Bill Everhart: Cheney, Stefanik And A GOP Turning Point
Six years ago, Elise Stefanik, newly elected as U.S. Representative to New York’s 21st Congressional District, was a beacon of hope in state and national politics. A moderate and a woman in a Republican Party deficient in both, she appeared to be the kind of politician who could work across the aisle for the betterment of her district, state and nation.
Today, having stepped over Rep. Liz Cheney, the woman she endorsed only two years ago to chair the House Republican Conference, we know better. Stefanik, at age 36, has emerged as just another nakedly ambitious pol, one who has abandoned moderation and pushes the Big Lie that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump. She is exactly what her district, state and nation don’t need.
As new head of the House Republican Conference and the third-ranking House Republican, Stefanik has been rewarded by her colleagues for her allegiance to the man who on his watch managed to lose the presidency, House and Senate for his party. Stefanik definitely saw the way the political winds were blowing as she evolved from Trump skeptic to Trump bitter-ender. Unfortunately she has thrown the qualities that made her such a fresh breeze on the political landscape to those same winds.
Stefanik was an early Republican critic of Trump for the sexism on display in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tapes. She voted against his tax cut program disproportionately benefiting the wealthy and spoke out against his punitive immigration policies and dismantling of environmental regulations. She promised to work for bipartisanship after declining to speak his name in the 2016 campaign.
But as Trump cemented his grip on the Republican Party and dragged it to the right, Stefanik went with him. A supporter of the Equality Act guaranteeing LGBT rights she flip-flopped into opposition. Her vocal support of Trump during his first impeachment trial for seeking Ukrainian influence in the 2020 presidential election earned her the party leader’s praise.
Stefanik’s most unconscionable and disappointing decision, however, was to buy into and sell the Big Lie about the 2020 election and the conspiracy theories buttressing that lie. She made baseless accusations about the conducting of the election in Georgia by Republican officials. On the evening of the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol she voted against certifying the electoral vote out of Pennsylvania, essentially advocating the overturning of the election. She recently endorsed the farcical “recount” of votes in Arizona launched by Trump partisans in the name of assuring election integrity.
But where is the threat to that integrity? A plethora of lawsuits and recounts revealed no evidence of voter fraud in 2020. Republican judges and officials presided over many of these lawsuits and recounts, as was the case in closely contested Georgia.
It is now clear that if the party of Trump and his acolytes lose an election, fraud will be declared. That attitude is childish, but it is also a genuine threat to the integrity of the nation’s voting system by a party that used to pride itself on upholding law and order.
This is the party that now includes Stefanik among its leaders. As her district becomes increasingly red she doesn’t have to worry much about re-election in 2022, although redistricting is another question as New York loses a House seat. While a few radical right Republicans opposed her election as House party conference leader they were fuming about a Stefanik who no longer exists.
The cancelled Cheney, still trying to speak truth to power, has warned that her party is at a turning point, “and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.” Stefanik has made her decision, and in doing so she has abandoned that promise and potential she displayed only six years ago.
Bill Everhart was the editorial page editor of the Berkshire Eagle for 25 years. He is an occasional contributor to the Eagle.
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