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Harvard Lecturer 'Shattered' by Elise Stefanik Embracing Trump's 'Big Lie'

Newsweek logo Newsweek 5/22/2022 Andrew Stanton
Representative Elise Stefanik’s ex-mentor John Bridgeland was “heartbroken” and “shattered” by her embrace of Donald Trump’s “big lie,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. Above, Stefanik speaks at a town hall event in Washington D.C. on March 1, 2022. © Samuel Corum/Getty Images Representative Elise Stefanik’s ex-mentor John Bridgeland was “heartbroken” and “shattered” by her embrace of Donald Trump’s “big lie,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. Above, Stefanik speaks at a town hall event in Washington D.C. on March 1, 2022.

John Bridgeland, who worked with Representative Elise Stefanik at Harvard University more than a decade ago, said he was "shattered" by her embrace of former President Donald Trump's "big lie."

When Stefanik was first elected in 2014, she was widely viewed as among the most moderate Republicans in Congress, representing a then-competitive district in New York. But in recent years, many have pointed out her quick pivot right.

Once a Trump critic, Stefanik has transformed into a staunch Trump defender. After he lost the 2020 election, she embraced his claims of widespread election fraud, voting against certifying the electoral college vote in Pennsylvania, a swing state won by President Joe Biden.

Since then, she has only further supported these claims, eventually replacing Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who emerged as a leading Trump critic, as the chair of the Republican Conference.

Bridgeland, a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said in a Washington Post interview this week that her support of Trump's election fraud claims "shattered" him.

"I was shattered. I was really heartbroken," he told the paper.

He told the paper Stefanik was assigned to him as a student fellow and facilitator of his seminar. He went on to claim he helped her get a job at the White House in 2006 and that he chose her for a job selling Harvard students on AmeriCorps and other service opportunities—both claims her office told Newsweek were untrue.

In a statement to Newsweek, a Stefanik spokesperson wrote that she "barely knew" Bridgeland and has not spoken to him in more than a decade.

"Rep. Stefanik never did a project on Peace Corps or AmeriCorps while at Harvard and she barely knew the author. Bridgeland was never a reference for the Congresswoman for a White House job," the statement said.

Following a racially motivated shooting in Buffalo last week, Stefanik came under scrutiny for ads allegedly invoking the "Great Replacement" theory—a racist conspiracy arguing white Americans are being replaced by people of color—mentioned in a manifesto of the suspected shooter.

During her time at the institute, Stefanik was "extremely bright" and "public-service oriented," Bridgeland said, adding that he "thought the world of her." He told the Post that he points to her apparent ideological shift as part of her "quest for power" to rise in Republican ranks, a task that would be difficult for a moderate in an increasingly conservative party.

Bridgeland told the paper he was "shocked she would go down such a dark path."

"No power, no position is worth the complete loss of your integrity," he said. "It was just completely alarming to me to watch this transformation."

Stefanik has pushed back against claims her ads—which accused Democrats of trying to create "a permanent liberal majority" by allowing undocumented immigrants to vote—pushed the Great Replacement Theory. She told CNN reporter Manu Raju last week that she has "never made a racist comment."

"I condemn racism," she said. "The difference of opinion on immigration is I support a secure border, while Democrats have advisory boards. I don't support allowing illegals to vote."

Harvard's Institute of Politics removed Stefanik from its senior committee last January over her vote against the electoral college certification, prompting her to accuse them of cowering and caving "to the woke Left."

Correction 05/23/22 3:35 p.m. ET: This story was corrected to reflect that Stefanik denied working closely with Bridgeland. A previous version referred to him as her "mentor."

Update 05/23/22 9:10 a.m. ET: This story was updated with a statement from Rep. Stefanik's office.

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