Even as she was allying herself with Mr. Trump, Ms. Stefanik was playing a leading role in countering his effect on the Republican Party, which lost its House majority that year in part because suburban women were alienated by him. She began an intensive drive to recruit and elect more G.O.P. women, raising huge sums for the task.
But by the following year, with Mr. Trump facing his first impeachment, Ms. Stefanik made it clear she was no longer reluctant to be associated with him. The starkest indication of her shift came during his hearings and subsequent Senate trial, when the New York Republican served as one of the former president’s defenders.
Her combative tone and willingness to lean into the proceedings as a partisan brawler catapulted her into the limelight, drawing widespread praise from conservatives on social media and attracting the attention of Mr. Trump, who anointed her a “new Republican star.” The attention also led to a significant surge in campaign donations, allowing Ms. Stefanik to build a list of over 200,000 small-dollar donors, according to her aides.
Her performance also won over some of the ultraconservative members she had earlier disdained. Representative Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican who served with Ms. Stefanik as an impeachment defender, recalled in an interview how she had carefully prepared her questioning behind the scenes, and praised how she had calibrated her fierce tone to the proceedings.
“When you’re talking about a bipartisan veterans’ bill that everybody’s going to agree with, you can have a press conference and everybody’s getting along and working together,” Mr. Zeldin said, referring to Ms. Stefanik’s earlier inclination to work across the aisle. “But when you’re talking about impeachment of a sitting president of the United States, it’s different.”
It was those performances and her effort to elect more Republican women to Congress — which bore fruit last year — that inspired party leaders, led by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, to tap Ms. Stefanik as they looked to dethrone Ms. Cheney.
“We need to be united, and that starts with leadership,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Capitalizing on the newfound swell of support from conservatives and the backing of a number of prominent freshmen congresswomen whom she helped elect, Ms. Stefanik turned her attention to bolstering her credentials with some hard-right members who were still skeptical of her.
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