By Robert Reich
At a recent Fox News town hall, Trump teased about his pick for a running-mate, “I know who it’s going to be” — but he didn’t say.
Well, I’m pretty certain I know.
The answer is important, not just because the choice could affect some voters’ decisions in November, but also because (as is the case with Biden) during the course of the next term, the number two may well become number one.
So who will it be?
Not Kari Lake, a Senate candidate in Arizona and election denier, who’s even more deranged than Trump. She’s not sufficiently well known. And too wild and undisciplined.
Not South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another Trump lapdog. Not great on television.
Not Ohio Senator J.D. Vance. Too unpredictable and ego-maniacal.
Not South Carolina’s Senator Tim Scott. Racists in Trump world worry he’ll turn off white voters.
Trump’s most likely pick … (drumroll) … New York State’s Elise Stefanik.
Why? She’s a woman, and she’s young (39 years old). Trump obviously needs help with women and young people.
She’s also a fierce culture warrior.
When some student protesters defended the October 7 terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas, Stefanik immediately saw an opportunity to attack diversity programs, score points with rich Wall Street donors, and put a thumb in the eye of the Ivy League (even though — or maybe because — she graduated from Harvard).
“This is just the beginning,” pledged Stefanik, after her questioning of Dr. Claudine Gay helped set in motion the Harvard president’s resignation. “Our robust congressional investigation will continue to move forward to expose the rot in our most ‘prestigious’ higher-education institutions and deliver accountability to the American people.”
She’s donor bait. Stefanik’s campaign raised more than $5.2 million during the last quarter of 2023 — including contributions from more than 35,000 first-time donors — in a haul that set a new personal record and put her among the ranks of the top fundraisers in Congress.
She’s influential among House Republicans — the highest-ranking woman.
And she’s an outspoken Trumper.
She was an early endorser of Trump for the 2024 election.
She’s even been imitating his words and phrases. In recent weeks, Stefanik has made headlines for referring to people imprisoned for storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021, as “hostages,” and then rescinded her endorsement of a GOP congressional candidate in Ohio after he called Trump arrogant.
And taking bonkers Trump-like positions. On Thursday, she broke with the rest of GOP leadership and voted against a short-term extension spending bill to avert a government shutdown. She supported such stopgap measures in mid-November and late September. A spokeswoman said Stefanik voted against the measure, which excluded border measures, over concerns about illegal crossings from Canada.
Last week she defended Trump against reports that he confused his presidential primary rival Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The reality is Nikki Haley is relying on Democrats, just like Nancy Pelosi, to try to have a desperate showing,” Stefanik said.
She also accused “Joe Biden and his Democrat cronies” of “blatant election interference” in a one-day delay of E. Jean Carroll’s civil defamation case — even though it was Trump’s own attorneys who asked for the delay.
When she joined Trump Friday evening at a campaign event in New Hampshire, he introduced her to the crowd as “brilliant” and said she “got very famous” for questioning the college presidents. She “did it in a surgical way. Wasn’t it beautiful?”
And she is ambitious and unprincipled — which makes her even more compatible with Trump.
“I would be honored to serve in the Trump administration in any capacity,” she said in a recent interview, when asked if she was open to the vice president post.
Her only downside, from Trump’s standpoint, could be that she was once a Republican moderate. She worked in the George W. Bush administration as a domestic policy aide and later for Rep. Paul Ryan when he was a vice presidential nominee.
After being elected in 2014 to a House seat vacated by a retiring Democrat (becoming at age 30 the youngest Republican woman in Congress), she initially took centrist positions and occasionally broke with Trump.
She opposed Trump’s tax cut in December 2017 because it capped the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, which disproportionately affected tax filers in high-tax states like New York. In June 2017, she called his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord a mistake.
But then she saw which way the wind was blowing — not right-ward but nut-ward — and in a viral moment in November 2019, used her spot on the House Intelligence Committee to vigorously defend Trump during hearings in his first impeachment.
In response, Trump declared, “a new Republican star is born.”
She joined the Republican leadership in 2021 to replace Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted for repeatedly criticizing Trump. (Cheney recently posted on X, formerly Twitter, “One day [Stefanik] will have to explain how and why she morphed into a total crackpot. History, and our children, deserve to know.”)
If Trump were smart (if pigs could fly), he’d pick as a running mate a moderate who could reassure independents he’s not utterly unhinged.
But Trump being Trump, he wants a loyal clone, a total crackpot.
Stefanik fits the bill perfectly.
This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack