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'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate

'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate
© Greg Nash

“The facts take you to the truth,” said Joe Manchin.

Whenever history intersects with destiny, chances are a leader will emerge who not only embraces the moment but seizes it… for the benefit of all.

As the United States Senate heads into the vortex of a 50-50 divide, presided over by a liberal vice president struggling with authenticity and serving a president longing for longevity, there’s a silver lining to this story that could mint gold for everyone.

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Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSinema defends filibuster ahead of Senate voting rights showdown The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin MORE, a Democrat from the very red state of West Virginia, is wielding a purple agenda to propel progress built on national purpose. At a time of civic unrest and growing intolerance, Manchin is uniquely positioned to bridge a divide that’s been hyped by hostility and fueled by distrust.

“The most vulnerable people we have are people who get up every morning and go to work,” said Manchin.

Manchin, described as a “moderate conservative,” is already on record supporting the GOP on energy, the right to guns, and the divine right to life. A Brett Kavanaugh supporter who opposes increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court, Manchin also defends a Senate tradition that guarantees “checks and balances” over the most radical Member impulses, left and right. It’s called the “filibuster,” mandating that any major piece of legislation — beyond those impacting the budget — requires a 60-vote majority to pass.

On the other hand, Manchin has joined with Democrats as an outspoken defender of the Affordable Care Act, for funding Planned Parenthood, and opposing major Trump tax cuts.

So, what will Manchin do next? Will he go with the flow and wholeheartedly back new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — already tacking further left to avoid a 2022 primary election challenge from liberals’ leading lady, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure The Memo: The center strikes back MORE?

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Will he approve statehood for Washington, D.C., which guarantees two more Democratic senators in perpetuity?

Despite past opposition, will he support trillions of dollars to fund a “Green New Deal,” or deprive Americans of their right to private health insurance, or loosen enforcement of legal migration at our borders, or stand down against Chinese aggression, manipulation, and deception?

Or… will Joe Manchin speak out for and with America, as he did in forging consensus around passage of the recent stimulus package?

“If you’re wanting to do policy, it must be bipartisan,” said Manchin.

This isn’t the first time America — or leaders like Manchin — have been down this road where an evenly divided Senate challenged national unity.

In 1881, amid the final days of winter, the Senate convened with 37 Democrats, 37 Republicans, and two independents under a Republican President (James Garfield) and VP/Senate President (Chester Arthur). None knew with certainty which side the two independents would choose.

One, former Supreme Court Justice David Davis, opted —as Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Overnight Health Care: Medicaid enrollment reaches new high | White House gives allocation plan for 55M doses | Schumer backs dental, vision, hearing in Medicare Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare MORE (I-Vt.) and Angus KingAngus KingCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (I-Maine) have today — to caucus with the Democrats. The other, Virginia’s William Mahone, threw in with the president. Nevertheless, much was achieved as both sides had the character to compromise for the greater good.

In the twin special elections in Georgia, and the presidential derby this past November, enough Americans chose a hue of blue. Whether we like it or not, voted that way or not, this is the current American reality.

Yet given Republican gains in the House, and an unexpected near hold in the Senate, those who’d take these elections as a mandate for transformational change are in for a reckoning.  That’s because in truth the majority of Americans want to move neither left or right, but forward.

“It’s time to rebuild America, not Afghanistan,” said Manchin.

This may be where Americans start marching with Manchin.  Together with his Democratic colleague Mark Warner (D-Va.), independent Angus King, and Republicans Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), smoking Joe could ignite something we’ve wanted for a very long time: that we pull together, as one, for America.

Do that, and John Denver’s paean to West Virginia will not only apply to one of its favorite sons, but all of us: “country roads, take (us) home, to the place where (we) belong.”

Adam Goodman is a national Republican media strategist and columnist. He is a partner at Ballard Partners in Washington, D.C. He is also the first Edward R. Murrow senior fellow at Tufts University's Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3