Following his recent break with the Biden administration over the Build Back Better “social infrastructure” package, some are wondering where West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin goes next.
He’s popular in his heavily Republican home state, but deeply unpopular with the national base of his own party. And his support on the right is more a function of their enjoyment at watching Biden’s agenda struggle in Congress, not genuine affection for the man causing the president’s heartburn.
Still, could a party change be in the air? Is this all part of some larger play on Manchin’s part?
Axios has reported that sources close to Manchin say he’s not looking to flip control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans, and that if he “bolts the Democratic Party, he’d be more likely to switch to independent — and caucus with the Democrats — than become a Republican.” Such a move would put him in a similar position to Bernie Sanders and Angus King.
Taegan Goddard of Political Wire recently floated the idea that this week’s events might all be part of laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential candidacy:
It’s not hard to see an opening for an independent candidate in 2024 if an increasingly unpopular Joe Biden runs for re-election at age 82 against an already unpopular Donald Trump who will be 79.
Goddard notes that there has already been significant chatter about Manchin becoming an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. That could give him the political freedom he would need to begin building some kind of centrist independent ticket for 2024.
Of course, Manchin is not personally wealthy enough to self-fund such a campaign, and it’s not exactly clear how much grassroots appetite there would be for a conservative Democrat in terms of clearing ballot access hurdles. To achieve 50 state ballot access you either need an army of dedicated volunteers or a big bag of money to hire lawyers and petition collectors.
While I generally agree with Goddard’s assessment that 2024 could be ripe for a strong independent candidate if the two major parties nominate Trump and Biden again, keep in mind that Machin will be 76 years old by then. I think it’s far more likely that a serious third contender come from outside the political establishment, perhaps an entrepreneurial figure like Mark Cuban or Bob Iger.
It seems that Manchin appreciates the unique position he is in for 2022 as the 50th Democratic vote on every bill, and he’s simply squeezing as much juice out of that as he can with the understanding that his party is likely to lose control of the Senate altogether. Once that happens, he’ll be just another vote for the minority party.
If Manchin were to desire a run for president, perhaps seeing it as a capstone on his career, the most likely scenario would be to mount a semi-symbolic primary bid in 2024. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where he harnesses some very real pockets of conservative Democrats, particularly in the South, in order to win delegates and have a voice at the national convention.