How embracing Trumpism and the far right won NY's Elise Stefanik a fourth term — even as the president lost

How embracing Trumpism and the far right won NY's Elise Stefanik a fourth term — even as the president lost
Rep. Elise Stefanik (screengrab)

Although President Donald Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden by double digits in New York State in the 2020 presidential election, it wasn't because of New York's 21st Congressional District — where Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik won a fourth term. That rural district of upstate New York favored Trump over Biden, and The Atlantic's Russell Berman outlines the ways in which Trumpism helped the 36-year-old congresswoman and Albany native get reelected even when Trump himself was being voted out of office.

Had Stefanik been running against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in heavily Democratic areas of Queens and the Bronx, her stridently pro-Trump campaign would have resulted in a massive defeat. But Stefanik, as Berman explains in an article published in The Atlantic, is in a much more rural and conservative district — and in that area, Trumpism was a plus for her.

"While a slim majority of Americans nationwide cast their ballots for Joe Biden, the overwhelming majority of voters in New York's Twenty-First — nearly 60%, at last count — went for Trump," Berman notes. "And an even higher percentage in the North Country backed Stefanik, who by her third term in the House, had locked down her constituency so tightly that the national Democratic Party barely contested her reelection this year."

Berman goes on to describe New York's 21st Congressional District, noting how different it is from New York City.

"Nearly as big as Vermont and New Hampshire combined, the Twenty-First is one of the largest districts east of the Mississippi River," Berman points out. "The district's southern edge is 200 miles north of liberal New York City, while its northern tip is just an hour's drive from Montreal. The Adirondack Mountains sit in the middle, and its only population centers — the small cities of Watertown, Plattsburgh and Glens Falls — are spread hundreds of miles apart, like three points on a triangle."

Berman stresses that although the U.S. on the whole rejected Trumpism on Election Day, Stefanik won a fourth term by doubling down on it.

"In winning so definitively," Berman explains, "Stefanik has become a kind of bellwether herself — not for the country as a whole, but for the Republican Party, which like the New York representative, has redoubled its support for an unpopular president and somehow bolstered its standing in Congress and state capitols even as it lost the White House."

Stefanik was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014. She was always conservative, but she went from co-chairing the Tuesday Group and supporting less extreme conservatives like former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (now an outspoken Never Trumper) to being a "vocal Trump loyalist" who "took up the president's defense with unexpected gusto." And Stefanik has embraced Trump's over-the-top rhetoric, describing Biden as someone with "far-left socialist policies;" The decidedly centrist Biden isn't even a liberal, left alone "far-left."

"Seemingly overnight, a rising star in Paul Ryan's Republican Party had been reborn as a star in Donald Trump's," Berman recalls. "Stefanik did not look back."

Frances Kerr, who owns a print shop in Stefanik's district, slammed her as an "opportunist" — telling The Atlantic, "I never saw a Republican flip so far."

But even if Stefanik sold her soul to the far right and Trump's MAGA base, it paid off for her on Election Night in both 2018 and 2020.

"The election proved Stefanik right once again," Berman argues. "She bet on Trump — and though the president lost, her constituents rewarded her."

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