As a Democrat from a staunchly Republican state, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is a vanishing breed, not only in contemporary American politics, but in a Democratic Party that is steadily tacking to the left.
The senator from the Mountain State has tied his party in knots this year with an insistence on bipartisanship with Republicans who have zero interest in bipartisanship, snarling President Joe Biden’s sweeping attempt to remake the post-pandemic economy.
In the ways that matter, Manchin’s voters are former President Donald Trump’s voters: mainly working-class whites without a four-year college degree. The goals of progressives, therefore, simply are not his.
And with his announced opposition to a landmark voting rights bill that’s a critical bulwark to Republican voter suppression efforts, an opposition that endured even after an appeal from civil rights leaders, it only seems reasonable to ask how long it’ll be before Manchin flees the Senate Democratic conference entirely and becomes a Republican.
Writing in the pages of The Washington Post recently, the conservative columnist Marc Thiessen raised just such a possibility, arguing that if Trump really wants to stick it to Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, he should call Manchin and persuade him to flip.
That would hand the GOP the majority in the Senate and bring Biden’s and the Democrats’ agenda to a permanent standstill.
“How many times has Manchin been asked if he is really, absolutely, 100% sure he would never vote to eliminate the filibuster? As a Republican, he would never be asked that question again,” Thiessen wrote. “There would be no shock or outrage over his announcement that he will oppose the Democrats’ partisan election bill, because if U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were majority leader, that bill would never make it to the Senate floor. The same goes for D.C. statehood, court-packing and other far-left priorities that progressives are pushing Manchin to support. Once he switches parties, all that pressure disappears.”
Which means Democrats have but one option: Reconcile themselves the very real possibility that they’re going to lose Manchin to the GOP and then focus all their firepower on the four states that are considered battlegrounds in 2022: Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Right now, the senate race in Pennsylvania is the one to watch, and the state considered the most likely to flip in 2022, as incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey brings down the curtain on his career in public life.
Because it’s such a hot race, the respective Democratic and Republican primary fields, as of this writing, are enormous, according to a tally by Ballotpedia.
On the Democratic side, current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh, and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, of Philadelphia, are the marquee names.
On the Republican side of the ledger, former GOP lieutenant governor hopeful Jeffrey Bartos, former congressional candidate and Fox News fixture Sean Parnell, of Allegheny County, are among the candidates to watch.
The race in Florida also got a lot more interesting this week, as Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, announced she intends to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
A Democratic win in Wisconsin, where Capitol insurrection denier and Trump mouthpiece Sen. Ron Johnson is up for re-election, would be a public service.
A Democratic win in Pennsylvania would neutralize a potential Manchin defection. A victory by Demings or in the other battleground states would be further insurance.
“Winning is the ultimate strategy for Democrats,” Thiessen’s Post colleague, Jennifer Rubin wrote. “Despite the gloomy punditry about the pattern for the party in the White House losing seats in the first midterm, this is no iron-clad rule. The pattern did not hold, for example, for Republicans in 2002 with George W. Bush or for Democrats in 1998 with Bill Clinton in the White House.”
Progressives are banging their heads over why Manchin is the way he is. That’s counterproductive. The best way to deal with him is to move past him and for Democrats to increase their majorities in the U.S. House and Senate next year.
Biden, Pelosi and Schumer have enough to worry about with the Party of Q and Insurrection. Trying to keep Manchin mollified and onside is a waste of time and energy.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is editor-in-chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek