This might come as a shock to you, mostly because the New York congresswoman has been endorsed by the former president in her bid to replace Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney in Republican leadership, assuming Cheney is ousted by her colleagues next week.
And Trump — even before this latest endorsement — has long lavished praise on Stefanik as one of his favorite members of Congress. In a speech celebrating his acquittal after his first impeachment trial, Trump said this of Stefanik
: “I thought, ‘She looks good, she looks like good talent.’ But I did not realize when she opens that mouth, you were killing them Elise. I’ll always be your friend. What a great future you have.”
But the numbers don’t lie. According to the conservative Heritage Action group
, Stefanik’s lifetime voting score is 48%. (Cheney’s is 80%.) The fiscally conservative Club for Growth came out in opposition to Stefanik’s ascension on Thursday, noting that she
“is NOT a good spokesperson for the House Republican Conference. She is a liberal with a 35% CFGF lifetime rating, 4th worst in the House GOP.”
And, even when it comes to votes in support of Trump, calculations done by 538
show that Stefanik backed him 77.7% of the time while Cheney did so 92.9% of the time.
All of which puts to lie the idea that Stefanik is an establishment or Trump conservative. She is demonstrably neither.
So, why then is she such a favorite of the former president and his allies in Congress, like Ohio’s Jim Jordan, who has already thrown his significant political weight behind her candidacy for Cheney’s job?
Because — and this is the little secret at the heart of the modern Republican Party — the only qualification for being beloved by the former president is to loudly and publicly praise and/or defend the former president. That’s it. Trumpism has nothing to do with policy — conservative or otherwise. It is a cult of personality, plain and simple.
Once you understand that, you get why Stefanik has risen so quickly in the ranks of Trumpworld. She emerged during the first impeachment hearings against Trump in 2019, aggressively bashing Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee for their handling of the question of whether Trump engaged in a quid pro quo in relation to Ukraine.
“Throughout the first two open hearings of the inquiry, Stefanik has emerged as one of Trump’s chief defenders. It’s an abrupt change for a lawmaker who opposed top Trump priorities and supported the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. … And as the GOP cements itself as the party of Trump, Stefanik appears eager to burnish her own conservative credentials and capitalize on the impeachment proceedings.”
She repeated that performance — and, yes, I mean performance
— during Trump’s second impeachment for his role inciting the January 6 Capitol riot. “It is a partisan ploy with no basis in the Constitution,” Stefanik wrote to explain her opposition to the impeachment
. “The Democrats’ decision to impeach the President with one week remaining in his term further fuels the divisions in the country during this very trying time.”
Which is how, when Cheney’s critique of Trump (and vote to impeach him earlier this year) got her into trouble with her colleagues and Stefanik began to signal interest, it was obvious — to anyone paying attention — that the job was hers for the taking.
And not because she is a conservative. She isn’t. Or because she carried policy or legislative waters for the Trump administration. She didn’t (not really). But because she was willing to say and do what Trump wanted when he wanted. That’s it.
The rise of Stefanik lays bare this reality: Trumpism isn’t a a set of policies, values or beliefs. It’s simply Trump — and those willing to properly kowtow to his whims and wants.