‘She’s a killer’: Trump eyes Rep. Elise Stefanik as potential VP pick

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WASHINGTON — During a candlelit dinner with Mar-a-Lago members in late December, former President Donald Trump walked around the table as the conversation turned to one of the biggest decisions he would have to make if he became the Republican nominee: Who should he make? He chose to be his deputy?

That’s when Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, showed up, according to someone at the dinner table. Those around Trump raved about the widely publicized moment a few weeks ago, when she questioned three university presidents at a congressional hearing about the matter. Anti-Semitism on campus.

When considering Stefanik as a potential vice presidential choice, Trump nodded approvingly.

“She’s a killer,” Trump said, according to the person who attended the event.

Since then, Trump and a growing group of allies have begun to look more closely at Stefanik as a running mate, according to eight people familiar with the matter, including people in Trump’s orbit, Stefanik’s fundraisers and former Trump administration officials.

At the time, the 39-year-old congresswoman was on the crest of a wave of national publicity after confronting top leaders at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT. Their answers to the question: “Does the call to exterminate the Jews violate… [your college’s] Rules for bullying and harassment?” eventually led to the resignation of two of them and brought a storm of criticism to the schools.

But Stefanik was on Trump’s radar long before this hearing, because she possesses one of the key traits he looks for in his 2024 vice presidential nominee: loyalty. This, coupled with her ability to spread news on key issues, could be an irresistible combination for a vice presidential pick.

“Stefanik is at the top,” said Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist and architect of his 2016 campaign strategy.

“If you’re Trump, you want someone loyal above all else,” one GOP campaign operative said. “Especially because he believes that Mike Pence committed a mortal sin.”

Once a moderate Republican who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, Stefanik had shifted to the right and rebranded herself as one of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill after he won the White House in 2016.

“She’s come a long way and she’s really with us now,” Trump said during a lunch in the spring of 2022, according to a source familiar with his comments, adding: “She was kind of with us before, but she’s really with us now.”

Stefanik declined to comment on whether she is interested in being Trump’s running mate, telling NBC News that she is focused on her role in Congress.

“I will not engage in any of my conversations with President Trump. I am honored to consider him a friend. I am proud to be the first member of Congress to endorse him for reelection, and he had a big win in Iowa,” she said. So we’re very excited about that.”

A Trump campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Stefanik Loyalty in public – incl A recent interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” show – This is a stark contrast to Pence. The former vice president became a target of Trump and his supporters after he refused to agree to Trump’s plan to deny Joe Biden victory in the 2020 presidential election. Pence, in turn, frequently criticized Trump and his denial of the election during his short-lived presidential bid last year.

Stefanik, on the other hand, has been known for years in Congress as one of Trump’s most prominent defenders. She served on Trump’s 2019 impeachment defense team and supported his efforts to overturn the 2020 election that led to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Did not rule out Recent “Meet the Press” interview She will be the former vice president.

“Well, of course, I would be honored to serve in any capacity in the Trump administration,” Stefanik said.

Stefanik also attracted attention in that interview when she echoed the president’s language calling the Jan. 6 defendants “hostages.” On Wednesday, Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., announced he would introduce a resolution to censure Stefanik — a move that could make her more popular among Trump’s base.

It’s these displays of loyalty — including her refusal to certify an “unconstitutional” presidential election in 2020 Maybe in 2024 – Which shows the New York actress’s skill in seizing moments to advance Trump’s interests and eliminate his enemies, and it catapulted her to the forefront of the competition.

The December dinner was not the first time Trump had mentioned Stefanik as a loyal friend and potential vice presidential nominee, according to another person who has attended previous events in which the New York lawmaker and former president have participated together.

At a Joint Committee fundraising event for Stefanik on June 6, 2022, at Trump’s home Golf lesson And in Briarcliff Manor, New York, an audience source heard the former president tell those in attendance that he was watching how she would treat him as he neared a decision on whether to run for president.

“What Trump constantly commented on was how good she was as vice president,” this person explained.

Trump has long hinted at Stefanik’s prospects for higher office, telling attendees at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser two years ago that Stefanik attended that she could become the next president after 2024, Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Cassar has confirmed.

In November, Stefanik, in his capacity as Chairman of the House Republican Conference, He supported Trump for president. At the time, the top leader in Congress was endorsing him in the primary.

Stefanik’s loyalty was also on display when she took the fight to the judges and prosecutors fighting Trump in the courtroom.

In recent months, Stefanik Gone yet The judge presiding over New York’s civil fraud case against Trump called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to do so Searching Former Assistant President Michael Cohen and File a complaint against the federal judge who oversaw the grand jury in the indictment of Special Counsel Jack Smith.

“It is clear that Stefanik brings incredible talent at many levels, from the House, and knows how to defend President Trump and the MAGA movement,” Bannon said. “More importantly, she knows how to play what I call the unforgiving moment, when you have to make that decision to do it all.”

“She picks her shots and knows where her leverage is,” Bannon continued. “And she understands something that’s very rare today, which is modern communications. She knows what can make an impact. So she’s clearly a huge talent.”

Her House GOP colleagues said Stefanik would be a tremendous asset to Trump because he knows her well, trusts her, and she would bring a deep knowledge of Capitol Hill to the ticket.

“She’s very smart and very articulate, and she’s done a great job as chair of the conference,” said Rep. Kevin Hearne, R-Oklahoma. “If President Trump chooses her to be his running mate, I think it will be a great team.” The head of the largest conservative caucus in Congress said in an interview.

“She has a great working relationship with the House… and is well-respected in the Senate as well,” he added.

In New York, Stefanik is known as a frequent presence not just in her district but across the state — and someone who is easily accessible.

“She’s someone I actually texted,” Cassar said, adding that Stefanik “is doing everything she can to help, especially with the fundraising.”

For Trump, hiring Stefanik could also boost his already strong fundraising operation.

Stefanik’s team announced it raised more than $5 million in the fourth quarter. This swag coincided with Stefanik’s high-profile moment with university presidents.

Aside from Stefanik, Bannon weighed in on his view of Trump’s deep bench of potential vice presidential nominees. He named South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Arizona Senate candidate Carrie Lake as other possibilities.

He also said that Nikki Haley, who has received strong support from Wall Street and other right-leaning business and media circles, should not be left out.

“What MAGA needs to do is make sure that President Trump fully considers the alternatives, because he will be under tremendous pressure from donors to pick Nikki Haley, and from Fox,” Bannon said. “They’re characterizing it now. It’s Nikki Haley’s channel.”

Like Haley, Stefanik could serve as a bridge for some donors who are not entirely sold on Trump. However, Trump did just that On fire His rival in the Republican primary, calling him “unreliable and disloyal,” has praised Stefanik for her political acumen.

Stefanik’s roots in New York and her success in winning a district that voted twice for former President Barack Obama may be another draw as Trump seeks to capitalize on Biden’s declining popularity with some voters in the traditionally blue state.

“She’s a tent maker, and she expands the party in so many ways,” Gavin Wax, president of the Young Republican Club of New York, said of Stefanik.

“Haley’s name had been thrown around a lot because they were looking for someone to come on the ticket that could win over a certain demographic of voters that Trump struggled with, but I think anything that Nikki Haley was going to bring to the table wouldn’t have been brought to the table — without “The cost of any votes from the base, from MAGA, or from more conservative voters.”

Stefanik has also shown a willingness to defend Trump, said Roger Stone, a veteran Republican strategist who has long been loyal to the former president. However, Stone said there is a long way to go.

“Any shortlist in my opinion should include Elise Stefanik,” Stone said. “She has demonstrated her courage and leadership qualities. But she is also very early in the process.”

Trump said during a recent town hall in Iowa that he already knows who he is Operating colleague It would be, although a Trump campaign adviser later backtracked, saying: “Nothing is finalized.”

While Trump has raised questions about the decision, those who know him well say a public announcement is not expected for some time.

“When does the conference start? Then you have to make a choice,” Bannon said. “It’s Trump – it’s going to be The Apprentice. He’s going to make it to the final episode.”

This article originally appeared on www.cnbc.com

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