Shifts to the right catch up with the House GOP’s Elise Stefanik

Shifts to the right catch up with the House GOP’s Elise Stefanik

Published May 16, 2022
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By Steve Benen

As many American families struggle with baby formula shortages, it’s not too surprising that Republicans are scrambling to blame Democrats. What is surprising, however, is how some in the GOP are going about this.

On Friday, for example, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik insisted that Democrats have “no plan” to address the problem. That was not altogether true: Both the White House and the House Democratic leadership unveiled measures last week. But as The Washington Post reported, the New York congresswoman didn’t stop there.

[Stefanik] appeared to allude to a bizarre and baseless claim popular in some conservative circles when, on Friday, she tweeted that Democrats and the “usual pedo grifters” are “out of touch” with Americans. The claim that “pedos” — short for “pedophiles” — infiltrate the ranks of government is central to QAnon, the collection of right-wing debunked claims that former president Donald Trump was secretly leading a war against an elite cabal of pedophiles who control Washington, Hollywood and the world.

The Post added, “While other House Republicans have directly promoted the false accusation in the past, Stefanik’s tweet is another signal of how language attacking Democrats as ‘pedophiles’ has gone mainstream in the GOP.”

In response to the controversy, the congresswoman’s office reportedly told a constituent that Stefanik intended “pedo” to mean “children,” which is every bit as ridiculous as it seems.

Scrutiny of the Republican leader’s rhetorical record took a more serious turn soon after. The Washington Post also reported:

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican, and other GOP lawmakers came under scrutiny Sunday for previously echoing the racist “great replacement” theory that apparently inspired an 18-year-old who allegedly killed 10 people while targeting Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo.

To briefly revisit our earlier coverage, for much of the American mainstream, the “great replacement” conspiracy theory is probably obscure, though for much of the right, it’s increasingly popular. The basic idea behind the conspiracy theory is that nefarious forces — Democrats, immigration advocates, “globalists,” et al. — intend to systemically replace white people in the United States by welcoming people of color from other countries.

Initially, the ugly concept was popular among fringe extremists. Eventually, some conservative media personalities embraced the idea. Soon after, assorted Republicans in Congress, and some polling suggests nearly half of all GOP voters are on board with the concept, if not the explicit name.

The “great replacement” conspiracy theory took on renewed significance over the weekend when a suspected shooter attacked a Buffalo grocery store, where he appeared to target Black people. The suspect’s online “manifesto” repeatedly referenced the theory.

It was against this backdrop that many were reminded that it was just last fall when Stefanik thought it’d be a good idea to echo “replacement theory” proponents with online ads telling the public that President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats were seeking a “permanent election insurrection” by expanding pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

One of the ads from Stefanik’s political operation told readers, “Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION…. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”

The editorial board of the Times Union, the congresswoman’s hometown newspaper, was not impressed. “If there’s anything that needs replacing in this country — and in the Republican party — it’s the hateful rhetoric that Ms. Stefanik and far too many of her colleagues so shamelessly spew,” the paper’s editorial board argued in September.

As we discussed soon after, the New York Republican wasn’t always like this. Indeed, it was just a few years ago when Stefanik opposed Donald Trump’s immigration agenda. During her 2016 campaign, she was reluctant to even say Trump’s name out loud for fear that voters might see her as a Trump ally.

The congresswoman encouraged voters to see her as one of Congress’ “most bipartisan” members.

Stefanik eventually concluded, however, that to get ahead in GOP politics, she would need to put her principles aside and start embracing partisan nonsense.

By 2020, the young New Yorker had adopted an entirely new persona, even going so far to as to vote against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election after the Jan. 6 riot.

It would appear the earlier iteration of Stefanik has been fully replaced.

Update: Stefanik (R-N.Y.) released a statement this morning saying she’s “heartbroken and saddened” by the shooting in Buffalo. A senior advisor, Alex DeGrasse, added, “Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement.”

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”