The modern Republican party can sometimes be seen as consisting of stuffy, conservative, old white men, and while that might still be true, there are some Republicans starting to inject some much needed young blood into the Grand Old Party. However, this new faction within the GOP, which includes Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert. Marjorie Taylor Greene and up until recently Matt Gaetz (who is currently too busy digging holes for himself) have hitched its wagon firmly to a Trump train that appeared to have left the station after the election defeat, but in reality, is going nowhere anytime soon.
Making their way to the first class carriage is a congresswoman from New York’s 21st Congressional District, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in 2014 when she was 30 years old, Elise Stefanik. Stefanik has been touted as a replacement for the much-maligned Wyoming Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney whose tenure as No. 3 House Republican looks to be coming to an end for her rejection of Trumpism and her absolute refusal to tow the ‘stolen election’ line.
Stefanik on the other hand has made a name for herself by being one of Trump’s most ardent acolytes, and that loyalty looks like it’s about to pay off. Stefanik might be young, but she has had quite a journey to position herself in becoming the next House Republican conference chairwoman. As Trump announced he was running for the presidency in 2015, the GOP already had their eye on the young freshman, giving her a prized position on a conference committee for a defense policy bill, signaling that party leaders wanted Stefanik to be part of “the next generation of Republican leaders”.
After graduating from Harvard University in 2006 she joined the administration of President George W. Bush, quickly working her way up to serving as a top aide to Joshua Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff. By the time of the 2012 GOP presidential contest, Stefanik secured a prominent position helping draw up the platform at the Republican National Convention that formally nominated Mitt Romney before going on to manage Paul Ryan’s debate preparation during the 2012 presidential election.
When Obama defeated Romney, winning a majority of both the Electoral College and the popular vote, she returned to upstate New York to refocus, regroup, and ultimately run for office herself. She defeated Matt Doheny in the 2014 Republican primary election, 61 to 39 percent, before going on to defeat Democrat nominee Aaron Woolf and Green Party nominee Matt Funiciello to secure the victory by more than 22 percentage points.
She would continue her winning streak by successfully running for re-election in 2016 and 2018 when she received a high profile endorsement by former ambassador and soon to be a short lived Trump National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who praised her work on the House Armed Services Committee. So by 2019, with political Rolodex seemingly replete with anti-Trump Republicans like Bush, Romney, Paul, and Bolton, her emergence as one of Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders came as quite a pivot.
Because Stefanik has had a long reputation as a moderate within the GOP and still touts her record of bipartisanship, her shift to the demagoguery of political opportunists like Trump is a clear signal that the net of Trumpism is being cast wider and wider in the increasingly turbulent waters of the Republican Party and entrapping more than just fringe, conspiracy theory peddling, far-right allies.
Stefanik would take the Trump bait hook, line, and sinker by publicly supporting Trump’s false claims over voter fraud and the 2020 election, supported both an objection during the Electoral College vote count in Congress held to certify President Joe Biden’s win and a lawsuit from Texas to the Supreme Court that sought to overturn the results of the election in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. This unwavering support, and of course paying the correct amount of deference to the former president, have seen Trump add his five cents to the Cheney ousting by publicly stating that Stefanik, “is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair.”
In the end, Trump’s five cents is likely to pay dividends for Stefanik’s accession to power as he may have lost the White House and both Houses on the hill, but he appears to have an ever tightening grip on large swathes of the Republican faithful. And while the title of this piece might be about the ‘New Rising Star Republican’, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Stefanik’s star is rising to join a constellation in Trump’s universe.