Alongside her fellow nativists, Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) was one of the biggest losers in the 2022 midterm elections. While she easily won her safe seat in upstate New York, her attempt at playing king- or queen-maker failed miserably. In 28 of the 36 battleground Republican districts where she endorsed candidates, the Stefanik-endorsed candidates went down to defeat – that’s a 78% loss rate.
Many of the candidates Stefanik promoted also adopted the same deadly white nationalist “invasion” and “replacement” conspiracies on immigrants in their campaign message as she did. However, the candidates in the less ruby red districts who followed Stefanik down this extremist path did not find a win in the end.
New to the third-ranking GOP House leadership position, Stefanik was clearly trying to make her mark on the party in these midterms. She pitched her role as elevating female Republican candidates and made lofty predictions about coming Republican victories, but the red wave carrying her candidates never materialized. While her sharp turn to the hard right, election denialism, and embracing deadly conspiracy theories and white nationalist tropes may have elevated her own star within the GOP, it did not carry the candidates she backed to victory.
Stefanik did not come to Congress as a right-wing radical, but her conversion aligned with the hard-right turn for the GOP. First elected to Congress in 2014, Stefanik was then the youngest woman elected into the House of Representatives. Then, she positioned herself as a young moderate, even opposing the strident nativism of the Trump administration early on and downplaying his wall as “unrealistic.”
Stefanik’s evolution from a moderate to a MAGA extremist began when she saw an opportunity to vigorously oppose Trump’s first impeachment. By his second impeachment, she had fully embraced his election denialism. Turning her newfound Trump sycophancy into a bid for leadership, Stefanik ousted Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) for the third-ranking House GOP leadership position. Cheney refused to buckle to the Big Lie and the failed coup attempt, both of which Stefanik eagerly defended.
Worse, shortly after assuming leadership in the party, Stefanik ran Facebook ads peddling the deadly white nationalist “replacement” conspiracy. Her ads, which echoed lies similar to the manifestos and rhetoric of several domestic terrorists, were seen by over a half a million Facebook users over a two-day period. After facing significant pushback for peddling deadly white nationalist talking points, Stefanik was far from chastened. She promoted the immigrant “invasion” rhetoric as a regular part of her message. She amplified this absurd and racist fiction repeatedly, including on the House floor, in the days leading up to the terrorist attack in Buffalo, New York. After the racist manifesto from the gunman pointed to the exact same white nationalist lies Stefanik was peddling, she didn’t back off, but again doubled down. She even sent out a fundraising email just two days after the attack claiming that she was the true victim for being questioned about her rhetoric. The gunman who killed ten African-Americans in Stefanik’s home state and wounded three others in the name of fending off an immigrant “invasion,” pleaded guilty in November to terrorism and murder among other charges.
In spite of Stefanik’s deadly white nationalist rhetoric, she was now in party leadership and Republican candidates eagerly embraced her support in the midterms.
In total, Elise Stefanik endorsed 56 candidates, including three incumbents she thought would lead the charge in a red wave to take control of the House. Her leadership PAC, known as Elevate PAC (E-PAC), embarked on an effort to increase the number of Republican women in the House, endorsing 31 women, while Stefanik herself endorsed an additional 25 candidates. Of these, 43, or over three-quarters of Stefanik’s endorsed candidates, lost. Thirty-six of the endorsed candidates were in battleground races rated lean D, toss-up or lean R by political forecasters. Of these 36 critical battleground races, 28 (77 percent) of Stefanik’s endorsed candidates lost. In races rated a toss-up, 20 of 23 of Stefanik’s candidates toss-up lost.
Stefanik’s red wave did not materialize, and her track record was notably dismal, with nearly three of four closely contested candidates losing.
Stefanik’s endorsed GOP candidates were clearly not what the majority of Americans were looking for and Stefanik’s own hard-right politics were out of step with the majority of voters. In a massive sample of voters who actually cast ballots, conducted by a consortium of pollsters and issue groups, the findings support the claim that extremism was rejected by American voters in 2022:
- 57% of all voters and majorities across all racial groups were worried or very worried: “Extreme Republicans and white nationalists are promoting hate and attacks against minorities and immigrants.”
- 63% were worried or very worried: “The political system of the United States is failing and there is a decent chance that we will no longer have a functioning democracy within the next 10 years.”
- 51% of all voters were worried or very worried: “If Donald Trump becomes President again he will promote hate and division and our country will fall apart.”
Furthermore, 63 percent support a pathway of citizenship for undocumented immigrants, in a stark contrast to Stefanik. Americans are turning away from Stefanik and the sort of MAGA extremism that promotes discrimination and xenophobia. Stefanik made her bet, and she clearly bet wrong.
DETAILS AND ANALYSIS:
This self-proclaimed “proud ultra-MAGA” Republican leader embraced dozens of battleground candidates where MAGA extremism failed to deliver. These candidates were carefully curated to fit the hard-right Stefanik mold. Notable candidates such as Jim Bognet (PA-08), Carl Paladino (NY-23), Karoline Leavitt (NH-01), Sandy Smith (NC-01), Mayra Flores (TX-34), and Kari Lake (AZ Gov). Esther Joy King (IL-17) continually spewed “invasion” and “replacement” conspiracies throughout their campaigns and lost, as the searchable GOP Ad Tracker project by America’s Voice documented. This rhetoric entices more deadly political violence towards immigrant communities and puts a target on the backs of Americans because of the color of their skin or the accent with which they speak. Recently, the FBI and the DHS explained that the rise in domestic terrorism in the United States are perpetuated by “white supremacists and other extremists.” These candidates had similar narratives as domestic terrorists’ whokilled dozens, including in Buffalo and El Paso. As one of the two main political parties in the U.S., the GOP embracing and even uplifting these narratives is a dangerous and risky strategy that did not just hurt them in this election, but cost American lives.
Even for the candidates who did not employ the explicit white nationalist rhetoric in their campaigns, like Yesli Vega (VA-07) and Cassy Garcia (TX-28), Stefanik’s support did not get them across the finish line. The two races were in key purple districts with chances of turning blue to red. Stefanik’s endorsement, which should have increased these candidates’ chances of winning, suggests Stefanik might not be the political asset she hoped to be.
It suggests that her third-ranking position as Republican Conference Chairwoman in the House GOP does not actually help the candidates win but could be a liability for battleground candidates. The overwhelming loss of her endorsed candidates shows that the majority of Americans reject candidates who align themselves with MAGA Republicans like Elise Stefanik and have contributed to the loss of seats that Republicans had a chance of winning.
Her losses again reiterate that right wing extremist candidates are not the winning strategy for the GOP. Clearly, Elise Stefanik has failed to learn from this year’s election cycle that having similar political strategies as nativist right wing nationalists like Stephen Miller and Donald Trump only leads to downfall of the Republican party. She is another loser of the midterm this year.
But true to her new form, Rep. Stafanik refused to accept her role and doubled down on dangerous hard-right politics for her own political expediency. Gambling that Donald Trump would continue to be her political meal ticket, she endorsed him for the Presidential election in 2024, just days after the 2022 election and weeks before the final 2022 contest run-off in Georgia. Reaffirming him as the leader of the party and doubling down on the man who led Republicans to back-to-back-to-back electoral defeats and, among an impossibly long list of horrific deeds, repeatedly engaged in anti-Semitism, embraced violent white nationalists, promoted absurd conspiracy theories associated with deadly political violence, and inspired deadly but failed coup to overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election (and other alleged crimes too numerous to mention). Hitching her wagon to Trump as a top party leader, Stefanik is co-singing to own all of this unsettling baggage. She owns it, she is responsible for it, and she saddles any political ally or protege with it as well.
Looking forward, prospective Republican candidates will have to make the calculation about whether they want to be associated with a Republican leader who is a proven loser who helped usher in the GOP’s current white nationalist problem and the accompanying threats to democracy. The evidence from 2022 is clear, Stefanik’s election denialism, white nationalism, and devotion to Trump are liabilities she brings to any political ally who will face a competitive election in the next two years.
Stefanik lost big in 2022, but she still has many friends inside the new 118th Congress, like Juan Ciscomani (AZ-06) Jen Kiggans (VA-02) Monica De La Cruz (TX-15), and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05). They will have to make a public vote on whether to continue to support Stefanik for the leadership post, but they along with every other Republican who casts a vote to keep elevating Stefanik, owns her bigoted extremist baggage.