Stefanik now finds herself between a rock and a hard place on her signature goal of encouraging more women and more young people to get involved in the Republican Party. One the one hand: Trump is incredibly unpopular with women and young people. On the other: Stefanik wants to get reelected, and bashing Trump is a bad way to get that done. Stefanik has endorsed Trump but would rather not talk too much about it.
PowerPost sat down with Stefanik for an interview about her reelection in the year of Trump and other things.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
PowerPost: What made you look at Congress, a universally hated institution mostly filled with older white dudes and think: That’s where I want to be?
Stefanik: Well, after the 2012 election I was very disappointed with the result, and it was clear to me if you looked at the outcome of that election that elected officials and candidates need to do a better job of communicating with young people, specifically with young women.
PP: One of our recent polls found that Trump is doing historically badly among women. Do you worry about that having a lasting effect on the party?
Stefanik: I think women are looking for strong voices, independent voices. And in terms of my reelection, I’ve been focused on making the case that I’ve been focused on delivering results for my district.
I do think that Mr. Trump, and in my district Sen. [Bernie] Sanders, have tapped into a frustration with business as usual in Washington. … Look, like many of my colleagues, I’m going to speak out when I disagree with statements. In terms of what I can do, I take very seriously that as a young female role model for any young women today, I want them to know it is possible and it is crucial that they be part of the debate and part of the discussion and step into the arena.
PP: Okay, but not in terms of your own personal election: If there are this many women —and young people for that matter — against Donald Trump, does it muddle the message when it comes to recruitment?
Stefanik: I think if you look at the recent poll that came out last week, you’ll see that millennials associate more with conservatism than progressivism. We are a generation that picks and chooses which issues we support and don’t support. And that mirrors my voting record, which is very independent-district focused.
PP: Let me put this another way: Trump does so poorly with women and millennials, what is it that you see in him that your fellow young women might be missing?
Stefanik: I’ve said that I will support the nominee, but I have an independent record and voice for my district, and I have demonstrated that. I am in a very strong position for reelection because my support is not just among Republicans but among independents and Democrats who are looking for a fresh approach, accessibility, transparency and bipartisanship.
PP: I can imagine running for Congress as a millennial could pose unique challenges. Did you ever wake up in a panic worried that someone would find an embarrassing Facebook photo you’d forgotten existed?
Stefanik: I was in the same class as Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard. So we really experienced Facebook in a unique way. It launched our sophomore year, and we were also the first class where it became a recruiting tool. So businesses would look at Facebook. We were the first graduating college class that had a Facebook footprint. So I think I inherently understood that it was important for your first job out of college that you presented a positive view of yourself.
PP: Do you think in the future voters will be more forgiving of the digital footprints people leave behind, or do you think that the only candidates in the future will be ones that have kept their Facebook walls clean?
Stefanik: I think everyone is going to have something of an online footprint. But they’re also going to have positive stories to tell. … I was the first candidate to announce my run on Instagram. So that was kind of cool. I’m an avid Instagram user, and I do it myself. I think a lot of congressional offices have staff running all their accounts. I run my Instagram, and my personal Twitter account has more followers than the office one.
PP: Lastly, I know you don’t support her, but what do you think a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean for women?
Stefanik: I think the more women we have running for office the better. I’m supporting the Republican nominee.
PP: But would her presidency resonate with people? Would it be important?
Stefanik: I think she’s struggling to resonate with the majority of Americans. That is left to be seen. And again, I’m focused on what I can do as the youngest member of Congress currently, as the youngest female member of Congress, to encourage our next generation of leaders to step up to the plate.