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Elise Stefanik generates VP speculation as she campaigns with Trump

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Standing in a packed room at the Trump campaign office here, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) delivered a quintessential Trumpian speech. She drew cheers from the crowd as she declared that “we need to build the wall.” She ripped “Bidenomics.” And she reiterated Donald Trump’s claims of a weaponized judicial system.

“They’re trying to remove President Trump from the ballot in multiple states; you see them, witch hunt after witch hunt,” she told supporters. “They’re doing it because they know that Donald J. Trump, President Trump, is going to win and beat Joe Biden.”

One person cheered “VP” as she finished her remarks. When she approached reporters, Stefanik echoed Trump again, asking attendees, “Trump supporters, are we ready to take questions from the fake media?” It was Stefanik’s second public appearance in the Granite State in less than 24 hours for Trump, as he and his allies are hoping for a decisive win Tuesday that will bring an early end to the Republican nomination process.

Stefanik, the No.4 House Republican, symbolizes the shift of GOP officials in the Trump era. Once a Trump critic — a view for which she was celebrated among Republicans who had opposed his 2016 presidential bid — Stefanik has risen within the party over the years and fully embraced Trump. But her drop-in trip to New Hampshire, as well as visits from Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), has prompted speculation beyond the state’s primary: Who would Trump pick as his vice president if he becomes the nominee?

During Trump’s 2016 campaign, Stefanik said that his behavior toward women was “offensive” and “just wrong,” and that she would “absolutely oppose” some of his foreign policy. She defied Trump on several policies, including her party’s tax cut bill, and disagreed with his pledge to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

But her view and approach toward Trump changed. Her evolution from moderate to MAGA began after Democrats sought to impeach him over his effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his rival, Biden. Stefanik thought the impeachment was a sham and was furious about how Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the Intelligence Committee, led the effort, a sentiment widely shared by Republicans, according to numerous GOP aides and lawmakers who have spoken to her. It led her to become a fierce Trump defender in Congress and on conservative television. Trump embraced her as a “Republican star.”

When asked about being a potential choice for vice president in a phone interview, Stefanik responded: “I’d be honored to serve in the Trump administration in any capacity,” saying she’s “focused on being a surrogate.” Stefanik added that she is friends with other surrogates whose names come up as potential veep picks, adding that “we are showing a full-court press.”

Even as Trump seemed to suggest at a Fox News town hall in Iowa that he knew whom he’d pick, his campaign has tamped down speculation about whom they are eying for the vice presidency should Trump win the nomination.

“President Trump is focused on winning New Hampshire and securing the Republican nomination for president,” senior adviser Jason Miller said. “There will be a time and place for VP discussions, but that isn’t now. Anyone claiming to have some ‘inside scoop’ is in fact fake news.”

In the same interview with The Washington Post, Stefanik said her support for Trump “goes back a long way,” adding that she was proud “to be the leading voice” during the former president’s first impeachment. She and her aides noted ads from her Democratic opponent Mike Derrick in 2016 hitting her as the “only Republican woman from the northeast to still support Trump” while quoting other Republicans who said they could not support him. At the time, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the other two GOP women elected from the northeast, said they did not back Trump.

After GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was removed from her leadership position in 2021 because of her constant criticism of Trump and the Republicans who defended him, Stefanik, who had become one of Trump’s most ardent allies even after his attempt to overturn the 2020 election and following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by his supporters on the Capitol, was elected by House Republicans to the position tasked with GOP messaging.

While Cheney had a more conservative voting record than Stefanik’s, she was ousted from her leadership position because she did not support Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

But Stefanik has since passed over opportunities to run for higher leadership positions. In part, she realized it would be a tough fight against other candidates for whip but also made the calculation, according to people close to her, that a senior leadership position was going to be politically risky in a slim majority.

Stefanik’s rise followed her turnabout in her view on Trump’s claims about stolen elections. In 2016, after Trump said he was concerned about “rigged” polls showing him trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, she said she disagreed with Trump, who beat Clinton. But when Trump falsely said the 2020 election was stolen, she supported some of his claims.

She falsely said that in Georgia, “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased and otherwise unauthorized voters in Fulton County alone,” a claim refuted by Georgia election officials and given four Pinocchios by The Post’s Fact Checker. She signed on to a failed lawsuit filed by Texas’s attorney general that sought the rejection of the presidential vote in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania, all of which were won by Biden. She voted against certifying Biden’s win in Pennsylvania.

Speaking recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she stood by her vote against certifying the Pennsylvania results, accusing the state of “unconstitutional overreach.” After the interviewer noted that Stefanik had said that the Jan. 6 rioters “must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she was asked whether she agreed with Trump’s statement that Jan. 6 was a “beautiful day” and that some of those who went to jail are “hostages.”

She responded by accusing NBC of being biased and said she believed that “Joe Biden will be found to be the most corrupt president in our nation’s history.” Pressed to answer the question, she responded: “I have concerns about the treatment of January 6th hostages.” The Trump team loved the interview, according to two people familiar with their sentiments.

As for the 2024 election, Stefanik has said she would not commit to certifying the results. “We will see if this is a legal and valid election,” she said.

In the interview with The Post, Stefanik said she speaks to Trump “frequently” and described her district in New York as “the story of the evolution of the Republican Party: and the growing support for President Trump that we are seeing from hard-working families.”

Many of Stefanik’s colleagues on Capitol Hill see her as angling to become vice president. One vulnerable New York Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly, said: “She’s auditioning.”

Another vulnerable House member suggested Stefanik has a balance to strike between being in leadership and pursuing higher ambitions.

“I think when you’re in leadership, it can look like it’s annoying for rank and file,” that member said. “But if you’re in leadership and you’re thinking of higher office, you’re going to have to throw out there what gets people’s attention.”

For the past several cycles, Stefanik has focused on electing more Republican women. She is also now working to ensure Republicans from her home state win reelection. And she has been encouraging House Republicans to endorse Trump, telling them it will help motivate the GOP base.

Stefanik recently received praise from conservatives for her role in a congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for their handling of antisemitism on campus. Stefanik later took credit for the resignations of Harvard President Claudine Gay and Penn President Liz Magill.

At a campaign event in Concord, N.H., last week where Stefanik also spoke, Trump praised the New York Republican for her committee performance, even as he mispronounced her last name in the speech: “That was such a beautiful delivery, did she destroy those three people.”

Voters attending Stefanik’s campaign event on Saturday said that she was among the candidates they’d like to see join Trump on the ticket, along with tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and other members of Congress.

Marie Tontodonato, 68, of Hampton, N.H., described Stefanik as a “front-runner.”

“She supports Trump, and she’s been pushing for him in Congress and her home state; she’s just like one of us,” Tontodonato said. As for vice president, she said she’d like to see “either her or Kristi Noem. I’d like to see a woman. And Ben Carson. Those are my three picks.”

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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