Will Manchin switch to the GOP?
Not long ago, I wrote a commentary that suggested the possibility of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin switching to the Republican Party. That possibility gained more attention lately for four reasons – (1) his generally more conservative economic views on public policy, (2) his opposition to President Biden’s legacy Build Back Better legislation, (3) Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s open invitation, and (4) the overwhelming – and growing – GOP vote in Manchin’s home state.
The fear of a switch is what kept Democrats from criticizing Manchin harshly as he laid out his initial and substantial objections to the Biden legislative agenda. He was “our friend Joe” as long as they believed he would eventually “come around.” But he didn’t.
That lead to a round of attacks – most notably from the White House in a statement read by Press Secretary Jen Psaki but said to have been approved by President Biden.
It was about then that the talk of a party switch gained momentum – and when McConnell issued the invitation. Suddenly, Biden and Democrat congressional leaders realized that the attacks on Manchin may just be what he needed to actually consider switching parties – and consequently, Democrats went back to the “our friend Joe” strategy. Somehow, they had to keep him in the fold if there was ANY chance of passing ANY part of the Biden Build Back Better legislation.
The new Democrat strategy is to get Manchin to agree to SOMETHING. Passing the crumbs of the grandiose BBB bill was better than nothing. Biden & Co. are giving the impression that if they could get Manchin to agree to spend $100 million to send every family one hundred bucks, they would take it and declare victory.
One television pundit suggested that if Manchin was reluctant to join the GOP, he could declare himself an independent and caucus with the Republicans. But that makes no more sense than making the switch.
Becoming a Republican would not likely be a problem if Manchin wants to get re-elected in 2024. West Virginia is among the reddest of the red states – and McConnell would certainly offer the support and money from the Senate Congressional Campaign Committee.
The interesting question is what former President Trump would do. Manchin voted to convict Trump in the impeachment trials – and Trump is obsessed and unforgiving of anyone who has crossed him. A Manchin switch would be great for team-GOP but Trump is not a team player. He will turn on even his one-time closest allies if provoked. Manchin is smart enough, however, to know that he would have a good chance of winning the Republican primary even if Trump put up an opponent. And Trump should be smart enough to know that, too.
Arguably Manchin’s greatest threat to re-election would be to run as a Democrat and face a strong Republican candidate.
Manchin putting thumbs down on the Biden BBB bill rattled the Democrat establishment – especially those on the far left. Imagine the shock that would go through the progressive ranks if Manchin actually did switch to the GOP. It would immediately give Republicans control of the Senate and restore Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority leader. Suddenly, the GOP would have majorities on all the committees – and the current minority committee leaders would become the chairs.
There should be no doubt that McConnell would offer almost anything to get Machin to come over to the Republican side of the Senate chamber – and probably already has.
So, what is keeping Manchin from making the switch.
The most powerful influence is very simple. He IS a Democrat – and has been all his life. He is a moderate only if compared to the most radical Democrats. He is not a hardline right-winger. If he were, the decision would be easy. He would switch.
Manchin’s political and personal friendships are almost all Democrats – in Washington and back home. They are longstanding and deep.
He is also a collegial guy who likes to work across the aisle, as they say. He is bipartisan in that he – more than almost any other Democrat Senator – has Republican friends with whom he works to find consensus. Were he to switch, he would not have many friends left on the Democrat side of the aisle – if any.
As a guy who strives to reach consensus, it is not in Manchin’s nature to disrupt the system – and throw everything into acrid political chaos. And that is exactly what would happen if he switched. If such a switch did not change everything so dramatically, he might be more inclined to make the switch.
Manchin is also a small-d democrat. Since he ran as a Democrat – and the folks back home elected him as a Democrat –Manchin may feel that changing parties with such dramatic results would be a betrayal of all those voters.
Much of the speculation surrounding Manchin rests on the impact a switch would have on his re-election in 2024, but at 77 years old, he may not want another term. And if that is the case, that would also mitigate against the switch-a-roo.
So, the answer to the headline question is … probably not. But my odds – that were once 99/1 against such a switch (nothing is 100 percent) – are now in the range of 80/20 against.
So, there ‘tis.