While he may not know how to pronounce her last name, President Donald Trump understands that U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik will support him through thick and thin.
Stefanik was slow to embrace Trump when he began his presidential bid for the 2016 election. She kept him at arm’s length.
At first, she would only refer to him as “my party’s nominee.” She didn’t endorse anyone in the New York primary that year, which prompted Carl Paladino to denounce her as a “fraud” and “a RINO [Republican in name only] Washington elitist establishment sellout,” according to the story published May 5, 2016, by the Albany Times Union.
“Michael Caputo, manager of Paladino’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, insisted the broadside is water under the bridge and Stefanik should feel comfortable backing Trump wholeheartedly,” the article reported.
Caputo’s prognostication proved accurate. Stefanik no longer exhibits the reluctance she did four years ago to speak highly of Trump.
She’s not shy about voicing her objections to some of Trump’s more bizarre antics. When he goes way over the line, she speaks up.
But Stefanik is politically savvy and realizes that the GOP — for good or ill — has become Trump’s personal cheerleading section. By and large, she’s adopted a see-no-evil mindset regarding his repeated offenses.
She has called Trump an “unconventional” president. And she became one of his chief defenders during the impeachment process.
That federal legislators eagerly look the other way when it comes to Trump’s repulsive behavior is not good for the Republican Party or the country. Trump will continue to push the limits to see how much he can get away with before the GOP leadership says “Enough!”
That hasn’t happened yet, and I doubt it ever will. So members of the rank and file feel the need to toe the line, despite the nasty aftertaste.
For Stefanik, though, this could be a real opportunity. The news group Axios listed her on a poll of possible presidential contenders in the near future.
A poll on the organization’s website reported that 4 percent of the people who either identified as or leaned Republican said they would vote for her for president in 2024. I have to believe that Stefanik has considered running at some point.
OK, 4 percent is not a mandate. But in the five years she has been in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with her previous experience as part of the administration of former President George W. Bush, she has made a name for herself.
In 2018, Stefanik persuaded Trump to travel to Fort Drum to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. She rewarded his decision to accept her invitation by following his lead in completely ignoring whom the legislation was named after (they had the audacity to discard the memory of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, a true war hero, in front of a military crowd). And Trump rewarded Stefanik’s loyalty to him rather than the military personnel assembled before them by botching her last name!
Stefanik was recently named an honorary chairwoman of Trump’s presidential campaign in New York. This likely won’t nudge him any closer to winning the state in the general election, but this gesture shows that Trump has taken notice of her support for him.
A few months ago, Trump made another decision that signaled a potential step up for Stefanik. He announced that he’s swapping Florida for New York as his official residence.
Now, this could well have been driven primarily by the fact that he spends a lot of time at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach. He also may be tired of forking over so much in taxes each year to all the do-gooders in Albany.
But what struck me about this move is that Trump is now free to name someone from New York as his 2020 running mate. Candidates for president and vice president are prohibited from residing in the same state.
It may not necessarily be the job she’s looking for, but Stefanik should lobby to be on Trump’s 2020 ticket. Vice President Mike Pence has served a valuable service. But Republican leaders don’t — and shouldn’t — look upon him as the future of the party.
If she runs with Trump this year and they win the election, Stefanik would only need to be vice president for one term. She could simultaneously run for her House seat and give it up if she and Trump are victorious. Then in 2024, she would be uniquely poised to launch a presidential campaign.
With her breadth of government experience and standing within the GOP, she would be a formidable candidate. And by that time, Democratic lawmakers in Albany will have carved up the 21st Congressional District following this year’s census. They’ll dilute the strength of Republican voters so that a Democrat will have a better chance of winning the House seat.
As vice president, Stefanik would be the more reasonable voice of the Trump administration. She could explain policies by stating, “What my Crazy Uncle Donnie should have said is …”
Trump won’t get my vote, even if Stefanik is his running mate. But his re-election is a definite possibility. Joining his ticket would set Stefanik up for a historic political career, so this may be the time for her to make this move.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.