It's a tough pill for progressives to swallow that in the age of the Trump GOP, one of our most flagrantly corrupt politicians is a Democratic senator. It's difficult to say when exactly the scandals surrounding New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez began, but it may have been as early as 2006, when "federal prosecutors suspected that the New Jersey senator had steered federal funds to a nonprofit group that was paying him rent." Or in 2014, when Menendez allegedly helped free two accused Ecuadorian criminals in exchange for campaign donations. There have even been rumors that just before Menendez's 2012 election, he was involved with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, though the FBI ultimately found no evidence to support these allegations.
At this point, Menendez has escaped all of these scandals relatively unscathed. The most he has faced in the way of repercussions was the Senate Ethics Committee "severely admonishing" him for accepting over a million dollars in gifts from an affluent Florida eye doctor. But whether Menendez's behavior has been explicitly unlawful or not, there is no question that the Democratic senator has a questionable moral compass unbecoming of a lawmaker, as well as a knack for getting out of trouble. And now, thanks to the virulently anti-Trump attitude of New Jersey, Menendez may just avoid negative consequences once again.
The Star Ledger
In an average year, New Jersey voters would likely settle for a republican Senator instead of appearing to condone Menendez and the corruption he has come to represent. Indeed, in the latest poll conducted by Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics, only 28 percent of New Jersey voters view Menendez favorably. But, it appears he may just win reelection anyway, as he currently leads Republican Bob Hugin by a narrow margin ahead of Tuesdays midterm election. While Menendez is, in a word, slimy, the historically blue state appears to be willing to grit their teeth and bear him in order to avoid electing a Senator with clear Trump affiliations. Menendez's opponent, Bob Hugin, is a pharmaceutical mogul who raised money for Trump's campaign in 2016, donated $200,000 to Trump, and served as a convention delegate for Trump. As a result, New Jerseyans are facing what many editorials call "the most depressing choice for New Jersey voters in a generation."
The fact is that this is not a normal midterm election, and progressive voters are willing to put up with a lot to take back congress. The extremist rhetoric and erratic behavior that has become characteristic of Trump's presidency is driving people to the polls in record numbers already, and that is expected to remain true during regular voting on Tuesday. Trump's presidency has forced many previously moderate Americans to cling, unquestioningly, to the Democratic Party, because for all of the democrats' flaws, at least they aren't tainted by the White House's toxic run-off. If Menendez does manage to win reelection, he can thank this Trump-fueled reticence towards conservative candidates. As Drew Sheneman writes for the New Jersey paper The Star Ledger, by voting for Menendez, "Are you rewarding a man who in no way deserves a reward? Certainly. Should you do it anyway? Certainly."
Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.