In general I don’t think I wholly agree with TPM Reader GT’s take here. This is likely right as a general matter. But what makes me very leery of underestimating Manchin is that he has managed to win three Senate elections (2010, 2012 and 2018) during a period when West Virginia has gone from being a very to an overwhelmingly Republican state in terms of national politics.
Here’s GT …
I like your point on Manchin’s position is simply confusing. Here is how I resolve that. I’ve been minorly active in my small state’s Democratic party. I’ve met state legislators and similar. And, not to be mean, but a lot of these people are simply not that talented. Being in small state politics is kind of the boobie prize for the provential elite. Your friends make all the money in real estate and other while you play student council in the state legislature where the majority leadership does everything.
And then some of them win state-wide office randomly. Manchin won Secretary of State and clawed up to being governor. Once you are there you are on a short list for who can run for national office.
In Manchin’s generation a white male college football player with some name ID could get elected to state legislature from a rotten borough. And if they hang on long enough they would get a look at state-wide office if they did not peel off to make money lobbying or in real estate. Multiple governors of my state have fit that profile. I’m sure that is true all around the south and mountain west.
My point being, if you are a meritocrat from the coast you may assume that the most important vote in the Senate must have a huge resume to prepare them. No, not so much. The white male college football player who grew up in the Jim Crow Democratic Party is just there. There were about 30 guys like him in West Virginia politics in the 90’s. And his ticket got pulled to advance in politics.
And now we get to watch him flail around in the national media for the next few months with no plan. Why would we assume he is up to the moment?