked the networks she had spent her life cultivating. She misplaced lots of her school pals from Harvard and was requested to step except for her function on the senior advisory committee of the college’s Institute of Politics due to her false assertions of voter fraud within the 2020 election.

Her onetime mentor Mr. Ryan declined to remark about her for this text, though aides to each mentioned they had been nonetheless in contact repeatedly.

Many pals and former colleagues assume she made a cynical, short-term political gamble in her full-bore flip to Trumpism. Some have tried to warn her at varied factors alongside the street, however acquired a stony response.

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Instances

Melissa DeRosa, a childhood good friend of Ms. Stefanik’s who served as a secretary to former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, mentioned she had reached out in 2019 after seeing Ms. Stefanik’s efficiency through the impeachment hearings.

“I’m actually involved you’re doing this stuff that can injury your credibility in the long run,” she recalled texting Ms. Stefanik.

Ms. DeRosa mentioned the reply was well mannered however curt. “She wrote again saying, principally: ‘You must all the time really feel like you may inform me what you assume. I recognize your enter.’” It was the top of the dialog.

Different former pals and mentors mentioned they discovered her shape-shifting miserable. Invoice Kristol, a distinguished By no means Trump conservative, mentioned he as soon as seen her as a rising star within the celebration.

“I launched her to donors and contributed to her marketing campaign in 2014,” Mr. Kristol mentioned, noting that at a gathering in her workplace in 2018 she privately agreed with him that Mr. Trump was a legal responsibility. “She appeared like a accountable elected official. Incorrect.”

To elucidate her personal transformation, Ms. Stefanik factors to the rightward lurch of her onetime swing district, which voted for Barack Obama and was represented by a Democrat earlier than she flipped the seat in 2014 and the district turned Trump nation.

“I imagine that my report and my time in Congress is reflective of my constituents,” she mentioned.

Privately, she has advised folks she was “radicalized by Adam Schiff,” the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee who led the primary impeachment effort in opposition to Mr. Trump.

Different members of the panel say that as Ms. Stefanik grew extra partisan concerning the impeachment, her attendance at committee occasions and briefings dropped to virtually zero.

Stefani Reynolds for The New York Instances

Again house, in a district that has develop into redder within the redistricting course of, Ms. Stefanik has solely grown safer politically. “Whenever you stay in an space like this, it’s a bit of little bit of a quiet space,” mentioned Jeff Graham, a conservative radio host and the previous mayor of Watertown. “When you see your member of Congress on the information, you be ok with it.”

Nonetheless, there are awkward moments.

Final fall, when Ms. Stefanik was at an apple orchard in Saratoga County together with her husband and her new child son, a girl who grew up within the North Nation area approached her and advised her bluntly how she thought the congresswoman had compromised her values for energy.

Ms. Stefanik bristled, telling the lady that she was thought of one of the crucial bipartisan congresswomen within the nation, a report that she was pleased with. (A report by the Lugar Center, which seeks to boost bipartisanship, ranked her as one of the crucial bipartisan members of the earlier Congress, in accordance with its index.)

In an interview, Ms. Stefanik mentioned she recalled the incident however refused to imagine the lady was from her district.

“Not a voter,” she mentioned firmly. “Not a constituent.”


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