MAGAworld pans Stefanik

Donald Trump has called Elise Stefanik “a new Republican star,” a “smart communicator” and — perhaps his highest praise — “tough.”

But the MAGA faithful aren’t so sure.

Within minutes of Trump’s endorsement of the New York congresswoman for GOP conference chair on Wednesday, top MAGA voices erupted in anger — a rare break with the former president. The invective aimed at Stefanik, who was perceived to be insufficiently conservative and a relative newcomer to the Trump cause, continued to zoom through the MAGA-sphere on Thursday.

The Columbia Bugle — an anonymously-run Twitter account with nearly 179,000 followers, including high-profile Trump movement influencers — described Stefanik as “a slightly less annoying America Last Republican.” Lou Dobbs, the former Fox Business show host who was one of Trump’s fiercest cable television supporters, dismissed her as a “RINO.”

Others, like pundits Ann Coulter and Raheem Kassam, editor in chief of the populist online outlet National Pulse, went on a retweeting spree, highlighting writer after writer, tweet after tweet, questioning Stefanik’s commitment to the Trump movement’s core tenets, particularly on immigration.

.@RepStefanik? Comment?” Jenna Ellis, formerly Trump’s senior legal counsel, pointedly asked on Thursday, retweeting a thread highlighting Stefanik’s record.

Popular MAGA news and opinion sites were less sparing, with Revolver calling her a “neocon establishment twit”, and Big League Politics, founded by Breitbart alumni, slamming her for only getting on the Trump defense train in 2019 and characterizing her as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Though she received praise and support from other MAGA-friendly politicians — Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and, of course, Trump himself — it was a hostile grassroots reception for the congresswoman pitched as a MAGA-worthy option to replace Rep. Liz Cheney in GOP leadership.

Cheney’s ouster from the no. 3 Republican position in the House appears almost certain following her sustained criticism of Trump and his baseless claims of election fraud, a politically suicidal position in a party where the former president remains popular with the GOP base.

“[Stefanik] is the identity of a swamp creature, and she has probably the most liberal voting record of anybody who represents a strong Republican district,” said Ryan James Girdusky, a conservative political consultant and the author of the National Populist newsletter.

While Stefanik is seen within the party as a rising star and prolific fundraiser — particularly after aggressively defending Trump during his impeachment trials — Trump’s populist base views her quite differently. If they don’t eventually come on board, that could mean a limited tenure for Stefanik as a member of the leadership team.

Several MAGA news sites cited Stefanik’s voting record, where she backed the then-president’s position only 78 percent of the time, making Cheney’s record of 93 percent look slavishly loyal in comparison. Stefanik compiled that record despite representing a comfortably Republican district that Trump won easily in 2020.

Even worse, she started her career working in the George W. Bush White House. “I’ve heard from several conservative members of Congress this same concern over her voting record. We need answers,” Ellis tweeted Wednesday.

Stefanik’s office did not respond to a request for comment. But on Thursday morning, the congresswoman made an appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast War Room to tout her most important MAGA bona fides: supporting the Arizona recount and promising to investigate false claims of election fraud. “We want transparency and answers for the American people — what are the Democrats so afraid of?” she said.

After the interview, Bannon sang her praises, comparing her political evolution from the establishment to MAGA to that of “fire breathing populist” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “You’ve got Hawley in the Senate and Stefanik [in the House]. You’ve got to look at the journey,” he said.

The interview started getting pickup among MAGA influencers soon thereafter. “Excellent job by Rep.@EliseStefanik on Steve Bannon’s War Room this morning,” Trump adviser Jason Miller tweeted that afternoon, praising her stance on the Chinese Communist Party and calling her a “massive upgrade” over Cheney.

The backlash against Stefanik didn’t surface out of nowhere. For years, she’d been viewed with suspicion by hardcore elements of the MAGA base, with Big League politics running several pieces slamming her for her disloyalty to figures such as provocateur Laura Loomer. She criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord and failed to pass the MAGA smell test on several key issues: immigration, border control, abortion and the war in Afghanistan.

“She ties with a couple other Republicans for the worst career voting record on immigration in New York,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the anti-immigration Center on Immigration Studies, ticking off a few of her previous positions: a yes on H-2B visas, the Farm Workers Modernization Act, and the Hong Kong Refugee bill, and a no on Trump’s child border separation policies.

“Obviously, Republicans in New York are likely to be more liberal, just because that's the environment they're in,” Krikorian said. “I think everybody understands that. But even by the standards of New York state Republicans, she's bad on immigration.”

Another issue that could harm Stefanik among MAGA supporters is her record on Afghanistan. As recently as 2019, she co-sponsored a bill with Cheney to keep 10,000 troops in the region for a year and stop troop reduction — a bill that was highly controversial among anti-war MAGA voices, who had backed Trump’s talks with the Taliban at the time.

“I understand that everyone hates Liz Cheney. I am not a fan of Liz Cheney. She should have never been in House leadership,” said Girdusky. “However, we are exchanging Liz Cheney, who at least votes correct, even though she bashes Trump publicly, [for] somebody who doesn't bash Trump publicly but votes with them almost none of the time.”

Representatives for both Trump and McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.

Krikorian, whose institute is not weighing in on the conference chair election, noted that while Cheney’s downfall was sparked by her criticism of Trump, what had truly tanked her was her ideology, bolstered by her family name: The Wyoming congresswoman’s neoconservative beliefs have no place in today’s GOP.

Stefanik’s positions weren’t much more palatable to the party base, in Krikorian’s view.

“Trump, in his gut, does think we should get out of Afghanistan, he does think there's too many illegal aliens coming over the border,” he observed. “It's not that he doesn't believe any of that stuff. It's just that he's kind of a narcissistic guy. And if people flatter him, he's for them, regardless of what they believe. And so the question is: Do you go for Trumpism? Or do you go for Trump?”

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Marjorie Taylor Greene: I’m meeting with Trump ‘soon’

Freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said on Monday that she would soon be visiting former President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Amid revelations of more inflammatory social media posts she has made and videos she’s produced, the controversial Georgia Republican has claimed to have Trump’s backing, saying last week that the former president had called her and supported her.

Trump’s team never confirmed the call. But during an interview with One America News on Monday, Greene went further, stating that she will be visiting him in person.

"But he's doing really well,” she added. “I'm excited to go visit him soon and continue to give him a call and talk to him frequently. Great news is, he supports me 100 percent, and I've always supported him. President Trump is always here for the people, and he's not going anywhere. So I look forward to, to joining him and what his future plans may be.”

Representatives for Trump did not return a request for comment. Nor did officials currently working with the former president. Reached for comment about whether there would actually be a meeting, a spokesperson for Greene replied: "The Congresswoman said it on tape... There’s nothing to confirm here. We do not discuss the details of private conversations of Rep. MTG."

Greene has always been a lightning rod, owing to her embrace of the QAnon movement. She recently came under fire, however, for old tweets claiming that Zionist space lasers were responsible for California wildfires, for past videos in which she questioned whether mass shootings were false flag operations, and for liking posts that appeared to endorse the killing of Democrats.

Greene has insisted, throughout, that she has the backing of Trump. And she, in turn, has continued to stress her support of him, calling his upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate a “ridiculous circus.”

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CPAC exiles grapple with the new devotion to Trump

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — In 2011, Rep. Joe Walsh was a tea party darling, a harsh critic of the Obama administration who brought the house down at the Conservative Political Action Conference. In 2020, he was at CPAC again — but as a guest of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," hesitantly walking through the exhibition halls with comedian Roy Wood Jr.

The conservative radio host had been recognized by people who once were his friends and couldn’t pretend they didn’t see him. Walsh carried a stigma: He’d insulted President Donald Trump by not only criticizing him but by having the gall to run against him in the Republican primary. Torn between catching up with an old colleague and being singled out by observers as talking to a Trump foe, they split the difference — and instead kept asking him how his wife was doing.

“It was really fascinating,” said his political manager, Lucy Caldwell, who’d watched Walsh field that interaction repeatedly. “I think it shows that we’re all human and that we want to have human connection, so you want to reach out to someone you were once close to. But it’s also everything that’s wrong with the enablers of Trump.”

Former CPAC attendees said in interviews that they shared similar sentiments and that they barely recognized their beloved conference anymore.

This year’s lineup was saturated with Trump officials and firebrands they would have never seen at a pre-Trump CPAC: YouTube personalities like Diamond and Silk, deep state witch hunter Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and radio host Dan Bongino. The agenda, conservative columnist Mona Charen pointed out, didn’t even have any time devoted to the conservative movement’s former hang-ups: the budget deficit and taxes.

And two years after Charen had been booed at CPAC for criticizing Trump, the appetite for intraparty ideological disagreement — a former hallmark of the conference, they said — has drastically plummeted. This was the year, after all, that Matt Schlapp dramatically banned Mitt Romney from the conference after he voted with Democrats to allow witnesses at Trump’s impeachment trial — even claiming that he worried for Romney’s “physical safety” should he even step into the venue — and youth activist Charlie Kirk encouraged the crowd to boo whenever they ever heard Romney’s name.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“The environment that’s been created now is so hostile to anyone that has a different view. And particularly those of us who have taken principled stands against Donald Trump as conservatives,” said Tara Setmayer, who was a Republican communications director on Capitol Hill in the pre-Trump era.

Setmayer said she attended 15 CPACs, starting when she was a college student in 1993, and stopped after 2015. And in the age of Trump, going is out of the question. “I don't think I would feel safe going to speak, or even walking through CPAC given my position against stuff.”

With a speaker lineup stacked with Cabinet members, campaign officials and Trump progeny — not to mention their spouses — it was clear Trump was the center of the conference, keeping everyone in his orbit with the pull of anti-socialism. Even the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes the even, was not separate: The wife of the organizer, Mercedes Schlapp, was a White House official until she left last year for the Trump 2020 campaign.

“Movement conservatives saw themselves as being separate from the administration,” recalled Matt Lewis, a columnist at The Daily Beast who was honored as CPAC’s blogger of the year in 2010. “Part of our job was to hold them accountable and to cheer them when they did well, boo them when they did bad. And now I think there’s a sense that they’re really one and the same. The conservative movement is the Republican Party, is CPAC, is Donald Trump.”

A former CPAC organizer admitted that this symbiosis with the White House was a likely draw for attendees. “I can’t imagine that it hasn’t garnered attendees that may have attended before and never got to experience a sitting president and first family, as well as a sitting VP and almost every Cabinet secretary representative or Cabinet level official,” said this organizer.

Admittedly, CPAC’s exiles now have other options to network with their political ilk. This week alone, two other conservative groups are holding events in Washington in direct competition with CPAC. The Summit on Principled Conservatism, held by young Trump critic Heath Mayo and focusing on the “meaning of conservatism, its future, and its core principles,” set up shop at the National Press Club.

“I wanted to be with like-minded people that like good, thoughtful, deep discussion about what future is for conservatism,” said University of Virginia doctoral student Alex Welch, who had attended CPAC from 2011 through 2013.

It went the other way as well. Across town at the Omni Shoreham, Infowars’ Alex Jones and nationalist podcaster Nick Fuentes spoke at the National File Emergency First Amendment Summit on Wednesday, a tiny, far-right conference for "Groypers" with speakers railing against immigration and claiming that ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp was blunting Trump’s “New America” agenda for the gain of his corporate clients.

But for an event that’s nearly 50 years old and has a keystone place in the history of the modern conservative movement — Ronald Reagan first spoke of his “shining city upon a hill” at the first CPAC in 1974 — watching the conference become one and the same with the Trump administration has been nothing short of depressing for Trump critics.

“They have ginned up this sentiment where people, because we have a difference of opinion, political opinion, that we're no longer safe or welcome in the same room,” Setmayer said. “That is hard to fathom, and certainly not conservatism in the traditional sense.”

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Trump world’s latest attack on Romney: Tie him to Burisma

The MAGA machine is attempting to turn President Donald Trump’s latest nemesis — Sen. Mitt Romney — into the next Hunter Biden.

Trump in recent days took a new turn in his attacks on the Utah senator, veering from assailing his character and loyalty and tossing him into the wilds of Ukraine.

Trump over the weekend retweeted several conservative personalities and stories attempting to connect the Republican senator to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma and its former board member Hunter Biden, two parties at the center of Trump’s attempted quid pro quo. The allegation was featured in several far-right blog posts: A senior advisor from Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign was on Burisma’s board of directors, and that by voting to impeach Trump last week, Romney was covering for his fellow swamp crony.

While Trump’s campaign had highlighted the allegation earlier, the post-impeachment flurry of tweets was the first time that Trump himself acknowledged the theory. At one point, the president retweeted a random follower’s newfound suspicion: “Romney is covering up his part in corruption in Ukraine. This has nothing to do with truth or God. He is a desperate man. The truth will come out.”

Prior to Sunday, Trump and the GOP’s first anti-Mitt salvo centered on a familiar set of name-calling: Romney is a “failed presidential candidate” jealous that Trump won the presidency; Romney craves the attention of the liberal media; Romney, a sanctimonious do-gooder, is a coward who wears mom jeans.

The Burisma attack signaled a new front in Trump world’s attempts to punish Romney, as well as keep the Burisma narrative alive. After all, Trump’s attempted quid pro quo centered around his obsession with launching an investigation into whether Joe Biden, his ostensible rival in the 2020 election, illegally leaned on the Ukrainian government to protect his son’s board seat — a storyline Trump adamantly clung onto during his impeachment trial. Should Romney look complicit, then so much the better for explaining his vote.

“It’s a fact. Why shouldn’t they know?” Matt Wolking, the Trump campaign’s deputy communications director, said when asked why the official account retweeted a story about Romney’s adviser. He did not respond when asked whether this fact provided adequate context for Romney’s vote.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 06: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post as he speaks in the East Room of the White House one day after the U.S. Senate acquitted on two articles of impeachment, ion February 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. After five months of congressional hearings and investigations about President Trumps dealings with Ukraine, the U.S. Senate formally acquitted the president on Wednesday of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This particular anti-Romney narrative had been plucked from a story floating around far-right media for months. On September 29, 2019 — just as the impeachment saga began and shortly after the whistleblower report became public — the American Thinker, a lesser-known conservative opinion site, wrote a story highlighting the fact that Joseph Cofer Black, a former CIA agent and a national security adviser for Romney’s 2012 campaign, just so happened to be a board member of the Ukrainian energy company under scrutiny by far-right factions of the GOP.

Black’s tenure happened to begin six months after Hunter Biden left the board, a fact that writer Thomas Lifson, who called Black a “career CIA spook,” highlighted as “an odd coincidence!” Other so-called coincidences include Black’s connection to John Brennan, who replaced him as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and his stint at Blackwater. “When dealing with spooks, politicians, and big-time power politics, sometimes coincidences are not accidental,” Lifson concluded. “But of course nobody wants to be a conspiracy theorist.”

In a statement, a Romney spokesperson pointed out that Black’s connection to Romney was tenuous at best. “There were hundreds of informal policy advisers to the Romney campaign. If you were a Republican policy expert at that time, chances are you were part of that group.”

Ryan Williams, a former Romney spokesman currently with the firm Targeted Victory, pointed out that several Trump allies — including Jay Sekulow, the lawyer Trump chose to represent him during his impeachment trial — were also Romney advisers in 2012.

“It seems that some people are trying to play the political equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” to attack Romney, he said. “Using this logic, Romney must also be a secret agent for the Trump Administration since both the president’s lawyer and national security adviser served as Romney campaign advisers.”

Indeed, Sekulow, was a close Romney ally and advised his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, while Robert C. O’Brien, Trump’s current national security adviser, co-chaired the 2012 campaign’s international organizations work group.

Regardless, that line of attack lingered in a series of aggregated articles on conservative blogs like The Federalist, Breitbart and Big League Politics (with the apt headline “HMM”) published that month.

Just hours after Romney voted last Wednesday to remove Trump from office on one article of impeachment, however, the allegation roared back to life — first on Twitter, highlighted by the likes of former governor Mike Huckabee, commentators Sean Davis and John Cardillo, and The Daily Wire, all retweeting or re-aggregating the Federalist and Breitbart articles.

“Well this may explain a lot! Maybe there ought to be an investigation. Will Mitt’s conscience force him to ask for it?”asked Huckabee.

The focus on Black persisted into Thursday and Friday, with RedState and PJ Media running articles highlighting the connection, Charlie Kirk and Mark Levin tweeting their seeming suspicions, and Hannity guest host Dan Bongino expressing outrage on his show that a Romney “confidant” was connected to Burisma.

At one point, the attack line attempted to jump off the internet into the cable-sphere. Laura Ingraham started working that angle on her show on Wednesday night, showing a graphic of The Federalist’s headline about Black to Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“It’s a cute little coincidence, don’t you think? It’s so swampy, though — is it not swampy?” she pressed him. (“I’m not going to say that that drove his thinking,” Graham demurred, before going back to calling for an investigation into FISA warrants.)

Regardless of where the corkboard-and-pins theory flourished best, it still got in the president’s purview, and now it’s an attack that’s powerful simply because it exists.

“”You’re watching the conspiracy laundromat in action,” said GOP consultant and Trump critic Rick Wilson. “What they do is that they punch [a theory] out to [hypothetical] Twitter user @MagaKing907525462, and then it’ll get retweeted by some dipshit like Dan Bongino or John Cardillo, and then it’ll get picked up by Breitbart, and then the Federalist will pick up on it and then from the Federalist it’ll go to Fox. And then lather, rinse, repeat.”

Black’s resume is the sort that would trigger a swamp-averse reader’s allergic reaction, and is, therefore, custom-built for a Trumpian attack: a career CIA agent, the former director of the agency’s Counterterrorist Center, and a former vice chairman of the controversial security firm Blackwater. (Black did not return a request for comment.)

The strength of the nefarious Romney-Burisma connection is admittedly less potent than the one about the Biden-Burisma nexus. Black, after all, is a 70-year-old with a self-sustained career of his own and no close ties to Romney, while Hunter is the troubled scion of an immensely prominent politician — a familiar story of American nepotism that anyone can instinctively understand, though perhaps can’t fully substantiate.

By placing another Burisma pawn in play — albeit in the form of a septuagenarian civil servant unrelated to Romney — the Biden attack line remains on life support, but now has the imprimatur of a broader, swampier conspiracy that could hypothetically taint Romney, who currently faces little actual backlash for his vote.

“They’ve recognized that no matter how tangential and ephemeral the connection, they’re going to do everything they can in order to get back into this ridiculous narrative of Burisma,” Wilson said.

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