In running for re-election, Republican Rep. Dan Donovan has scrupulously followed two rules: always side with President Donald Trump, and mention your opponent’s criminal history whenever possible. Donovan is facing an aggressive and intensely negative primary challenge by former Rep. Michael Grimm, who is best known for threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony and pleading guilty to federal tax fraud.
On Wednesday afternoon, Donovan’s campaign brilliantly combined its two prime directives by glomming on to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order reinstating voting rights for former felons who have ended their parole. Even though this is a state policy and members of Congress cannot vote on it, Donovan noted that it would have affected Grimm, who was unable to vote in 2016. Therefore, Donovan reasoned, Grimm is associated with Cuomo and, since Cuomo is an anti-Trump Democrat, Grimm is at odds with the president.
Donovan’s press release, titled “Liberal Cuomo throws convicted congressman a bone,” impressively implies that Grimm is insufficiently enthusiastic to Make American Great Again in the very first sentence:
“We know that Michael Grimm couldn't vote for President Trump after being released from prison on 20 counts of tax evasion, fraud, perjury, and more. But liberal Andrew Cuomo's new Executive Order granting parolees voting rights could have come in handy for the convicted felon. (State) Senate Republicans were smart enough to vote it down, but Andrew Cuomo, who is trying to appeal to national Democrats so he can run against President Trump, did a power grab to help out ex-cons like Grimm. … The question we have is: Does Michael Grimm agree with this liberal insanity from a potential opponent to President Trump?”
Donovan goes on to cite his law-and-order credentials as a former prosecutor and reinforce his opposition to Cuomo’s policy.
Grimm, who previously held the same Staten Island and southern Brooklyn seat, was a relatively moderate Republican when he served in Congress. National Journal found in its 2013 ranking that he occupied the ideological center of Congress, being tied for most liberal Republican in the House. But he has rebranded in his current run as a cross between Sean Hannity and, well, Sean Hannity.
Donovan’s voting record is similar: He is tied for 15th-least pro-Trump House Republican, according to the data analysis website FiveThirtyEight. Like Grimm, though, Donovan knows which way the wind is blowing in Republican primaries.
So the two have spent the campaign thus far trading accusations over who is more ardently pro-Trump and impugning each other’s ethics. Donovan has sought to bring Grimm’s criminal record into the conversation at every turn and has accused Grimm of filing a congressional ethics complaint suggesting that Donovan intervened in a drug prosecution on behalf of his girlfriend’s son. Grimm eagerly used the opportunity to “question how a felony distribution case magically turned into a misdemeanor.” (When later asked by NY1 about Donovan's allegation, Grimm denied it.)
Not to be outdone in manufacturing irrelevant outrage, Grimm’s statement in response bizarrely begins with a screed about how his past crimes have been covered in the press: “The media’s hypocrisy on this has been nothing short of astounding. If a Democrat had been criminally prosecuted for something every other New York restaurant owner gets a civil fine for, journalists would be marching in the streets demanding justice.”
Grimm then goes on to claim that he is more closely allied with Trump. He also touts his military service in the Persian Gulf War – perhaps an off-message choice when tying himself to a someone who has offered conflicting accounts of how he avoided serving in the Vietnam War.
Besides a penchant for bashing the media and making empty threats of bodily harm, Grimm does share one other thing in common with Trump: He has adopted the practice of giving belittling nicknames to opposing candidates. The rest of his statement reads:
“All I’ll say is that I fought in battle to defend Dan Donovan’s right to support John Kasich for president and to then vote against every single one of President Trump’s major initiatives. It’s no shock that Desperate Dan has spent this whole race deflecting from his own incompetence and anti-Trump voting record by resorting to the Democrat smear tactics his allies are using against our President every day.”
Notably absent is any mention of where Grimm actually stands on the subject at hand or the substance, such as it is, of Donovan’s statement. In response to a query from City & State, Grimm’s campaign clarified that the candidate had his voting rights restored in 2017 after his probation ended and he does not agree with Cuomo’s move.
Politicians usually love to seem relatable by discussing policy through a personal anecdote, but Grimm seems curiously averse to discussing his own experience with felon disenfranchisement. He can rest assured, however, that he need not remind voters of his criminal history – Donovan will always do it for him.
Correction: This article originally stated that Grimm did not confirm or deny Donovan's allegation that he was behind the ethics complaint.
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