Elise Stefanik Won’t Say Trump’s Name, But Pledges GOP Loyalty

7 min read

In the wake of Donald Trump sewing up the GOP presidential nomination, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, reiterated a tepid endorsement of “my party’s nominee” but could not bring herself to say the New York mogul’s name.

In response to an Albany Times Union query, Stefanik released a statement repeating her past pledge of party loyalty. It came just prior to Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary on Tuesday, which forced his last remaining opponents — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — from the race.

“Like my Democratic opponent, I will support my party’s nominee in the fall,” Stefanik said in the statement, referring to retired Army Col. Mike Derrick of Peru, Clinton County.

“My primary focus is serving my constituents to the best of my ability and I’m proud to have spent my first term in Congress working to deliver on my campaign promise to bring new ideas and a new generation of leadership to Washington.”

Asked whether post-Indiana she cared to add the name “Donald Trump,” her campaign consultant and spokesman Lenny Alcivar responded “our statements remain operative.”

“No candidate at any level in America, Democrat of Republican, is going to agree with the presidential standard bearers 100 percent of time and Elise Stefanik is no different,” Alcivar said.

Stefanik declined repeated requests for an interview. Her word parsing paralleled that of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., whose embattled re-election campaign said in a statement that she would “support” Trump, but will not “endorse” him or anyone in the election cycle.

Stefanik’s actions may speak louder than her lack of words. Even before the primary, Stefanik said she would not attend the GOP Convention in Cleveland — a decision that recalls her predecessor, former Rep. Bill Owens, who stayed away from the Democratic Convention in 2012 that nominated President Barack Obama for a second term.

Backing Trump even remotely has to be a bitter pill for Stefanik to swallow.

She is a female Republican millennial seeking her first re-election in the far-flung North Country 21st District. He is a publicity-hungry, blustery, aging white male billionaire. They mix together like oil and water.


Trump’s insults to women, promises to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and temporarily halt Muslims entering the country appear antithetical to Stefanik’s “big-tent” Republican image, which boosted her to victory in 2014 over Democratic contender Aaron Woolf.

Although she endorsed no one in the New York’s April 19 primary, her heart clearly was with mainstream conservative Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — or even House Speaker Paul Ryan, who chose to avoid a last-minute entry and on Thursday said he was not yet ready to endorse Trump.

Stefanik worked with Ryan on debate prep in 2012 when Ryan was former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney‘s running mate.

She also worked in the White House under President George W. Bush, who like his father President George H.W. Bush is staying neutral this year.

Her not endorsing Trump in the primary season led former New York Republican gubernatorial candidate and Trump campaign leader Carl Paladino to blast Stefanik as a “fraud” and “a RINO (Republican in Name Only) Washington elitist establishment sellout.” He leveled an ultimately empty threat to find a primary challenger.

Michael Caputo, manager of Paladino’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, insisted the broadside is water under the bridge and Stefanik should feel comfortable backing Trump whole-heartedly.

“We believe Elise Stefanik is an important leader not just in the North Country but in Washington,” said Caputo, who is now a Trump campaign senior adviser.

“We’d love to have her aboard we’re devoted to the idea she can do this when she pleases.”

Does the Trump campaign understand the misgivings a 32-year-old woman Republican lawmaker might have about the presumptive nominee?

“We understand where it’s coming from, but we will defeat this narrative,” said Caputo. “The idea that Donald is anti-woman, anti-Muslim or anti-Latino is patently false.”

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and elsewhere worry that an incendiary Trump campaign could form a Democratic tsunami in which Republicans lose not only the presidential race but control of the Senate and even the House.

But North Country political demographics suggest Stefanik could emerge a survivor. Although Obama beat Romney in the 21st District in 2012, Republicans hold a enrollment advantage of 50,000 votes.

In last month’s New York primary, Trump won the 21st with over 30,800 votes. On the Democratic side, former first lady, N.Y. senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost to Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., garnering just over 15,000 votes.

Derrick, 54, an Army missile-defense specialist who retired as a full colonel after 28 years of active duty, faces not only Stefanik but Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello — who is likely to siphon off Democratic votes.

“It is by no means certain that Donald Trump is an electoral albatross in New York’s North Country congressional district,” said Harvey Schantz, chair of the Political Science Department at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“One would expect Stefanik to win re-election in 2016, maybe even enjoying a sophomore surge in her vote percentage. She has all the traditional incumbent advantages, including money in the bank and name recognition.”

In a brief phone interview, Derrick said that whatever the Republicans’ advantage in the North Country might be, the turbulence created by Trump’s victory has thrown Stefanik’s House seat up for grabs.

“We’re beginning to see some tremendous, tremendous divides opening up in the Republican Party and I think it certainly benefits me in my race,” he said.

“I’m from a culture where honor is the platform upon which all leadership is built, and I don’t think you can look at Donald Trump and feel his conduct in this campaign has been honorable. Some of his statements have been outrageous.”

Stefanik has the backing of 12 GOP county chairs in the North Country.

“She didn’t come out for or against (Trump in the primary) and neither did I,” said Don Coon, GOP chair in Jefferson County.

“People are going to characterize the candidates any way they want, but the Democrats have a much wider divide between Hillary and Bernie.”

Asked whether Trump’s candidacy could pose problems for Stefanik’s re-election, Coon replied, “I don’t think so.”

Coon’s counterpart in St. Lawrence County, Tom Jenison did not support Trump but agrees Stefanik should be able to weather the storm. “I think she’s really strong in the 21st District and I don’t believe the presidential election will make a difference.”

Not surprisingly, North Country Democrats beg to differ.

“I think she’s going to have a hard time with Trump at the top of ticket,” said Sheila Comar, Democratic chair of Washington County who lives in Granville.


“I’d like her response to whether she agrees with banning Muslims, or building a wall,” said Lynne Boecher, Democratic chair of Warren County who lives in Queensbury.

“The way he has cavorted around and conducted himself is vile. And I’d like to see a response to what he’s articulated his first 100 days will look like.”

source: timesunion.com/Elise-Stefanik-won-t-say-Donald-Trump-s-name-but

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