IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Stefanik's pro-Trump transformation has fueled her rapid rise. Her voters seem just fine with that.

The upstate New York Republican is poised to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference.
Image: Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., during a public impeachment hearing for President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Nov. 19, 2019.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., during a hearing on the impeachment of President Donald Trump in Washington on Nov. 19, 2019.Jacquelyn Martin / Pool via Reuters

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Rep. Elise Stefanik, poised to become the third-ranking Republican in the House, has ascended by tying herself to former President Donald Trump, whose rhetoric and false claims of election fraud she has supported in recent months.

Hers is a political evolution that mirrors others in the GOP. And her constituents in New York's 21st Congressional District, who re-elected her last year by a substantial 18 percentage-point margin over her Democratic challenger, appear to approve.

Conversations with a dozen voters in Stefanik's largely rural, upstate New York district Monday suggest that the politics of the area have moved in a pro-Trump direction along with her, giving her the freedom to track hard toward the former president and reap the benefits.

"She's for us. And she's good to us. He was for us, and he was good to us," said Don Ross, a retired police officer from Argyle, a town about 12 miles east of Glens Falls. "There's no question about either of those things."

Said Frank Lee of Glens Falls: "It just really feels like the majority of Democrats ... are against what's in the Constitution, and she, just like Trump, loves this country and the people in this" district.

First elected in 2014 as a right-of-center Republican promising independence and bipartisanship, Stefanik didn't immediately support candidate Trump's 2016 White House bid. During Trump's presidency, she made good on those campaign promises, staking out numerous positions that didn't align with his. But she has risen rapidly in the party as one of his most vocal and visible defenders.

Ross and Lee, both pro-Trump Republicans, said they'd supported Stefanik in the past because of her support of traditionally Republican positions, like gun rights and tax cuts.

But they also lauded her for her embrace of Trump's untrue claims about the 2020 election, which they said they also believe.

"There seem to be a lot of irregularities. All these votes in Arizona and Georgia, we really can't tell where a lot of them came from," Ross said.

"I believe it was fixed," Lee said.

There is no evidence of any widespread voter fraud in the election.

A transformation

Stefanik, who is all but assured to replace Liz Cheney of Wyoming as chair of the House Republican Conference, said last week on the podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon that there was "unprecedented, unconstitutional overreach" by election officials last year.

In an interview with Sebastian Gorka, another former aide to Trump, she said that she backed the controversial audit of ballots in Arizona's Maricopa County and that continued attempts to question the vote in Pennsylvania were "valid" and "important" ones that "the American people deserve policy proposals and answers on."

By all official accounts, the election was secure, and the results — President Joe Biden's win some six months ago — were certified as accurate.

Stefanik hasn't explicitly said the election was stolen from Trump. But she voted against certifying the election in certain states this year. She has also supported lawsuits to overturn the election.

Cheney is expected to be ousted as the most powerful Republican woman in the House on Wednesday after having continued to contradict Trump about the legitimacy of the election. Trump, out of office for months, has continued to push the lie that the election was stolen from him.

Before 2019, Stefanik bore many markings of a traditional Republican. She worked in George W. Bush's White House and with Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, and during her first 2014 congressional race, she pitched herself as an independent thinker and voice.

She won that race, becoming at 30 the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and flipping the district, which stretches from Saratoga Springs across northern New York to the Canadian border, into the red column.

During the 2016 race, she initially expressed wariness about Trump. She first endorsed former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the GOP primaries, and, later on, when she finally did endorse Trump, she refused to mention him by name, referring to him simply as "my party's nominee."

Early into Trump's term, she defied the president on several occasions, most notably by voting with Democrats to block him from withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and against his 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act because of its cap on the deduction for state and local taxes.

But in 2019, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, she emerged as a staunch defender of Trump during his first impeachment hearing, and she was one of the Republican House members who defended him in his Senate trial.

"A new Republican star is born," Trump tweeted in November 2019.

Stefanik offered a full-throated endorsement of Trump for his re-election campaign last year, even speaking at the virtual Republican National Convention, and she fiercely opposed his second impeachment after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Her pivot toward Trump has been rewarded at the ballot box in her district, where she handily won re-election three times. All four of her margins of victory have been substantial. After winning her first election in 2014 by 21 percentage points, she won the next three in 2016, 2018 and 2020 by 35, 14 and 18 points. Trump easily carried the district in 2016 and 2020, although by smaller margins than Stefanik, after Barack Obama had won it twice.

John Baker, 54, an office cleaner, said Stefanik was merely "speaking her mind" when it came to suggesting that there had been numerous irregularities in the 2020 election.

"She has the right to do that, just like Trump does," said Baker, who said he is a political independent.

Nevertheless, other independents in the district who remain opposed to Trump said they saw Stefanik as a polarizing figure.

"I cannot stomach her," said Lois Karhinen, 63, of Queensbury, who is retired. "She's lost my respect. I voted for her in 2014 and 2016, but not in 2018 and 2020. She is not the independent thinker she used to be."

Karhinen, a self-described independent who said she voted for Biden last year, praised Cheney, whom Stefanik is expected to replace, for having aggressively criticized Trump's lie that the election last year was stolen, and she lamented that Stefanik's loyalty to Trump was being rewarded.

"He's operating her like a puppet," she said. "I don't get why she let that happen."

Meanwhile, some conservative groups have pointed out that Stefanik's record in office has, in many respects, been a moderate one.

"Elise Stefanik is NOT a good spokesperson for the House Republican Conference," the conservative Club for Growth tweeted last week. "House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House majority."

However, prominent pro-Trump Republican lawmakers have in recent weeks offered insight into why they believe it's necessary to maintain such an intensely favorable focus on him.

"I would just say to my Republican colleagues, 'Can we move forward without President Trump?' The answer is no," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said last week.

Stefanik has conveyed the same message.

"We have to work with President Trump to win back the majority, and we're going to, and that's what the members of Congress want who are Republicans, and that's what the voters want in this country," she said last week on "The Rush Limbaugh Radio Show."

Many Republican voters suggested in interviews that that's exactly what they want from her.

Trump "knows liberals aren't helping this country," said Ross, the retired police officer.

Stefanik "knows liberals aren't helping this country," he said, adding: And I know liberals aren't helping this country. He delivered for us, and he's still our best shot" in the 2022 and 2024 elections.

"Republicans should all be getting behind him," he said.