Political ambition can make sensible people do bizarre things.

U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, picked an odd fight with Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb on Aug. 25. She made a dubious claim that Ms. Cobb engaged in “intellectual theft” on her campaign website by citing the Military Family Stability Act as an example of legislation she would support. Ms. Stefanik introduced one version of the act in 2017 and asserted that Ms. Cobb’s reference to it amounted to plagiarism.

A week earlier, Ms. Stefanik launched a website specifically dedicated to attacking her rival. Called TaxinTedra.com, the website repeats some accusations that have been proven false.

“Some of the claims included on the website have been debunked repeatedly by both journalists covering the race between Ms. Stefanik and Ms. Cobb and by Ms. Cobb herself. The first issue the website identifies is Ms. Cobb’s stance on health care. The page claims Ms. Cobb supports Medicare for all, including undocumented immigrants,” according to a story published Aug. 20 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Last election cycle, Ms. Cobb publicly stated she supports Medicare for all, ‘or something like that,’ during a campaign event. But as reported by the Post-Star in February, Ms. Cobb said after years of discussion with doctors and constituents, she had decided an option to buy into Medicare is a better solution than automatic, mandated Medicare for everyone.”

For the first year and a half of President Donald Trump’s term in the Oval Office, Ms. Stefanik supported him on a variety of issues while keeping a safe distance. Mr. Trump all too frequently behaves in a boorish manner, perpetuates numerous falsehoods and demeans those who don’t pledge their undying loyalty to him at the expense of everything else.

For Republicans, walking the tightrope of backing the leader of their party while remaining outside his sphere of absurdity can be tricky. Ms. Stefanik seemed to have found a way to accomplish this, and it was to her credit that she did so. She remained firmly committed to the GOP while not getting caught up in Mr. Trump’s repulsive and counterproductive antics.

But for the past two years, Ms. Stefanik has closely aligned herself with the president. She has adopted his scorched-earth policy of dispatching with critics and political challengers.

Ms. Stefanik is certainly not the first person to follow this destructive path, and she won’t be the last. Sadly, this seems to have become common ground among political extremists of just about every ideological stripe.

It’s difficult grasping why Ms. Stefanik has decided to go rogue. She’s built an excellent reputation among her colleagues and is popular with her constituents. She has a very comfortable lead in this race, and she’s raised an enormous amount of money.

Ms. Stefanik should see that the false accusations, name-calling and deceptions are beneath a public official of her obvious intelligence and political skills. She sells herself short by going for the low-hanging fruit of vilifying all those who oppose her or try to hold her accountable.

We cannot understand why Ms. Stefanik is convinced this kind of behavior is necessary. She needs to rely on the admirable qualities that make her a dynamic leader and effective legislator.

She should follow the example of her predecessors in this office by adhering to the principles of truth and decency. This tactic does not serve her well, and it pollutes the 21st Congressional District with cynicism and acrimony. We deserve better than to live in an environment like this.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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