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NJ Democrat Van Drew To Switch Parties

Van Drew is a moderate Democrat but would be one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress.

Republicans are celebrating the rumored defection of Democrat Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey congressman and one of two Democrats who voted against authorization of the House impeachment inquiry. Van Drew’s decision to leave the Democratic Party became public on Saturday after the congressman met with President Trump on Friday.

As of this writing, Rep. Van Drew does not appear to have spoken publicly to confirm his plan to switch parties. The congressman’s website was last updated on Dec. 12 and he has not tweeted since Dec. 13 and neither references changing parties.  

While Republicans link Van Drew’s defection to impeachment, polling makes that connection questionable, at least as interpreted by Trump apologists. A recent Fox News poll shows 50 percent of voters in support of impeachment. That number is likely to be higher in deep-blue New Jersey. A poll from back in October showed that support New Jersey voters backed impeachment by 50-36 percent.

Van Drew, who was first elected to Congress last year, represents New Jersey’s second district. In 2018, he won the seat that was being vacated by the retiring Republican Frank LoBiondo with 52 percent of the vote.  The district voted for Trump in 2016 but sided with Barack Obama in the two prior presidential elections. LoBiondo, who was first elected in 1994, won the 2016 election with 59 percent of the vote.

Rep. Van Drew is among the most conservative Democrats per Govtrack’s ideology chart, but his voting record would still place him to the left of all House Republicans. Van Drew scores seven percent on FiveThirtyEight’s Trump scoring scale. Regarding his record on other hot button issues, he gets a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood and zero from National Right to Life.  While he scores poorly on taxes with a nine percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, he did garner 80 percent from the National Rifle Association. On conservative issues, he gets 36 percent from the American Conservative Union and a zero from Conservative Review. If he was an established Republican, Van Drew would be listed among the “RINOs.”

If Van Drew doesn’t fit well with Republicans, he also is not a typical Democrat. Politico reported that Democratic leaders were losing patience with the soon-to-be-runaway congressman over a number of votes that had angered the liberal base. As a state senator, he voted against gay marriage, increasing the minimum wage and numerous gun control bills. Progressives already considered Van Drew to be something of a Democrat-in-name-only, but it was his rogue vote on impeachment that caused the most trouble.

“The large majority of our party in Cumberland really isn’t or wasn’t happy with [Van Drew’s] approach on impeachment,” Doug Long, a former Cumberland County, N.J. Democratic chairman, said. “That really has little to do with local politics, until it becomes a part of local politics.”

Several Democrats were reportedly planning to primary Van Drew next year and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cited a recent internal poll which found that 58 percent of second district primary voters wanted a different candidate. Only 28 percent supported incumbent Van Drew.

“What he’s reacting to is public polling that shows he can’t get renominated,” Nadler said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Van Drew may not be able to secure the 2020 nomination as a Republican either. Even though New Jersey is a left-leaning state, Republican primary voters will be more conservative than the state as a whole. The liberal side of Van Drew’s record is likely to be a liability.

Three Republicans have already declared their candidacy for Van Drew’s seat. One, Brian Fitzherbert, accused the soon-to-be-former-Democrat of “trying to use South Jersey Republicans to cling onto his power.”

“How stupid does Desperate Jeff Van Drew think South Jersey Republicans are? Desperate Jeff knew exactly what Washington Democrats were about when he ran for Congress two years ago,” Fitzberhert said in a statement.

In the big picture, Van Drew’s defection is a win for Republicans and provides a welcome respite from the bad news of the Ukraine scandal, but, under the surface, his flight from the Democratic Party likely has less to do with moral qualms about Democratic positions than with the unpopularity of his stance against impeachment with second district Democrats.

Van Drew’s move may not be enough to preserve his seat. New Jersey Democrats will be angry at him and Republicans will look to more conservative candidates. Moderates and independents are unlikely to trust him after his party switch less than a year into his term.

If Van Drew is able to mount a successful re-election campaign, he may well become a thorn in the side of the GOP. He seems to sympathize with Republicans on a precious few issues aside from impeachment. However, in the modern Republican Party, loyalty to Donald Trump often seems to trump all else.

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