I was dismayed but not surprised to learn over the weekend that my Democratic Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who’s made frequent Fox News appearances and voted against the impeachment inquiry, plans to switch parties to formally become a Republican. This action fits in perfectly with a politician who many in our district have referred to for years as a DINO (Democrat In Name Only). Perhaps Van Drew was finally ready to halt any ties to a party he’s made it clear he has no use for.
Throughout the impeachment process, Van Drew has argued that not only is it a waste of time, but, even more insidiously, that Congress is diverting crucial attention away from more important issues. During his November “tele-town hall” — which he held online rather than with voters in-person — he argued that Congress could have been working on legislation to make voting machines more secure, if they weren’t so busy trying to hold President Donald Trump accountable.
Instead of ensuring that our president has the appropriate checks on his lust for power, Van Drew has been courting favor with him, and met with Trump at the White House on Friday. Trump Tweeted on Sunday that the party switch “would be big. Always heard Jeff is very smart!” Fox News reported that a source told them Van Drew “may be seeking a Rose Garden ceremony if he were to switch.”
I got involved in local politics after randomly coming across the 2018 March for Our Lives rally while in Princeton. I volunteered for and donated to progressive Democratic primary candidate Tanzie Youngblood. I was wary of many of Van Drew’s stances, and his getting a top rating from the NRA. But when he won the primary, I voted for him, since his Republican opponent Seth Grossman proved himself to be racist and so reactionary his own party withdrew its support for him.
I now deeply regret that decision — in retrospect, I should have not voted, or cast a protest vote for Youngblood. I followed the lead of those who told me I needed to “vote blue” in order for Democrats to win Congress. But what good is technically having Democratic control when that majority includes the likes of a waffling, weaselly politician such as Van Drew? His only allegiance has been to himself, Trump, and the conservative voters he thinks can help him win in 2020.
Unlike Trump, however, who parlayed his willingness to kowtow to the lowest common denominator to victory, it’s doubtful that Van Drew’s move will help him with either party, or independents. Explaining his “no” vote on the impeachment inquiry, Van Drew insisted that voters were “worn out” and “bored.” Well, not me—nor the dozens of people I saw at a protest outside his office on Thursday.
If Van Drew does switch parties, he will not only insult the Democratic party that supported him throughout his Congressional campaign and prior to that as a New Jersey state Senator, along with voters like me. He will also insult his new party. Why would Van Drew risk political suicide when his Republican primary opponent David Richter has already been endorsed by Atlantic County Freeholders John Risley and Richard Dase, Burlington County Republican Committee Chairman Sean Earlen, and Atlantic City Republican Club President Fernando Fernandez?
Van Drew has shown himself to be just as craven, wishy-washy, and immoral as his apparent idol, Donald J. Trump, willing to do anything to get the most votes. For many like me, his impeachment stance was the last straw—while for others, it’s the first. Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement Saturday that Van Drew’s opposition to the impeachment process meant he would lose Democratic support, while at least six of his senior have aides resigned. Yet Van Drew seems unburdened by the backlash.
I hope when Van Drew loses by a landslide in November, it rankles him as much as it upset Trump to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. This impending decision seems like a desperate data-driven bid to court voters who oppose impeachment. But rather than showing principle, Van Drew has shown only that he’s willing to betray the party that’s appeared next to his name throughout his political career.
Van Drew may still represent me in Congress until the end of his term. But by choosing to side with an administration that’s proven themselves to be aligned with white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and misogyny, while planting itself firmly and repeatedly against the Constitution, human rights, and education, he’s lost any shred of respect I could ever have for him.
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) is a freelance writer, and Treasurer of the Egg Harbor Township Democratic Club.