In 2014, we made Elise Stefanik one of our Power Line picks — that is, one of the candidates we urged our readers to back financially. The decision was mine, based on a recommendation by one of my daughters.
I understood that Stefanik was less conservative than many of our readers and, indeed, less conservative than I am. However, I liked her positions on national security issues and believed she was about as conservative as a candidate could be and still win her New York district. I also considered her smart, with lots of potential to serve ably for decades.
In Congress, Stefanik has been center-right rather than staunchly conservative. That’s why now, after emerging as a leading supporter of former president Trump and apparently ascending to a leadership position in the House, the mainstream media claims that she sold out her center-right principles in order to gain power.
The Washington Post makes this case in a highly partisan article (is there any other kind in the Post these days?) by Michael Kranish. It’s called “For Stefanik, a rightward turn grants upward mobility.”
But did Stefanik really turn right? Kranish’s claim that she did conflates support for Trump on non-policy questions with “turning right.” Failing to make the distinction, he fails to make his case.
Stefanik first emerged as a major supporter of Trump when she called on Adam Schiff to resign from his position as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Her call was based not on any left-right policy issue, but on Schiff’s erratic and abusive conduct regarding the investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump.
Schiff was basically making stuff up. Any fair-minded Republican paying close attention would have condemned his behavior.
Then came the first impeachment, during which Stefanik was one of Trump’s most ardent defenders. She found less merit than I did in the charge that Trump tried, for a time, to induce Ukraine to investigate the Bidens using U.S. aid as the inducement.
Again, though, this wasn’t a substantive policy issue. Stefanik didn’t argue in favor of conditioning aid to foreign countries on their willingness to investigate U.S. politicians and their families. Her contention was that Trump didn’t do this.
Thus, Stefanik did not turn “rightward” during this impeachment. Nor, in concluding that Trump ought not be impeached, did she depart from the virtually unanimous view of congressional Republicans.
This brings us to the 2020 election. Stefanik has embraced some of Trump’s voter fraud allegations. In his article for the Post, Kranish says repeatedly that the claims are false, but all he shows is that they are disputed.
In any case, like the other matters as to which Stefanik has supported the Trump position, the question of what happened during the 2020 election isn’t a substantive policy issue. It’s a question of fact.
All the while, as Kranish acknowledges, Stefanik continues to emphasize that, on substantive policy issues, she is comparatively centrist — a contention Kranish doesn’t contest. In fact, some House conservatives oppose Stefanik’s ascension into leadership on that basis. It has not gone unnoticed that Stefanik is actually less conservative than Liz Cheney, the woman she would replace.
In sum, Stefanik hasn’t turned rightward. She did become highly supportive of Trump on non-policy matters, though.
Was this because she wanted to advance in the party, as Kranish suggests, or because she believed Trump was being treated unfairly?
I can’t say. I don’t know Stefanik and have never even met her. (I was invited to a reception when she was first elected, but did not attend.)
Has Stefanik’s support for Trump on matters related to investigations and impeachment contributed to her “upward mobility”? That’s a different question to which the answer is: probably (although the fact that she’s young, smart, and female shouldn’t be discounted).
But Stefanik is hardly the first politician to move up after taking positions amenable to the party. And unlike Joe Biden, Stefanik doesn’t seem to have changed any of her positions. All of the issues cited by Kranish as helping her advance — her view of Adam Schiff, her view of the Ukrainian aid question, and her views on voter fraud in the last election — were matters of first impression.
It’s clear that the Washington Post now views Elise Stefanik as the enemy. Hence, Kranish’s attempt to portray her as an unprincipled climber.
I don’t know whether the portrait is accurate. I do know that Kranish has failed to show that it is.