This showed Stefanik embracing Trump and his lies more directly than many other Republicans, who carefully couched votes against Biden electors behind procedural objections. As Josh Marshall notes, this is a big reason Stefanik is a rising GOP star.
But what came next is also important. A few days after the insurrectionist mob attack on the Capitol, Stefanik came under fire for feeding the lies that incited the violence. She defended herself to a local news outlet.
“President-elect Biden was certified,” Stefanik told WCAX. “But that debate was important for the American people to hear.”
In other words, Stefanik said, she did the right thing in objecting to Biden’s electors, because it drew attention to problems with the election that Americans deserved to learn about. Those problems didn’t actually exist, of course, but Stefanik herself also amplified them.
It’s important to understand that this isn’t mere after-the-fact spin. Rather, it’s an explicit declaration of liberation on the part of the speaker to deceive voters with falsehoods about legitimate election results, for the express purpose of justifying official action to overturn those results.
The pro-Trump sweet spot
Similarly, just after the violence at the Capitol, Stefanik explained her vote against Biden electors. On the House floor, she again echoed the same widely debunked claims, insisting that “tens of millions of Americans are concerned” about them and deserved to hear them debated.
This sort of phony piety is the sweet spot for Republicans who want to stand out from their colleagues in terms of appealing to the Trumpist base and getting plaudits from pro-Trump media, while retaining a veneer of respectability in the process.
This continues today. The claim of these Republicans is that, in objecting to Biden electors, they were merely creating an outlet for people’s concerns about the election. How heroically public-spirited of them!
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of the slimiest practitioners of this disingenuous game, has repeatedly defended his lead role in undermining Biden electors by claiming he was merely representing his constituents’ worries about the election’s dubious outcome.
Of course, the concerns are entirely baseless, and people such as Stefanik and Hawley themselves fed those concerns relentlessly. It’s absurd to portray this as an act of public-spirited representation of constituents. Instead, these officials used their official stature to actively deceive them.
Nor do Republicans seeking this sweet spot admit that the lies about the election (which they themselves fed) inspired the insurrection. In an interview with WWNY, Stefanik condemned the violence but declined to blame Trump for it, insisting he had not “encouraged” it.
Stefanik endorses Arizona recount
It’s bad that Stefanik’s fealty to Trump and his lies is among the things qualifying her to replace Cheney. But it’s perhaps more alarming that Stefanik is seen as so qualified, despite — or perhaps because of — her willingness to deceive countless voters about legitimate election results to manufacture justification for action to overturn them.
It’s often said that GOP voters believe the election was stolen from them. But there’s a reason for this: Their elites relentlessly told them so. They had a “firehose of falsehoods blasted into their brains for months on end," as Sean Illing memorably notes.
Worse, those elites have cited those same public beliefs to justify taking action to invalidate legitimate results. And since then, they’ve kept telling their voters that they’re right to suspect something was amiss about the outcome, to justify voter suppression across the country.
All this official misconduct further undermines democratic stability. As Laura Field says, such deception has very high stakes, because it “undercuts citizens’ rational faculties” and creates distrust that “destroys the very possibility of liberal democracy.”
I’ve argued that the real problem with the Cheney situation isn’t just that Republicans are punishing her for denouncing Trump and the Big Lie. It’s also that they’re excommunicating Cheney amid her demand that Republicans fully commit to respecting democratic outcomes going forward.
That Republicans are punishing this, of all things, suggests they might be pushing us toward an eventual breakdown. The elevation of Stefanik, who’s among the most determined in the House GOP caucus when it comes to deceiving voters about the legitimacy of our electoral system, should only fuel those fears.