Like it or not, all roads forward for Democrats go through Joe Manchin
Love him, hate him but accept Joe Manchin for what he is. He’s a Democrat but a renegade in the same way that the late John McCain was a maverick. The senator from West Virginia enjoys the attention, speaks his mind and occasionally bolts from his stable but he still is a dependable party vote on basic organization and legislation.
It’s too much to ask progressives to learn to love Manchin or even like him. But we need to learn to live with him. He’s a force to be reckoned, he’ll be around for the for the immediate future and he could do a lot more damage to Democrats than he’s already done. Former President Lyndon Johnson’s famous dictum, “It’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in” applies to the Democratic senator from West Virginia.
He has been a big thorn in Joe Biden’s side. Manchin has blocked Senate passage of the signature piece of the Biden legislative agenda, the big and bold Build Back Better plan. But he has supported the president on most other matters even though he represents a state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump — twice.
Manchin is one of only three Senate Democrats from states that Biden lost in 2020. The other two are John Tester from Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Of the three senators, Manchin has the most conservative constituency. Trump won Ohio by only 8 points and triumphed in Montana by 16 percent. Biden lost West Virginia by a whopping 40 points.
Despite Manchin’s deep red constituency, he is more than a DINO (Democrat in Name Only). Manchin has a Biden support score of 97 percent according to an analysis by fivethirtyeight.com. This is as good as the support that Tester and Brown provided the president in 2021.
He is also more supportive of Biden’s agenda than GOP moderates like Sen.s Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican senator from West Virginia, hardly ever takes the president’s side.
Because of his voting record, Manchin would be an even worse fit for the Republican caucus than he is in the Democratic conclave. If he did jump ship, the Biden presidency would go from the frying pan into the inferno.
Manchin is not a progressive, but he enables progressive legislation. His membership in the Democratic caucus makes Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) the Senate majority leader who controls the legislative flow.
His voting record would make Manchin even more uncomfortable in the GOP than he is already with Democrats. But if Democrats drove Manchin out of the party and he joined the Senate Republicans, the upper chamber would be left to the not-so-tender mercies of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and all the committee chairs would be conservative Republicans. That would be game over for any Biden initiative and end the president’s efforts to appoint progressives to the federal judiciary.
Manchin has also provided the deciding vote at several key points for Biden proposals. His was the decisive vote in the approval of the nomination of Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services, extension of the federal debt limit and the provision of emergency COVID-19 funding.
The tension between Manchin’s support for Biden and the wishes of his constituents was apparent in an October survey of West Virginians by CBS News. The president will need to do a better sales job on people there before Manchin supports a revised bill.
True or not, most people Manchin represents accept the GOP argument that Democrats should scrap the Build Back Better bill because the investment would lead to higher middle-class taxes increased spending and inflation. Only one in three people there think Democrats should pass the legislation, even though it’s paid for by millionaires and would be an investment in America’s future.
Manchin’s current term in the Senate extends through 2024. His opposition to the signature Biden proposal will probably encourage a progressive primary challenger. But 2024 is a presidential election year in a bright crimson GOP state, which means big trouble for the incumbent and an even bigger challenge for a more progressive nominee that November.
Manchin is not the Democratic Party’s biggest problem. The party’s most pressing challenge is electing progressive party members from states friendlier than West Virginia. In 2020, Democrats lost a golden opportunity in Maine when the Democratic candidate Sara Gideon led the polls through most of the campaign but faltered at the end in her effort to oust Collins. If Democrats had won that race, Manchin would be less of a problem.
This year, Democrats have an opportunity to increase their margin in the Senate by taking over Republican Senate seats in deep purple places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. If that happens and the party finds a way to hang onto the House, Manchin will still contribute to the Democratic majority but not be a significant obstacle to a progressive agenda.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon
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