Van Drew’s romance with Trump is blowing up in his face | Moran – NJ.com

In November of last year, Rep. Jeff Van Drew told me it was “very important” for Democrats to maintain control of the House.

A month later, he switched parties, famously pledging his “undying loyalty” to President Trump as he kissed the ring in the Oval Office.

“This is just a better fit for me,” Van Drew told Trump. “This is who I am.”

For voters, the flip-flop presents a puzzle. Van Drew was elected in the Blue Wave of 2018 and had voted with Nancy Pelosi’s position more than 80 percent of the time. Suddenly, he was slobbering over Trump in the Oval Office.

To Democrats, that makes him a rat, a traitor, a phony.

“When he was in the state Senate, he would always see which way the wind was blowing and go with whatever he thought was popular,” says Senate President Steve Sweeney, whose district overlaps with Van Drew’s. “I think it’ll come back to haunt him this time.”

There lies the delicious part of this story. Van Drew’s treachery is blowing up in his face.

He’s losing the race now, and it’s the party switch that’s hurting him, painting him as a man who traded in his principles to save his neck in a district that voted for Trump in 2016 by 5 points.

“The switch paints him as an opportunist,” says Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University poll. “It’s backfiring on him.”

Murray’s poll gives a 5-point lead to Amy Kennedy, of the famous clan, a former schoolteacher who has never run for office and is striking a centrist tone in this campaign.

Probing deeper, Murray found that Democrats aren’t the only ones who bristle at the party switch. Roughly half of independent voters said they were “bothered” by it, as did 15 percent of Republicans. Ten members of Van Drew’s own staff quit in disgust.

In Van Drew’s telling, his party shift was an act of courage and principle. He was always more conservative than most Democrats, but it was the vote to impeach Trump that put him over the edge, he says. Van Drew was one of two Democrats who dissented.

But was it principle or politics? I talked to Van Drew after the impeachment vote, just before the party switch, and he explained his vote then as a political necessity, saying he may have lost his seat if he voted in favor.

“Out on the street more people are supportive of my viewpoint, no question,” he said then. “Some people understand that it’s very important for Democrats to maintain a majority. Potentially, you could have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president.”

That was in December, before the pandemic, in a period when Trump’s approval rating was climbing towards its all-time high of 47 percent in March.

So, pardon my skepticism, but it sounds like Van Drew was doing exactly what Sweeney says he’s always done – holding up his finger, and going where the wind was blowing, even when it took him straight into Trump’s lap.

It could work. Despite the Monmouth poll, the Cook Political Report calls the race a toss-up. Van Drew says his internal polls give him a small lead.

State Sen. Mike Testa, a South Jersey Republican who captured his seat from a Democrat last year, says that Van Drew fits the district well.

“I’ve spoken to many people who applaud Van Drew for the switch because he stood up for his convictions,” Testa says. “He didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left him.”

It’s a snappy line, but it’s not really true. Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are moving the party’s center of gravity to the left, but they are losing almost every internal fight.

Nearly all the Democrats who won in 2018 are centrists, including Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th), Rep. Andy Kim (D-3rd), Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7th), and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th). None of them support the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, and neither does Pelosi or her leadership team.

Van Drew is the one who has moved. He’s preaching Trump’s gospel these days, like a convert.

He voted against a Democratic bill to provide a new round of aid for families in this pandemic because some of it would have gone to undocumented immigrants. He says Trump has been good for race relations. He falsely accuses Kennedy of wanting to defund the police. He has no objection to Trump’s paying so little taxes, or hiding his returns, or profiting from government business. He even says that Trump has done good work on climate.

So, please, don’t let Van Drew blame this flip on Bernie Sanders. This is about Van Drew making a cynical bet to protect his career. He’s dancing, folks. Don’t be fooled.

More: Tom Moran columns

Tom Moran may be reached at tmoran@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

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