OpinionHow Elise Stefanik, ‘bright light’ of a generation, chose a dark path


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Dana Milbank
Columnist |
May 20, 2022 at 12:03 p.m. EDT
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) outside the Capitol on May 12. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg News)
When John Bridgeland left a senior position in George W. Bush’s White House and joined Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the fall of 2004, an eager undergraduate got assigned to him as a student fellow and facilitator of his seminar.
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“She was so excited because I was one of the few Republicans” then at the school’s Institute of Politics (IOP), Bridgeland told me this week. He remembered her as “extremely bright” and “through-and-through public-service-oriented.” She was so impressive in the seminar that he chose her to do a project with him selling Harvard students on the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and other service opportunities. “I thought the world of her,” Bridgeland said.
The young woman’s name was Elise Stefanik.
Bridgeland secured her a job in the White House when she graduated in 2006, personally appealing to Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and other former colleagues to hire her. Bridgeland later encouraged her to run for Congress, which she did, successfully, in 2014 — and the New York Republican quickly established herself as a leading moderate. “I was so incredibly happy and proud,” Bridgeland said. “I viewed her as the bright light of her generation of leaders. She was crossing the aisle. She was focused on problem-solving. She had the highest character.”
And then, he said, “this switch went off.”

Today, the world sees a much different Stefanik. This past week, after the racist massacre in Buffalo, attention turned to her articulation of “great replacement” theory, the white-supremacist conspiracy beliefs said to have propelled the alleged killer. Before that, she had been a prominent election denier, voting to overturn the 2020 results after the Jan. 6 insurrection, and then using the issue to oust and replace House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) because she refused to embrace President Donald Trump’s election lies.
Now, Stefanik has thrown her support, as the No. 3 House GOP leader, behind a proposal to “expunge” Trump’s impeachment for his role in the insurrection. She has joined a small group of extreme backbenchers as co-sponsors of the resolution, which casts doubt again on Joe Biden’s “seeming” win, citing “voting anomalies.” The resolution has no purpose (there’s no constitutional way to expunge impeachment) other than to sow further distrust of democracy.
It’s a story told a thousand times: Ambitious Republican official abandons principle to advance in Trump’s GOP. But perhaps nobody’s fall from promise, and integrity, has been as spectacular as the 37-year-old Stefanik’s. “I was just so shocked she would go down such a dark path,” said her former champion, Bridgeland. “No power, no position is worth the complete loss of your integrity. It was just completely alarming to me to watch this transformation. I got a lot of notes saying, ‘What happened to her?’ ”
The answer is simple: “Quest for power,” Bridgeland said. “But power without principle is a pretty dark place to go. She wanted to climb the Republican ranks and she has, but … she’s climbed the ladder on the back of lies about the election that are undermining trust in elections, putting people’s lives at risk.”
As a candidate in 2014, Stefanik refused to sign Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, a Republican purity test. Then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, she became a co-chair of the Tuesday Group of Republican moderates. She boasted about being among the most bipartisan lawmakers. She criticized Trump’s “insulting” treatment of women, his “untruthful statements,” and his proposed Muslim ban and border wall.
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But Trump’s huge popularity in her upstate New York district changed all that. She became one of Trump’s most caustic defenders during his first impeachment. After Trump’s 2020 loss, she embraced the “big lie,” making a stream of false claims about voter fraud, court actions and voting machines, and urging the Supreme Court to reject the results.
When Bridgeland saw his former protegee’s lies about the election, “I was shattered. I was really heartbroken,” he told me. Alumni of Harvard’s IOP petitioned to remove Stefanik from its advisory committee, and Bridgeland signed it. “I had to,” he said, “because Constitution first.” Stefanik called her removal a “badge of honor” and a decision on the school’s part “to cower and cave to the woke left.”
Bridgeland, a career-long policy innovator who still considers himself a Republican, retains a flicker of hope that his former student might return to her early promise, recant the lies, and prove true Ralph Waldo Emerson’s belief that if a “single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.”
“People become totally ruined by their failure to stand up for the good and the true, but I do think she has the spark still and could awaken to it,” Bridgeland said. “It’s not too late.”
For our country’s sake, I wish I could believe that.



HR Legend
Mar 29, 2002
It's nice to see people not make excuses for those who have sold their morals for power so publicly.


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
May 23, 2022 at 9:59 a.m. EDT

The third-highest-ranking member of the House GOP leadership is playing footsie with a rancid and racist conspiracy theory with a history of inciting mass murder, apparently including the Buffalo massacre. So are a number of other Republican lawmakers.
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Is there a way — any way at all — to make the Republican Party pay a political price for any of it?
Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House Republican chair who previously endorsed a version of that “great replacement theory,” recently doubled down on it, even after Buffalo. So apparently the lawmaker from New York is unshakably certain that the answer to that question is no.
A new campaign launched by the Lincoln Project seeks to test this proposition. The group is set to air a harsh ad in Stefanik’s district hammering her for “promoting the racist white replacement theory” and “selling racial hatred,” adding that “Buffalo paid in blood.”
Dana Milbank: How Elise Stefanik, 'bright light' of a generation, chose a dark path
But the group’s campaign will test another unknown: Whether numerous Republicans’ flirtation with great replacement theory — which alleges an elite plot to replace native-born Whites in Western countries with imported non-White immigrants — is so disqualifying that corporate donors will cut off the money flow to them.
The ad singles out three major companies — PricewaterhouseCoopers, Home Depot and the Altria Group — and rips them for donating to Stefanik. Watch it here:
The ad is backed by a $140,000 buy, I’m told, which could go a long way in Stefanik’s upstate New York district.

Rick Wilson, a senior adviser to Lincoln Project, says this campaign will soon target other Republicans who have endorsed great replacement theory — such as Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — and the broader set of corporate donors who back them.
Wilson says the group intends to spend a couple of million dollars on this broader campaign this cycle. “We’re going to scale this up in coming days,” Wilson told me, adding that ads against Stefanik are a “road test of our methodology.”
“From a corporate risk perspective,” Wilson said, the group intends to make it harder for companies to bankroll Republicans who traffic in the message that “brown people are coming here to demographically replace us and destroy our country.”
“It’s going to be really hard for any corporation in this country to defend,” Wilson told me.
So what should we make of this campaign?
On the one hand, major corporations do seem to have grown somewhat less comfortable in being associated with the Republican Party’s current radicalization. After nearly 150 congressional Republicans voted to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential electors amid the Jan. 6, 2021, mob assault on the Capitol, many corporations announced a halt in donations to them.
But on the other hand, once the events of Jan. 6 receded in public memory, a sizable number of those corporations backslid or violated the original pledge, as the Popular Information newsletter has documented.
Still, some differences here are worth noting. Corporations might be able to hide behind the argument that this Jan. 6 vote was a mere procedural gesture that ultimately didn’t have an impact on the election’s outcome. By contrast, great replacement theory reportedly helped inspire numerous mass shootings, and it has a long history rooted in particularly virulent white-supremacist ideology.
Judd Legum, the founder of Popular Information, points to some precedent here. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, a leading purveyor of various versions of great replacement theory, has shed many advertisers due to his white nationalism, and former congressman Steve King of Iowa lost numerous corporate donors over the same.
Yet GOP leaders have gone to extreme lengths to threaten corporations to keep them from speaking out on topics such as voting access and LGBT rights, and to get them to refuse cooperation with the congressional investigation into the insurrection attempt.
“A message is being communicated that if you don’t step up, you’re going to be on the outs,” Legum told me.
No matter how hard Stefanik’s defenders spin to the contrary, her dabblings in great replacement theory are indefensible. In Stefanik’s telling, Democratic support for immigration goes far beyond simply hoping to reap political advantage from demographic change.
Instead, Stefanik suggests an illicit conspiracy to permanently subjugate the native-born population via illegitimate means that involve mostly non-White invaders. Other Republicans have trafficked in versions of this as well.
Ultimately, the fact that Stefanik is a member of the House GOP leadership makes this a particularly interesting test case. Many big corporate donors are surely salivating over a GOP House takeover. Yet will something this depraved, hateful and destructive be enough to render certain Republicans too toxic for them to support?