President Donald Trump couldn’t have dreamed of a better scenario surrounding this week’s impeachment vote than the one that will play out sometime over the next 48 hours (or so): New Jersey Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew will switch parties due to his opposition to impeachment.
Van Drew was one of only two Democrats to vote against formalizing an impeachment inquiry into Trump and, as recently as last week, made clear he planned to vote against the articles of impeachment. His planned party switch (which led to the resignation of many of his staffers) seems entirely driven by his feeling on impeachment as, on other issues, he is a moderate Democrat. He even endorsed New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in the 2020 presidential race!
The image of Van Drew, then, being driven from his party because of impeachment plays directly into Trump’s hands. The President has long argued that Democrats are blinded by their hatred for him and that this latest congressional reaction to his behavior with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is nothing more than a partisan hoax.
On Monday morning, Trump retweeted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) on this topic. Cruz wrote:
“Hmm. Not sure, when Pelosi began this partisan show trial, that she envisioned it being so bad that it would drive House Dems—from New Jersey, no less—to switch parties.”
And on Sunday night, Trump retweeted New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, who praised Van Drew for seeing “the forest through the trees throughout this ridiculous impeachment sham.” And retweeted his son Don Jr.’s tweet touting Van Drew: “So great to see someone willing to put party politics aside and call balls and strikes when they see them.”
Now, to be clear, Van Drew’s party switch has to do with impeachment, yes, but it has more to do with straight politics. Van Drew’s high-profile opposition to impeachment had badly dented his prospects in a Democratic primary next year; CNN reported over the weekend that “internal polling has shown he was losing major support from Democrats in the district.” And Trump won Van Drew’s south Jersey seat by four points in 2016, meaning that if the congressman can secure the backing of the President and keep out potential GOP primary challengers, he has a better-than-average chance of getting reelected – this time as a Republican. He couldn’t come close to those odds if he remained in the Democratic Party.
But the specifics of Van Drew’s party switch won’t matter to Trump – or to the average person who isn’t following New Jersey politics all that closely. Trump will simplify the story to this: Democrats are so dead-set on impeachment that it’s driving moderates right out of the party. And that’s a message that will resonate with his base, sure, but also potentially with a public that has grown increasingly skeptical about whether the President should be impeached and removed.
For the first time in months, those opposing impeachment and removal now slightly edge out those in support those moves, according to Real Clear Politics polling average. That average includes two national polls released Monday that show more people oppose impeachment/removal than support it.
The numbers can, of course, change. The House hasn’t even impeached Trump yet – that will come, if all goes to plan, on Wednesday – and the Senate trial won’t begin until the new year. Those twin events will attract massive amounts of press coverage and, anytime there’s that much attention, the possibility always exists that minds can and do change.
But don’t underestimate what the Van Drew party switch means for Trump. It gives him a cudgel to beat Democrats with – and, if the early returns are indicative, he and his allies will do just that over the coming days, weeks and maybe even years. In short: Christmas came early for Trump.