Joe Manchin: 2024 Democratic savior?

At a time when President Biden is at 33 percent approval while Congress sits at 21 percent, there’s one politician who is seeing his numbers rise briskly: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

Overall, 57 percent of West Virginia voters approve of Manchin’s performance in the Mountain State. That’s a 17-point jump since Joe Biden took office in early 2021. No U.S. senator has seen a bigger increase in support than Manchin. More notably, the former governor has doubled his approval ratings among West Virginia Republicans, with a whopping 69 percent approving of his performance. For context, Biden’s approval in the state sits at 18 percent. 

The 57 percent overall approval makes Manchin the country’s most popular Democratic senator in their own state. But how could this be, since he’s been on the other side of this kind of media coverage:

“Manchin deals a devastating blow to Biden and to democracy” — Washington Post 

“How Joe Manchin Knifed the Democrats — and Bailed on Saving Democracy” — Rolling Stone

“Joe Manchin’s Incoherent Case for Letting Republicans Destroy Democracy/The most powerful senator ties himself in knots” — New York magazine

“How Joe Manchin Aided Coal, and Earned Millions” — The New York Times

“At every step of his political career, Joe Manchin helped a West Virginia power plant that is the sole customer of his private coal business. Along the way, he blocked ambitious climate action,” the Times says in a story published not in the opinion section but in the news section.

Yes, Manchin had the audacity to question the claims by President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that flooding the system with trillions more in new federal spending would lower inflation and the federal deficit. As you may have heard, inflation sits at a 40-year high. And adding so much money to the system, according to many top economists, will only devalue the dollar while pushing inflation even higher. 

“Once again, we are witnessing that the threat of inflation is real,” Manchin said after rejecting Biden’s “Build Back Better” spending plan earlier this year. “Inflation taxes are draining the hard-earned wages of every American, and it’s causing real and severe economic pain that can no longer be ignored.”

“We must get serious about the finances of our country,” Manchin added. “It’s time we start acting like stewards of our economy and the money the American people entrust their government with.” 

Manchin is echoing President Clinton after Clinton and fellow Democrats took a shellacking in the 1994 midterms, losing 53 seats and ushering in the era of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as House speaker. Clinton, due to either self-preservation or good political instincts, would go on to declare that “the era of big government is over” while working with Gingrich to pass welfare reform and a balanced-budget amendment. 

Manchin is a true moderate, unlike the phony one in the White House who moved to “Squad Left” upon taking office in an attempt to transform the country despite having no mandate to do that.

So, could Manchin ever win over his party’s progressives, such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), if he did decide to seek the Democratic presidential nomination? Of course not. 

But given his appeal with independents and with the kind of Blue Dog Democrats who helped Clinton win reelection quite easily in 1996, Manchin could be far more appealing than any far-left candidate who might try to unseat Biden. And if the current president decides not to seek a second term (a majority of Americans don’t believe he will), then a wide-open primary would be political chaos. And as we learned in 2020, most Democratic voters right now don’t have much appetite for anyone too far from the center.

The 2020 CNN exit polls tell a story that is not widely reflected by traditional media, which is unambiguously biased against the right. Only 24 percent of voters identify as liberal, according to the network’s findings, while 38 percent say they’re conservative; as for those who identify as moderate, that number also stands at 38 percent. Add it all up, and more than three-quarters of Americans say they’re conservative or moderate, while less than one-quarter identify as liberal. 

That lines up nicely for Manchin, who in 2021 was ranked as CQ Roll Call’s most bipartisan senator. Its rankings find that he crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP on 38.5 percent of all votes taken in 2020. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who also has been attacked relentlessly as a threat to democracy, came in second.

“I have always prided myself on my efforts to reach across the aisle to work with my colleagues and do what is best for West Virginia and our nation. I am proud this ranking from CQ Roll Call reflects those efforts,” Manchin said in a statement at the time.

Despite all the partisan food fights we see on cable news and on Twitter, Americans ultimately want compromise on major issues such as health care and immigration. Some thought they were getting that with “Uniter-in-Chief” Biden. Instead, they got the opposite. A plurality of Americans now believe Biden has done more to divide the country than bring it together. 

The 2024 presidential race will begin in earnest in January 2023 — less than a year from now. It could be a rematch of Trump-Biden. But no one would have predicted Clinton-Trump in 2016, let alone Trump actually winning. So don’t dismiss Manchin as a viable candidate and as the savior of the Democratic Party in two years. 

“The Squad” may loathe him, as do many of their allies in the media. But given how poorly the president and Congress are performing, and given how unpopular policies far away from the center-left are, why couldn’t the West Virginian win the nomination? 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.

Tags 2024 2024 primaries Build Back Better Clinton Democratic Party Joe Biden joe manchin Joe Manchin the squad

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