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'Trumpification' of the GOP will persist

'Trumpification' of the GOP will persist
© Greg Nash

There is no better illustration of the Trumpification of the Republican party than Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikParliamentarian strikes down Pelosi priority in aid package Cuomo asks New York AG to appoint independent attorney to investigate sexual harassment claims Psaki: Cuomo should face 'independent review' over sexual harassment allegations MORE, who starts her fourth term in the House this week.

The upstate New York lawmaker was a textbook moderate-conservative Republican of the Bush variety. She was a young assistant in the George W. Bush administration, then a campaign aide to Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE, endorsed John Kasich for the GOP nomination in 2016 and kept a distance from Donald Trump.

After election to the House six years ago at age 30, she vowed to be a bridge to millennials and became co-chair of the “Tuesday Group,” a small contingent of moderate Republicans designed to counter the far right.

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Then over a year ago she saw the political handwriting and began veering rightward. A few of the mainstream Republicans stood up to Trump, notably Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits MORE (R-Utah) and a few governors, but not many. From the get-go, the president was a natural fit for the right-wing gunslingers like Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Republicans call for hearing on Biden's handling of border surge Jim Jordan calls for House Judiciary hearing on 'cancel culture' MORE (R-Ohio) in the House and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate to vote next week on Garland's AG nomination Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll MORE (R-Ark.). Several genuine fiscal conservatives like former South Carolina Congressman Mark SanfordMark Sanford5 lawyers leave Trump impeachment team ahead of trial: reports South Carolina GOP votes to censure Rep. Rice over impeachment vote Trump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial MORE and former Arizona Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE retained their principles in the face of Trump's recklessness; that's why they are “formers” today.

Few have traveled the political and ideological distance traversed by Stefanik.

It started as she became Trump's big defender during impeachment. As the only Republican woman on the Intelligence Committee, the party sought to highlight her role.

She became indignant that her prominence had anything to do with gender: “They're putting me forward because I ask the best questions,” she told the Washington Post. (Stefanik declined to answer several inquiries for this column.) There was no reluctance to play the gender card when committee chair Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' White House defends not sanctioning Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi What good are the intelligence committees? MORE, enforcing the clear House rules, cut off her questioning: He was accused of going after the only woman Republican.

From there, Stefanik became a Trump cheerleader. In June, Trump — against the advice of some public health officials — held a big rally in Tulsa. Surprisingly, Stefanik was there and got a shout-out from the president.

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The event was a super spreader: Multiple staff and Secret Service agents were infected; leading Republican Herman CainHerman Cain'Trumpification' of the GOP will persist 'SNL' host Dave Chappelle urges Biden voters to be 'humble' winners 18 Trump rallies have led to 30,000 COVID-19 cases: Stanford University study MORE, an attendee, came down with virus and died weeks later; the number of cases in Oklahoma tripled over the next month.

Stefanik then was given a prime time speaking role at the Republican convention where she extolled the president's virtues. This switch caused some criticism back home: “She has allowed her substance to be subsumed by President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE's style,” charged the Glens Falls (N.Y.) Post Star, a paper that previously endorsed her but backed her opponent last time. “She has compromised her character by defending his.”

It didn't hurt her at home. She won reelection by nearly 18 points.

The next few weeks she was all over Fox News on behalf of the president. She had drunk the Trump Kool-Aid, one of 126 House members who supported the baseless Texas lawsuit that sought to throw out all the votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, all states won by Biden. It was a frivolous suit ridiculed by most constitutional scholars, quickly and unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court.

Stefanik has kept at it, warning of Biden's “radical socialism,” with few particulars. She has called on him to withdraw the nomination of Neera TandenNeera TandenOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels White House says Shalanda Young could serve as acting OMB director Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE for director of the Office of Management Budget because of excessive criticism of Republicans on Twitter which Stefanik charges are “vicious, hate-fueled.”

Stefanik is an aggressive user of Twitter, and champion of the Tweeter-in-Chief. She has accused Democrats of trying to “steal” the election and blasted New York's Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoAlbany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Another former Cuomo aide accuses him of harassment David Sirota: Media should 'apologize' for early coverage of Cuomo's pandemic handling MORE as America's “worst governor” and “Dr. Death” for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which she believes Trump has handled well.

This has led to speculation that Stefanik is eyeing a statewide run. The appeal of an upstate Trump-loving Republican in New York, which Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Myanmar military conducts violent night raids Confidence in coronavirus vaccines has grown with majority now saying they want it MORE carried by 2 million votes, is limited.

More likely she is eying a top leadership post in the House, conceivably Majority Leader if Republicans win control in 2022. There will be political pressure to tap a woman, and the likely choice was thought to be Wyoming Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Paul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Republicans, please save your party MORE.

Cheney has much more serious conservative credentials and policy expertise than Stefanik — but the devoutly conservative daughter of the former vice president has not kow-towed to Trump on matters of principle; she was one of the few prominent House Republicans refusing to sign the petition supporting the absurd Texas lawsuit.

Stefanik has become a prodigious fund-raiser for fellow Republicans and in any showdown would count on being the Trump candidate.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.