Trump makes Manchin top target for midterms

Trump makes Manchin top target for midterms
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Lack of transatlantic cooperation on trade threatens global climate change goals MORE is making Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection Infrastructure deal would require study on job losses from Keystone's end MORE (D-W.Va.) a top target this fall, underlining his drive to protect the GOP’s Senate majority even it if means going after a relatively friendly Democrat.

Trump told Republican senators in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that he plans to spend significant time campaigning against Manchin, who represents a state won by the president over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive things to watch in two Ohio special election primaries Clintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections MORE by 42 points.

One GOP senator said Trump promised to visit the state “several times.”

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The president touted his popularity in Manchin’s state, even joking about moving there if he loses reelection in 2020.


And he suggested he’s tired of Manchin opposing him on policy.

Trump waved off Manchin’s efforts to portray himself as a centrist willing to work with the president as little more than an acting job, complaining that Manchin “hugs and kisses me and then votes the other way,” according to a senator who attended the meeting.

The message to GOP senators dovetailed with Trump’s public remarks at a rally in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., last month.

“He voted against everything. He voted against tax cuts,” Trump told the crowd.

Manchin has been careful to cultivate the image of his relationship with Trump.

“The president is always welcome to my state,” Manchin told The Hill on Wednesday. “We still talk and everything.

“This is not personal,” he added. “I’m the person who keeps him bipartisan and sooner or later they’re going to have to look at that.

“I would say to him, ‘Mr. President, an awful lot of West Virginia Democrats voted for you and they continue to support me very vigorously.’ ”

Manchin has voted for more of Trump’s Cabinet nominees than any other Senate Democrat, and last year tweeted and then deleted a picture of him giving a thumbs-up alongside a smiling Trump at the White House.

The snapshot was posted a day after Manchin voted against Trump’s signature tax-cut proposal in what appeared to be a message to constituents that he and the president were still allies. 

But that vote against the tax bill accelerated the unraveling of his relationship with Trump.

A month later, Vice President Pence slammed Manchin during a visit to West Virginia as someone who talked a good game but opposed the White House on major issues.

Manchin said Pence’s attack was “exactly why Washington sucks.”

An aide to Manchin said his boss has voted with the president “62 percent of the time.”

And Manchin said he and Trump can be political allies because they both enjoy strong support in the Mountain State.

Manchin, who is fully aware of how popular Trump is in his state, acknowledged Wednesday that the president badly wanted his vote to repeal and replace ObamaCare but noted that he was upfront in telling the president that the GOP health-care plan was a non-starter.

“I told him there’s no way. If I saw we couldn’t fix it and we had a better plan waiting … I would do it,” he said. 

On the tax bill, Manchin sat down with Trump and other Senate centrists in September to talk about the possibility of passing a bipartisan tax-reform package.

Over a dinner also attended by other centrist Democrats, Manchin said he told the president he couldn’t vote for legislation that would be a tax cut for the rich.

“He looked at me and said, ‘This is not going to be a tax cut for the rich and wealthy like me, it’s going to be for the working person.’ I said, ‘Mr. President, if you go down that path, you got me every time,’ ” he explained.

Manchin said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer MORE (R-Wis.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRepublicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change GOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks Top Democrat offers bill to overhaul tax break for business owners MORE (R-Texas) later drafted a tax-reform bill that was very different from what Trump talked about at dinner. 

Manchin voted for some of Trump’s most controversial nominees, such as Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE.

He was also the first Democrat to announce his support for Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to head the CIA.

Manchin is expected to face a tight reelection race against West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who won the GOP nomination in last week’s primary.

In a poll released over the weekend by WPA Intelligence, a Republican firm, Morrisey led Manchin by 2 points.

Trump has other Senate Democratic targets.

At the Tuesday lunch with Senate Republicans, Trump also singled out Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySupreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Republicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin MORE (Ind.) as another vulnerable incumbent whom Republicans have a good chance of defeating in the fall.

GOP senators, who are nervous about their prospects of keeping their majority, think Trump can provide huge assistance in rallying voters in Senate swing states.

“President Trump would get residency in West Virginia if he could and so I think it will have a major impact,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (Colo.).

The president joked that he is so popular in West Virginia that he might move there if he loses reelection.

That quip prompted one GOP senator in the room to pipe up and say the president better hope he doesn’t lose reelection, a joking reference to West Virginia’s status as the most unhappy state in the country, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

West Virginia’s Republican senator, Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal Biden to return to pre-Obama water protections in first step for clean water regulations MORE, says economic conditions in her state have improved dramatically.

“You have to look at where we were before President Trump came in and where we are now. We’ve got one of the fastest growing economies, our unemployment is down, our construction jobs are up more than any place in the country,” she said.

“The president’s policies have played into that,” she added.