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