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Stefanik fends off challenge, replaces Cheney in GOP leadership

Elise Stefanik's rise helps prove that the contemporary GOP is a post-policy party that prioritizes fealty to Donald Trump above all other considerations.

After firing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as House Republican Conference chair on Wednesday, GOP lawmakers needed to pick a new #3 for their leadership team in the chamber. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) was the obvious frontrunner, having received endorsements from, among others, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Donald Trump.

But there were some whispers of discontent from far-right members, many of whom were unimpressed with Stefanik's more moderate voting record, including her vote against the party's 2017 package of tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. With this in mind, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) launched an 11th-hour bid for the leadership post late yesterday, offering Republicans an alternative.

But it was too little, too late.

House Republicans on Friday elected Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., as their conference chair, replacing Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was ousted on Wednesday for her public rebuke of former President Donald Trump. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, unsuccessfully challenged Stefanik, who has a moderate voting record, arguing she was not conservative enough and expressing frustration by her "coronation."

The final tally wasn't that close: Stefanik finished with 134 votes in the secret-ballot process, followed by Roy's 46 votes. A trio of members, none of whom launched formal bids for the position, each received one vote, while nine House Republicans voted "present."

It probably helped the New Yorker that Trump weighed in directly last night, issuing a statement that read in part, "Can't imagine Republican House Members would go with Chip Roy.... I support Elise, by far, over Chip!"

As the dust settles on the week's dramatic developments, it's worth pausing to ask why, exactly, Trump and his party supported Stefanik over Roy "by far."

At face value, it's counter-intuitive. Liz Cheney and Chip Roy voted with Trump far more than Elise Stefanik. What's more, by several other quantitative metrics -- scores and ratings compiled by Heritage Action, the American Conservative Union, and Club for Growth, for example, which rank-and-file GOP lawmakers tend to care about -- Stefanik has been less conservative during her Capitol Hill career than Cheney or Roy.

And if voting records and interest in public policy mattered to Republicans, Stefanik would've almost certainly lost this morning. But therein lies the point: the contemporary GOP is a post-policy party that prioritizes fealty to Donald Trump above all other considerations.

It's the animating principle at the heart of Republican politics. Those who align with Trump's election lies and his conspiracy theories can climb the partisan ladder; those who resist remain below.

Cheney and Roy have been far-right stalwarts and unyielding GOP partisans on matters large and small. But they also agreed to certify the 2020 election results and recognized Trump's impeachable misconduct.

Stefanik, on other hand, abandoned any shred of integrity and swore allegiance to the former president and his nonsense. For Cheney and Roy, at the core of the Republican Party is conservative principles. For Stefanik, at the core of the Republican Party is whatever Donald Trump says is the core.

After prevailing this morning, the new House GOP Conference chair declared, "I also want to thank President Trump for his support. He's a critical part of our Republican team."

Of course she did.