Former Democratic NJ congressman poised to regret joining Trump's GOP over impeachment: He’s ‘alienated a lot of people’

Former Democratic NJ congressman poised to regret joining Trump's GOP over impeachment: He’s ‘alienated a lot of people’
PBS NewsHour
Election '20

Although New Jersey is considered a blue state and hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Republican presidential nominee since George H.W. Bush in 1988, some of its congressional districts are more Democratic than others. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives via New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018, recently switched from Democrat to Republican — and journalist Ben Jacobs examines Van Drew’s reasons for that decision in a December 23 article for New York Magazine.

Van Drew, before joining the GOP, was among the few House Democrats who openly opposed Trump’s impeachment: on October 31, he voted against opening an impeachment inquiry — and when two articles of impeachment came up for a full House vote on December 18, Van Drew voted against both of them. The December 18 vote came down along partisan lines, with no House Republicans voting for either article and only a few Democrats voting with Republicans.

Inside the White House, Van Drew met with Trump, who urged him to switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP — and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway was present during that meeting. The South Jersey congressman found that, according to a poll, 70% of Democratic primary voters would be less likely to support him in the 2020 election if he voted against impeaching Trump. But Trump performed well in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District in 2016 even though most New Jersey voters favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Van Drew obviously believes he has a better shot at winning reelection in 2020 by running as a Republican. But some of the people New York Magazine interviewed questioned the wisdom of the switch.

A source described by Jacobs as a “well-connected South Jersey Democrat” told New York Magazine that with impeachment, Van Drew “never really had a rationale that was consistent. You need to have your own narrative. Not a Republican-lite narrative, but a Jeff Van Drew narrative.”

Former Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith believes that Van Drew made an unwise decision. Griffith himself switched from Democrat to GOP in 2009 — a decision he now regrets. Griffith told New York Magazine, “Ordinarily, it’s a mistake to switch parties. I made a mistake by switching parties. The mistake I made — I made an assumption that everybody knew as much about politics as we did in D.C., and it really is an emotional decision.”

Griffith likened Van Drew’s decision to meet with Trump in the White House to “fondling a rattlesnake” and asserted, “I’m sure it made him feel good temporarily, but I don’t think Trump makes friends well — and (he) doesn’t keep them well.”

According to Griffith — who went back to being a Democrat — Van Drew has “alienated a lot of people who put their faith in him.”

Michael Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee in South Jersey, told New York Magazine that Van Drew burned a lot of bridges when he became a Republican and stressed that he is “now persona non grata with Democrats.” Suleiman asserted, “No one likes a weasel, and no one likes a turncoat.”

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