May 6, 2021
By: NATHANIEL BALLANTYNE
TRUENEWSBLOG — Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) seemingly imminent ouster from her spot as the No. 3 Republican in House leadership will reverberate inside the GOP in 2021 and beyond.
Her probable successor, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, made her reputation when she defended Trump during his first impeachment hearing. But Stefanik wasn’t always a Trump loyalist. How might she help shape the Republican Party’s future? Nightly chatted with campaign editor and Ithaca native Scott Bland , who covered her first campaign for the House, in 2014, over Slack today about his fellow upstate New Yorker’s rise. This conversation has been edited
How is Stefanik seen in New York State?
She came into Congress in 2014 with this kind of moderate, new-ideas sheen about her. At the time, she was the youngest woman ever elected to the House.
Still, there wasn’t anything particularly striking about her. She was a pretty conventional Republican at the time, and she had a deep Republican résumé in Washington to go with her upbringing in the area. She was a staffer in the Bush White House and the Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign, among other things, before she moved home to run for Congress. And when she did, she got a lot of support from D.C., including from Ryan and a big super PAC.
How did she vault her way from that to House leadership?
Before she became nationally known as a Trump defender, she was seen as a rising star among a smaller group of Washington Republicans. She certainly wasn’t a big Trump fan in 2016 — she was, for a time, one of those Republican officeholders who would say “I plan to support the nominee” without explicitly saying his name. But, without getting into motivations or anything like that, it’s clear that coming around on Trump has been good for business for Stefanik.
Something I thought was really interesting while thinking about Stefanik’s rise was the evolution of her district, which is basically the northeast corner of New York State. When she first won it, Barack Obama had just carried it twice — and he actually improved his performance slightly in 2012 compared to 2008, even though his overall national vote share declined.
That seems to me like kind of an indictment of the traditional Republican Party that she was aligned with at that point, and specifically of the Romney-Ryan campaign. But Trump carried the district by double digits since then. It’s an Obama-Trump district.
Are you surprised to see her star take off?
Ha, I wouldn’t say surprised. This doesn’t really crack the list of the most surprising things that have happened since Stefanik broke into Congress. It’s always been clear that she’s talented.
But this situation, specifically, is just such a surprising way to rise, isn’t it? Liz Cheney just defeated an effort to remove her from leadership pretty resoundingly a few months ago, and now here we are. That’s the surprising part to me.
Totally. What does it say about where the GOP is headed?
Trump is obviously still a huge factor in every little piece of internal party politics. You can see this in everything from contests for state and local party chair positions to the upper echelons of Congress. I know it’s a basic fact of life right now, but it still is worthwhile to sit back and think about how remarkable that is, considering he just became the first president to lose reelection since 1992–