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Can Elise Stefanik Become MAGA’s Messenger in Chief?

Stefanik endorsed Trump’s 2024 bid in November of 2022, before the former president had even formally announced his intention of running again. She voted against certifying Biden’s election win, amplified conspiracies about Dominion Voting Systems, and doesn’t appear to have acknowledged that Biden won legitimately. Stefanik called the New York District Attorney’s case against Trump an all-caps “WITCH HUNT” on Twitter, directing people to donate to the ex-president’s campaign. A little over a month later, when another of Trump’s many legal woes—the defamation and rape case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll— saw its resolution in court, Stefanik declined to comment. When communications unveiled through the Dominion lawsuit against Fox revealed Trump confidants’ acknowledgments that their stolen-election claims were toothless, Stefanik was mum. With news of the second indictment against Trump in the classified documents case, she posted a photo of herself with the president: “STAND WITH TRUMP!” she wrote. If she talks, she’s always on message. If she doesn’t, I get the sense it’s because she’s realized silence is most expedient.

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When I ask her about the vice presidency, she answers. “I would be honored to serve in a Trump administration,” she says. “But I am very conscious there’s a long time between now and then, and there’s a lot of work that House Republicans have to do.” After all, she’s still in office. He—despite the best election-subversion efforts of his team and allies (Stefanik included)—was voted out. She has hitched her wagon to his train, but, at least in this moment in time, her political future could be much brighter than his. 

Stefanik was 14 years old when she was excused from class—at the Albany Academy for Girls, a private institution in upstate New York—to attend a 1998 campaign event for former US senator Alfonse D’Amato, who was facing off against now Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer. “I support the Republican view, especially his,” a braces-donning Stefanik told the Times Union’s James M. Odato. She added of D’Amato: “He supports all of New York State, not just downstate.” The résumé Stefanik built up in the following decades suggests running for office was likely always part of the plan, even though she says it wasn’t. She went to Harvard, worked on the Domestic Policy Council in the George W. Bush White House, and then went to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, where she helped craft platforms and prepped Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, for his vice presidential debate against Biden. 

After Romney lost, then RNC chair Reince Priebus appointed Stefanik to the task force developing the infamous 2012 “autopsy.” Tim Miller, a Republican political operative who worked on the report alongside her, says Stefanik was like “the point person on a group project in college.” The autopsy concluded that the Republican Party needed to be inclusive of communities of color, women, and young voters. When Stefanik ran for New York’s 21st district to replace incumbent Democrat Bill Owens, who did not seek reelection, she largely embraced the findings of the report she had helped craft. “I don’t remember any point in which [Stefanik] pushed back on the substance of the content,” Miller, who served as Jeb Bush’s communications director in 2016, reflects. Stefanik, after all, was the “human embodiment of the autopsy.” 

At 30 years old, she became the youngest woman elected to Congress; a Glamour profile heralded her as “the youngest woman to ever break into the old boys’ club of Congress.” She was seen as something of a Ryan protégé; he had been a prominent supporter of her campaign. Then, Trump arrived on the scene. 

In 2016, Stefanik voted for former Ohio governor John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary. (“Going into 2016, that was my first reelection and the first presidential [election] while I was a sitting member of Congress,” she tells me. “I was very comfortable, leading up, saying, ‘I’m going to support the Republican nominee, and voters will decide who the primary winner is.’ I was proud to vote for President Trump in 2016.”) 

These days, her public and social media presence is almost indistinguishable from those of the Gaetzes, Marjorie Taylor Greenes, or Lauren Boeberts of the House. Her campaign repeated “great replacement theory” rhetoric, posting that “radical Democrats” were planning a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” by granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants; she proudly voted to ban trans athletes from women’s or girls sports at federally supported schools, part of what she called a fight against “Democrats’ radical and Far Left attempt to erase women”; and she has fearmongered over “critical race theory.” But still, there is a Washington, DC, polish to Stefanik, like she’s spent her life being shaped by the political establishment. 

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