Elise Stefanik seeks stock rise in Trump ‘veepstakes’

Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) stock is rapidly rising in the race to be former President Trump’s running mate.

Stefanik, the No. 4 House Republican, has become a close ally of Trump’s and has increasingly positioned herself as a betting favorite to be on the GOP presidential ticket if the front-runner wins his party’s nomination.  

She’s made campaign stops to boost the former president, frequently issues statements and social media messages backing him and at times echoes his controversial language. She’s also made political and legislative moves that highlight her loyalty to Trump.  

In early January, Stefanik yanked her endorsement of Craig Riedel, a GOP House candidate in Ohio, after leaked audio showed him calling Trump “arrogant” and saying he did not want the former president’s endorsement. In a post on X, she said “I was very disappointed in his inappropriate comments regarding President Trump.” 

In June, Stefanik introduced a resolution to expunge Trump’s impeachment following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, taking the first step toward wiping away the punishment that some of her Republican colleagues supported. This month, she referred to Jan. 6 rioters as “hostages,” mimicking the language Trump used and received widespread criticism for. 

She also endorsed the former president’s re-election campaign in November 2022 — even before he officially launched the bid — a preemptive backing that reflected her unquestionable support for the ex-commander-in-chief. But she would not commit to certifying the results of the 2024 election, saying “we will see if this is a legal and valid election.” 

The GOP conference chair has also spearheaded a number of judicial complaints against judges overseeing cases involving the former president. 

“The key here with Elise is this: She is in Trump’s innermost circle,” a person close to Trump and Stefanik, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, told The Hill. “He trusts her, they have regular conversations, and you know, she is his chief defender on Capitol Hill, and everyone knows it.

”A person close to the Trump campaign told The Hill that Stefanik has “been in the trenches for Trump daily … since the early impeachment hearings in the House, knocking every ball out of the park.”

“And then, of course, while we all know that she is a stalwart, then we see what she’s done in recent hearings about antisemitism, and that is a very difficult topic. It draws a lot of fire, and she never even ducked,” the source added. “That was proof of her mettle outside of Trump defense. That kind of opened up a whole other dimension of Elise Stefanik.”

Trump has certainly taken notice of Stefanik, who he called “a killer” during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago last month, one attendee told NBC News. He also lauded her viral questioning of university presidents during a hearing on antisemitism that led the leaders of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania to leave their positions.  

“Elise became very famous because she took on the heads of MIT and Penn and Harvard,” said Trump, who at one point mispronounced her name, at a recent rally in New Hampshire. “And did it in a surgical way. Wasn’t it beautiful?” 

Stefanik, to be sure, has left the door open to joining the GOP ticket with Trump, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview earlier this month. “I, of course, would be honored to serve in any capacity in a Trump administration” when asked about the vice presidential role.  

“We need to make sure that President Trump is in the strongest position to win in the general election,” she added. “That’s what I’ve been focused on, and that’s what I’m going to remain focused on.” 

Some Republicans said it is clear she wants to be Trump’s No. 2. 

“There’s no doubt that she would love to be considered for the VP role, and that’s why she’s made such a high-profile endorsement and appearance recently to create that speculation,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former aide to top House GOP and Senate GOP leadership. 

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however, rejected the notion that Stefanik is auditioning for the job, arguing her recent acts align with her history. 

“I think she’s doing the things that she believes is necessary to support Donald Trump and provide leadership for the country,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told The Hill. “That to me isn’t auditioning, that continues what has been, you know, her work over the last several years.” 

“I think the public just sees her defending the majority of the base’s views,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told The Hill, noting he does not view Stefanik as pining for the job. “I see a lot of people that are out on the stump for him that probably could fit that bill. Quite a few of them, so I don’t draw that exclusively for her.” 

Stefanik would make sense as a running mate to Trump for a host of reasons.  

It’s generally thought to be smart for Trump to have a woman on his ticket, and Stefanik’s loyalty would be prized. She’s also well known for her combativeness with the press, something Trump might like.  

Former Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.), who served with Stefanik, said his former colleague “can really parry and thrust with the other side and with the media.” 

“I think that’s one of her strongest suits. She’s unflappable, she’s very smart,” he added. 

Trump and Stefanik also have a shared orbit: Karoline Leavitt was a former aide in the Trump White House who later served as communications director to Stefanik. Leavitt now works as Trump’s campaign press secretary. Additionally, Ali Black was on Trump’s 2020 campaign as a deputy communications director and now works for Stefanik. 

There could, however, be drawbacks to having Stefanik as a vice presidential candidate.  

The House Republican represents a district in New York, hardly a general election battleground state. Yet in 2016 Trump picked Indiana’s Mike Pence as his vice presidential candidate, a choice from a solidly red state. 

Others who seem to be in the mix, including Ohio Sen. JD Vance (R), South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), also represent reliably red states. 

Some raise questions about whether Trump would want to pick a rising star as his running mate, and if Stefanik, 39, is too young for the role. Others say her youth would be a big advantage in a race between Trump and President Biden.  

A person close to Stefanik pushed back at any concerns about her age and experience, comparing her favorably in that regard with others thought to be contenders.  

“This is sexist. Elise is older and more experienced in senior elected office than Pete Buttigieg when he ran for president, than both Vivek Ramaswamy and JD Vance. She also has more experience than the current vice president,” the source said, referring to Kamala Harris, who served four years in the Senate before becoming vice president.  

A former George W. Bush administration staffer, Stefanik was long seen as a more moderate voice in the GOP conference.

She fell under the national spotlight in 2019 when she took a public role in defending Trump during his first impeachment.   

Stefanik in 2021 ascended to leadership after House Republicans ousted former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the then-conference chair, from her post after the congresswoman challenged Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. 

In succeeding Cheney, Stefanik solidified her reputation as a Trump loyalist in the lower chamber — and capped off a transformation that has fueled some annoyance among a number of Republicans.

Some Republicans and even some Democrats, meanwhile, say having Stefanik on the ticket could be helpful in attracting suburban women that Trump lost in 2020. 

“She doesn’t bring an electoral advantage structurally but brings the advantage of her potentially courting female voters in the ability to command a national presence,” Bonjean, the former GOP aide, said. 

Stefanik is also a fundraising juggernaut who could help the Trump campaign rake in cash as the calendar barrels toward the general election. The New York Republican’s campaign raised more than $5.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2023, which her team said broke the record for conference chair that she previously set.

Despite the buzz surrounding Stefanik’s running-mate aspirations, her team is keeping their cards close to the chest, downplaying any “veepstakes” talk as the primary season gets underway.

“Chairwoman Stefanik does not discuss her conversations with President Trump,” Alex Degrasse, executive director for the GOP chairwoman, told The Hill in a statement. “She will continue to do all she can to ensure that President Trump is reelected and we can Make America Great Again.”

Brett Samuels contributed.

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