Why NJ congressman may have no choice but to stay loyal to Trump, reject Biden win | Stile

Charles Stile

Rep. Jeff Van Drew is joining Donald Trump's desperate, Alamo-like effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election by refusing to certify the votes of the Electoral College on Wednesday. 

The former dentist from Cape May County, who drew national attention for pledging his "undying support" for Trump after defecting from the Democratic Party in December 2019, argues that there are a slew of "serious unanswered questions surrounding" the November election. Van Drew outlined that position in a post published by SaveJersey.com, a conservative blog.

"It's what I’ve talked about all along. There has been ... a disrespect of millions of Americans who really do believe that something's wrong,'' he told the Press of Atlantic City last week.

So, under the guise of procedural concerns, Van Drew is joining the Double-Down Trumpers, sowing discord in the Democratic process in an attempt to salvage Trump's presidency. It wouldn't come entirely as a shock if Van Drew donned a "Trump Won" face mask in Congress, as did Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-sympathizing new congresswoman from Georgia who was sworn in Sunday.

But in raw political terms, Van Drew really doesn't have much of a choice.

Voting Wednesday to certify the results also means Van Drew would be siding with Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. In the eyes of Trump and his supporters, such a move would turn Van Drew into a traitor who can't be trusted.

President Donald Trump on Thursday meets with Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched his party affiliation to the GOP.

A betrayal would be particularly infuriating for Trump. He rewarded Van Drew's defection — and his refusal to back the House Democrats' impeachment crusade — with his grandest gesture of Trump love: a red-meat rally on the Wildwood boardwalk.

Trump lavished praise on Van Drew as "brave and principled." He even hugged him — not an easy thing for the germaphobic president. He detailed his top political deputy, Bill Stepien, to build a strategy for Van Drew's reelection race.  

"Jeff had the guts to defy the left-wing fanatics in his own party and to stand tall in defense of our Constitution, democracy and freedom,'' the president said.

But the gutsy Van Drew would become the gutless Van Drew if he chose to certify the results. And Trump's long memory would extend throughout the two years as Van Drew prepares for reelection in 2022. 

So Van Drew is calculating that staying loyal to Trump during his death throes is good for his own career survival.

"It's not a matter of who would win or lose — maybe the results would be the same — but we should abide by the rule of law,'' Van Drew said.

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NJ Dems: Trump enablers must be stopped

New Jersey Democrats, meanwhile, are painting the Republicans as a bunch of duck-for-cover Trump enablers, afraid to defy or publicly distance themselves from their party standard bearers. 

Gov. Phil Murphy pounded away at that theme Monday, calling Van Drew's plans to vote against certifying the Electoral College an  "undemocratic and unpatriotic" attempt to undermine Biden's victory.

"It pains me in particular to see one of our own representatives, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, cynically siding with conspiracy theorists and throwing his fate in with the far right’s disproven and crackpot theories,” Murphy said. “If that’s the legacy Jeff wants, then I guess it is what is.”

Gov. Phil Murphy called Van Drew's plan to vote against certifying the Electoral College vote "undemocratic and unpatriotic."

Van Drew didn't return a call made to his cellphone Monday. And it's unclear just how much this weekend's bombshell — a recording of Trump pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to recalculate the 2020 vote by suddenly finding 11,870 votes — might cause him to reconsider his pro-Trump ardor at the last minute.

But in a statement, Van Drew's campaign manager, Ron Filan, fired back at Murphy and defended his decision to reject the Electoral College vote.

"It's good to see Phil Murphy taking a break from killing seniors in nursing homes and destroying our friends and neighbors' livelihoods long enough to refer to hundreds of thousands of his constituents as crackpot conspiracy theorists simply because they want to have the confidence he continues to deny them in the outcome of our elections," Filan wrote.

"Van Drew has been clear from day one that his opposition to certifying the results of the Electoral College isn't about who won or lost the presidency, but rather a rejection of the status quo and a no confidence vote in politicians like Phil Murphy who rather dismiss Americans as naive, stupid, or conspiracy theorists in comments exactly like the one he gave today rather than doing the job they were elected and continually fail to do."

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He's not alone

Van Drew is not the only "doubled-down" Trumper.

Doug Steinhardt, the former state GOP chairman, who walked through parts of his introductory campaign video carrying a gun over his shoulder, is running for governor this year as a devout Trumpian. 

He has come out of the box swinging at his chief rival for the nomination, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, for being a squish when it comes to Trump.

"As New Jersey Republicans joined with President Trump, the NJ GOP, and other leaders’ calls for election integrity, inquiries into Dominion voting machines, to keep foreign-made election machines out of New Jersey, and for the New Jersey government to divest itself of investments in Communist China, Jack Ciattarelli went in the opposite direction,'' Steinhardt said, referring to three China-linked investments included in a mutual fund Ciattarelli disclosed to the Legislature in 2016.

Eric Arpert, Ciattarelli's campaign manager, called the charge "laughable."

"Two weeks in and Steinhardt's already out of ideas,'' Arpert said in a statement. "[It] just proves that Steinhardt will say anything to avoid questions about his contributions to Democrats" and reaping millions in government contracts while skirting pay-to-play campaign finance laws over the past decade, he said.

The final battles of the Trump presidency are being fought across the nation — and even in New Jersey, which Trump lost by 16 points in November.

That war may rage far beyond the Jan. 20 inauguration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Van Drew has already decided that the safe place is to remain behind the Trump lines.

Charlie Stile is a veteran New Jersey political columnist. For unlimited access to his unique insights into the state's political power structure and his powerful watchdog work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: stile@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @politicalstile