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After siding with Trump on impeachment, NJ rep poised to join GOP

If Jeff Van Drew expects a party switch to help advance his career, he's almost certainly doing the wrong thing by joining Trump's GOP.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Over the summer, as Donald Trump's scandals mounted, one House Republican, Michigan's Justin Amash, said he'd seen enough. Declaring himself "frightened" of what GOP politics had become, the four-term congressman left the GOP.

A half-year later, it appears one House Democrat is poised to make the opposite journey.

A Democratic congressman from a swing district in southern New Jersey -- who has been outspoken in his opposition to President Donald Trump's impeachment -- is likely to leave the party, sources told NBC News on Saturday.Two Democratic leadership sources said they expect Rep. Jeff Van Drew to change his registration to Republican in the wake of his stance against the House Democratic-led efforts to impeach Trump.

It was just five weeks ago when the newspaper in Atlantic City reported that the New Jersey congressman held an event with his constituents and assured them he'd "been a Democrat all his life and will remain one." Evidently, Van Drew is prepared to break that recent commitment.

Van Drew represents the Garden State's 2nd congressional district -- the state's southern most district, just east of Delaware -- after winning his first congressional race just last year. The seat had been held by Frank LoBiondo, a longtime Republican congressman, and Democratic leaders saw Van Drew, who was a conservative Democrat in New Jersey's state legislature, as the ideal candidate to win the GOP-friendly district. On Election Day 2018, it worked.

Throughout 2019, the freshman generally voted with his party, but Van Drew wouldn't budge when it came to Trump's impeachment. He sided with Republicans when the House voted to authorize the impeachment inquiry, and last week, Van Drew positioned himself as the first House Democrat to announce his intentions to vote against both articles of impeachment.

This, not surprisingly, cost Van Drew considerable support from national and state Democratic leaders, and he was likely to face a primary rival in 2020. As his party took steps to abandon him, the rookie congressman began taking steps to abandon his party. (The whole dynamic is a bit like those who break up with romantic partners in order to preempt getting dumped.)

But if Van Drew expects a party switch to help advance his career, he's almost certainly doing the wrong thing by joining Trump's GOP.

1. Republicans are likely to reject him: It's almost certain that Van Drew, if he does as he's expected to do, will face a Republican primary challenger in 2020, and he may find it difficult to explain the fact that he voted with Democrats on practically every major vote of his brief career on Capitol Hill. Indeed, on the House Dems' top eight legislative priorities of 2019, Van Drew voted with his current party on each of the bills, on issues ranging from voting rights to LGBTQ protections, background checks on gun purchases to combating climate change.

Van Drew, incidentally, also endorsed Sen. Cory Booker's (D-N.J.) presidential campaign. Three weeks ago today, he touted his support for a Democratic resolution condemning white supremacism -- and connected the resolution to White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller. How will all of this go over with a Republican primary electorate? I'm guessing not well.

2. Van Drew is about to lose power and influence: As the New Jersey congressman will soon learn, being in the House minority isn't much fun, and it won't be a perch from which he'll be able to get much done as his re-election bid draws closer. Indeed, he'll struggle even more to be an effective lawmaker now that much of his staff -- including his legislative director, communications director, and director of constituency relations -- has resigned.

3. He'll have to create a support network from scratch in a matter of months: After a lengthy career in Democratic politics, Van Drew will suddenly find himself without any kind of network of support and/or donor base. How unprepared is he for such an endeavor? The Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend that the congressman's office "tried to persuade national Democratic staffers detailed to his race to continue to support him despite his switch to the GOP." In other words, Van Drew hoped the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would support a Republican's re-election plans, which suggests he may not fully appreciate why the campaign committee exists. (DCCC staffers reportedly "balked" at the request.)

Indeed, it wouldn't be too surprising if the DCCC started asking Van Drew to give back the money the party invested in him -- which is exactly what the Democratic campaign committee did 10 years ago next week when Alabama's Parker Griffith switched parties.

4. Historical parallels don't help: Nearly a half-century ago, New Jersey's 2nd district was represented by Charles Sandman Jr. (R), who defended Richard Nixon throughout his impeachment crisis. On Election Day 1974, voters were unimpressed with the congressman's willingness to defend the scandal-plagued Republican president and Sandman lost his re-election bid.

One wonders whether Van Drew is familiar with the story.