To Trump or not to Trump: Stefanik and Hutchinson offer contrasting Republican visions

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Elise Stefanik made her case for a glittering prize: the Republican nomination for vice-president to Donald Trump. At the Principles First summit on Saturday, Cassidy Hutchinson received a prize of her own: a Profiles in Courage award.

Stefanik, who is 39 and the No 3 Republican in the US House, received standing ovations from an audience ultra-loyal to Trump. Hutchinson, 28, received standing ovations too, as she appeared with Alyssa Farah Griffin and Sarah Matthews, fellow Trump White House staffers turned Trump critics, before an audience of anti-Trump conservatives.

Stefanik is a former moderate who has molded herself in Trump’s far-right image, to rise in a party locked in his grip. Hutchinson is a former Trump loyalist who became a star witness before the House January 6 committee.

Hutchinson’s aim now, she said on Saturday, is to “bring people back to reality, to bring people back to not believing these conspiracy theories and the propagation of lies that Donald Trump has done”.

Over two days of Washington talk, at two contrasting events, Stefanik and Hutchinson offered starkly differing visions of the present and future of the American right – as well as interesting studies in political star power.

At CPAC, in the Maryland suburbs, Stefanik backed Trump’s lie about a stolen 2020 election, safe in the knowledge that most of her cheering audience would not remember what she said the day Trump’s supporters stormed Congress to try to overturn that result. For the record – which she allegedly sought to delete – Stefanik lamented “truly a tragic day for America” and demanded rioters be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.

At Principles First, an event linked to the Bulwark website and staged in downtown DC, echoes of January 6 were also strong. Hutchinson received her award from its previous recipient, Harry Dunn, a former police officer who helped defend the Capitol.

Gesturing to people onstage, Matthews said: “We’re all lifelong Republicans or lifelong conservatives. We probably all agree with about 70% of Donald Trump’s policies. But I think we’re all very open-eyed to his character.

Hutchinson said: “What we need to do is practice compassion for people who did fall into [Trump’s] seduction, people who were artificially duped. We have to help educate people out of that belief system. We have to plug them back in.”

Describing the costs of her decision to stand against Trump, she emphasised the experiences of others, such as the Georgia elections workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman and the Arizona official Rusty Bowers, who also experienced “horrible attacks that ruined our lives”.

“We need to push towards normalcy,” Hutchinson said. “We start in this next election. We start by doing everything we possibly can to make sure that Donald Trump never gets near the Oval Office again, and to make sure that every … ”

Interrupted by applause, she eventually continued: “ … that every member of Congress that has enabled Donald Trump’s agenda is also held accountable and voted out of office.”

That would include Stefanik, named by Farah as someone “we were very close with” but also someone comfortable with the “mental gymnastics” it takes to stay with Trump.

Another name came up: Mike Gallagher of Ohio, until this month a Republican rising star, now on his way out of the House after voting against an impeachment of Joe Biden mounted to satisfy Trump’s thirst for revenge and based on the claims of a man indicted for lying and linked to Russian intelligence.

Gallagher’s retirement “makes me sad”, Matthews said, “because we need more people like Mike Gallagher in Congress and less people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

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That jab at the far-right Trump ally from Georgia drew its own applause. But Matthews also rebuked Stefanik and her ilk.

“Sadly, people are more concerned with their own positions of power than they are with doing what’s right for the country. These people were elected not to serve Donald Trump. They’re there to serve their constituents, and they seem to have forgotten that.

“They’re doing his bidding and they’re so concerned with not painting a target on their own back. Donald Trump, when people speak out against him, what does he do? He tries to find a primary opponent, so he gets them out and gets someone he would approve in … and it’s really disappointing because I think … people would believe the threat of Donald Trump if these elected officials would come out and say what I know they privately say.”

Dunn, the former Capitol officer, is running to become an elected official, seeking a seat in Congress as a Maryland Democrat. Outside the ballroom, he could be overheard discussing a “small-business tour” in his prospective district. Listening to Hutchinson – then seeing her signing copies of her memoir and patiently posing for selfies, a line snaking off down the hall – it wasn’t hard to imagine her following a similar path. After all, it was a scene similar, in its way, to the one at CPAC that saw Stefanik surrounded by admirers as she spoke to Steve Bannon.

On stage, Hutchinson said: “As I’ve been traveling around the country, I’ve been very encouraged by the amount of young people who see the threat Donald Trump poses and see we need to do more.

“We need to do more to mobilise voters. We need to do more to educate voters. The reality of this next election is it’s going to come down to a handful of states, similarly to how it happened in 2020. We need to focus on those states and make sure that those constituents are adequately educated on who they’re voting for.

“And if the ticket is a binary choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, people need to understand on a very basic, very fundamental level that there’ll be one candidate on that ballot that will support our democracy so we can continue to thrive. And it’s not Donald Trump.”

Her audience rose to its feet again.

Source: US Politics -


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