News of Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) impending retirement Thursday sent some pundits into a tizzy, eager to remind doom-oriented Democrats that the path to keeping the Senate just got much harder.
Donald Trump last won West Virginia by 39 points. Most polls show the leading Republican contender — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) — trouncing Manchin in a head-to-head matchup. Justice’s almost comical accumulation of shady business baggage hasn’t seemed to significantly hurt his standing with the state’s voters so far, despite a contested primary.
Of all the tough races Democratic senators are facing this year, this was the one that required coke-bottle lensed rosy glasses to feel confident about.
While the news is likely to chagrin Manchin’s colleagues who suffered through unmitigated hell to get him to come onboard the legislation formerly known as Build Back Better — why make it so difficult if you’re not running for reelection anyway — I don’t think it actually changes the Senate math much.
The most worrisome thing in his announcement video — besides a Wes Andersonian compunction for symmetry in his background — is that he is seemingly leaving the door propped for a third-party presidential bid.
“What I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together,” he said.
Hmm. Traveling the country. Listening to Americans. Sounds a lot like what people who want to be president do.
Manchin has made abundantly clear that his interests and those of the Democratic party are not aligned. He’s ideologically random and far from a policy wonk. He likes attention, likes being flocked by reporters, likes being important. It sounds like exactly the right mix for a vanity campaign with more potential to hurt Joe Biden than it does ever get this man elected president.
But, Manchin has his limits. He was assiduously courted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the height of BBB negotiations, and refused to join the Republican party or become an independent, like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ).
And based on this reelection decision, he doesn’t savor the idea of getting trounced as his last act in politics, which he surely would if he mounted a third-party bid.
But even just feinting like he might will be enough to keep the spotlight on him a bit longer. And that’s a worthy pursuit on its own.
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