By Melanie Zanona and Gabby Orr, CNN
Donald Trump hasn’t said if he will run for president again, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping him from privately musing about his potential running mate if he does. The latest person to catch his eye: Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the moderate-turned-MAGA star who has developed a strong relationship with the former President, according to multiple GOP sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
While talk about a 2024 vice presidential pick is of course premature, conversations about adding Stefanik to a future Trump ticket have gained steam in recent weeks at Mar-a-Lago and in other Republican circles, sources said. Current and former advisers and others in Trump’s orbit have privately argued that the New York Republican, who replaced Rep. Liz Cheney as the no. 3 House Republican last year, is a fierce and loyal attack dog, and Trump would benefit from tapping a woman for vice president should he run again.
Two people familiar with the matter said Trump has been surveying close friends and allies on what they think of Stefanik, one of several Republican women he is possibly eyeing for the potential VP slot, though he has not ruled out a few male contenders, too. One of these people said the former President believes Stefanik has undergone a genuine transformation — leaving the moderate wing of the party to join its increasingly powerful “America First” flank.
“There is a part of Trump who thinks he needs a female VP. He definitely likes her, likely because of how effusive she is to him,” one Trump adviser said.
Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump’s, echoed a similar sentiment.
“President Trump thinks very highly of Elise Stefanik. … She has been talked about in circles close to him as a potential vice presidential,” he told CNN. “And there’s a feeling among a lot of people on the Republican side that they need to have a woman on the ticket this time.”
It’s unclear whether Stefanik would be interested in serving as Trump’s running mate, but it’s clear she has ambitions beyond on her current role in leadership: she has been eyeing the GOP whip job if Republicans win the House majority next year. She could also make a play for the top spot on the House Education and Labor Committee, according to GOP lawmakers familiar with Stefanik’s thinking. Having Trump’s support could boost Stefanik in whatever she decides to do, especially inside a conference that is still deferential to the ex-President.
Stefanik’s camp, however, said in a statement to CNN that she is solely focused on her job as conference chair, representing her district and helping win back the majority.
“Congresswoman Stefanik is 100% focused on serving New York’s 21st Congressional District and as House Republican Conference Chair helping lead the efforts to take back the House in 2022 to fire Nancy Pelosi once and for all to save America,” said Alex DeGrasse, a senior adviser to Stefanik.
The early discussions could be a signal that Trump is getting more serious about launching a White House bid. But Trump is also known to relish a lengthy tryout process that mimics “The Apprentice,” where contenders are vying for his affection. Dozens of 2022 Republican have already encountered this approach in their quests for his endorsement this election cycle.
Plus, Trump has been trying to stay relevant by his racking up a string of victories in the midterms — especially after suffering his most stinging rebuke yet in the Georgia GOP gubernatorial primary this week, where his candidate, former Sen. David Perdue, lost to Gov. Brian Kemp, who refused to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.
Stefanik’s addition to an informal list of potential running mates, which will certainly be in flux over the next two years, comes as her stock has been rising in Trumpworld.
One of the people familiar with Trump’s discussions about Stefanik said a female House Republican, especially one who has been in the party’s leadership ranks, may be a wise choice if Trump decides to run on an aggressive policy agenda in 2024, noting that Stefanik would have preexisting relationships on Capitol Hill that might benefit his future legislative priorities.
If Stefanik doesn’t make the cut for Trump’s short list, he would likely consider other women for his ticket, advisers said.
“I could see Trump convincing himself he needs to pick a female VP to help with his suburban women problem,” one of the Trump advisers said.
Other Republican women whose names have floated around Trump’s orbit so far include South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn.
For now, the former President will host another big-ticket fundraiser for Stefanik next month at his golf club in Westchester, according to an invite obtained by CNN, making it the fourth such campaign event he has held for the House GOP conference chair. Trump also has used his own list of supporters to raise money for Stefanik, which is rare for the ex-President. And he has told people around him that he thinks Stefanik, 37, is a “killer” and has a bright future, while publicly, he has suggested she could be president herself one day.
“I want to congratulate Elise on her success. Man is she moving fast. That means at this rate she’ll be President in about 6 years,” Trump said at a fundraiser earlier this year, according to the New York Post.
Stefanik has been on Trump’s radar since his first impeachment in 2019, when she raised her national profile and became a fundraising powerhouse by becoming one of his fiercest public defenders. More recently, she leaned into the “Ultra MAGA” label and has echoed hard-line rhetoric similar to Trump’s, including blasting out campaign ads last fall that referred to immigration as a “permanent election insurrection.” Stefanik has defended those ads to CNN, saying she was referring to “amnesty” and has “never made a racist comment.”
And on January 6, 2021 she was one of the House Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 election results — a key litmus test for Trump.
Additionally, Stefanik recently teamed up with another Republican to introduce a bill that would “expunge” Trump’s second impeachment from his record.
The congresswoman has been elevated for behavior once already: Trump helped recruit Stefanik to run for conference chairwoman after her predecessor, Cheney, voted to impeach Trump for inciting the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
But there are still moments when Stefanik has caught Trump’s attention for the wrong reasons.
Recently, Stefanik — who sits on the House Armed Services Committee — voted in favor of a $40 billion bill to deliver aid to Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing deadly invasion of its neighbor. Several other Trump allies in the House — including Reps. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Madison Cawthorn — opposed the legislation, while the former President blasted the bill as “a national disgrace” in a statement days after it passed the House. One Trump ally said the former President wasn’t pleased to see that Stefanik had supported the bill.
Some of the Trump advisers who spoke to CNN said that picking Stefanik as a running mate would be a mistake if the former President launches a 2024 campaign, noting her past voting record might turn off the right while her more recent behavior may have alienated moderates and independents.
Stefanik came up in politics through the GOP establishment, working as a White House aide for former President George W. Bush and then as a staffer for former Speaker Paul Ryan’s vice presidential campaign, when he ran alongside Mitt Romney. She also voted against the GOP’s 2017 tax law, Trump’s signature legislative achievement.
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