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Opinion A harsh new ad hitting Elise Stefanik tests ‘replacement’ attack

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). (Ting Shen/Bloomberg News)
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The third-highest-ranking member of the House GOP leadership is playing footsie with a rancid and racist conspiracy theory with a history of inciting mass murder, apparently including the Buffalo massacre. So are a number of other Republican lawmakers.

Is there a way — any way at all — to make the Republican Party pay a political price for any of it?

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House Republican chair who previously endorsed a version of that “great replacement theory,” recently doubled down on it, even after Buffalo. So apparently the lawmaker from New York is unshakably certain that the answer to that question is no.

A new campaign launched by the Lincoln Project seeks to test this proposition. The group is set to air a harsh ad in Stefanik’s district hammering her for “promoting the racist white replacement theory” and “selling racial hatred,” adding that “Buffalo paid in blood.”

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But the group’s campaign will test another unknown: Whether numerous Republicans’ flirtation with great replacement theory — which alleges an elite plot to replace native-born Whites in Western countries with imported non-White immigrants — is so disqualifying that corporate donors will cut off the money flow to them.

The ad singles out three major companies — PricewaterhouseCoopers, Home Depot and the Altria Group — and rips them for donating to Stefanik. Watch it here:

The ad is backed by a $140,000 buy, I’m told, which could go a long way in Stefanik’s upstate New York district.

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Rick Wilson, a senior adviser to Lincoln Project, says this campaign will soon target other Republicans who have endorsed great replacement theory — such as Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — and the broader set of corporate donors who back them.

Wilson says the group intends to spend a couple of million dollars on this broader campaign this cycle. “We’re going to scale this up in coming days,” Wilson told me, adding that ads against Stefanik are a “road test of our methodology.”

“From a corporate risk perspective,” Wilson said, the group intends to make it harder for companies to bankroll Republicans who traffic in the message that “brown people are coming here to demographically replace us and destroy our country.”

“It’s going to be really hard for any corporation in this country to defend,” Wilson told me.

So what should we make of this campaign?

On the one hand, major corporations do seem to have grown somewhat less comfortable in being associated with the Republican Party’s current radicalization. After nearly 150 congressional Republicans voted to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential electors amid the Jan. 6, 2021, mob assault on the Capitol, many corporations announced a halt in donations to them.

But on the other hand, once the events of Jan. 6 receded in public memory, a sizable number of those corporations backslid or violated the original pledge, as the Popular Information newsletter has documented.

Still, some differences here are worth noting. Corporations might be able to hide behind the argument that this Jan. 6 vote was a mere procedural gesture that ultimately didn’t have an impact on the election’s outcome. By contrast, great replacement theory reportedly helped inspire numerous mass shootings, and it has a long history rooted in particularly virulent white-supremacist ideology.

Judd Legum, the founder of Popular Information, points to some precedent here. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, a leading purveyor of various versions of great replacement theory, has shed many advertisers due to his white nationalism, and former congressman Steve King of Iowa lost numerous corporate donors over the same.

Yet GOP leaders have gone to extreme lengths to threaten corporations to keep them from speaking out on topics such as voting access and LGBT rights, and to get them to refuse cooperation with the congressional investigation into the insurrection attempt.

“A message is being communicated that if you don’t step up, you’re going to be on the outs,” Legum told me.

No matter how hard Stefanik’s defenders spin to the contrary, her dabblings in great replacement theory are indefensible. In Stefanik’s telling, Democratic support for immigration goes far beyond simply hoping to reap political advantage from demographic change.

Instead, Stefanik suggests an illicit conspiracy to permanently subjugate the native-born population via illegitimate means that involve mostly non-White invaders. Other Republicans have trafficked in versions of this as well.

Ultimately, the fact that Stefanik is a member of the House GOP leadership makes this a particularly interesting test case. Many big corporate donors are surely salivating over a GOP House takeover. Yet will something this depraved, hateful and destructive be enough to render certain Republicans too toxic for them to support?

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