November 14, 2023
Almost since he arrived in Washington in 2010, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, has complained about the partisan nature of the Capitol and insisted that Americans aren’t as politically divided as the people they send to Congress, reports The New York Times.
With his announcement on Thursday, November 9, that he will not seek re-election next year, Manchin again floated the possibility that he thinks the solution to America’s polarized politics lies in the mirror.
“What I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together,” Manchin said in his retirement video.
He added, “I know our country isn’t as divided as Washington wants us to believe. We share common values of family, freedom, democracy, dignity, and a belief that together we can overcome any challenge. We need to take back America and not let this divisive hatred further pull us apart.”
What Manchin actually plans to do remains a mystery. His closest aides and advisers insist they don’t know. A conservative Democrat who has served as one of his party’s key votes in the Senate, he has long kept his own counsel on his biggest decisions and made up his mind at the last minute.
Manchin has flirted this year with No Labels, a group that has made noise about running a centrist candidate for the White House. No Labels officials said Thursday that Manchin’s announcement had taken them by surprise, although they commended him “for stepping up to lead a long-overdue national conversation about solving America’s biggest challenges.”
“Regarding our No Labels Unity presidential ticket, we are gathering input from our members across the country to understand the kind of leaders they would like to see in the White House,” the group said in a statement.
Some allies of Manchin are skeptical that he will run for president. For one, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to run a credible independent or third-party campaign, and Manchin has never been a formidable fund-raiser on his own.
Fellow Senate Democrats and their super PAC subsidized much of his 2018 re-election effort and were poised to do so again next year, had he chosen to run. He did hold a fund-raising event for his political action committee last weekend at the Greenbrier, the West Virginia resort owned by Governor Jim Justice, a Republican who is running for the state’s Senate seat.
But the odds of him winning the presidency would be extremely long, especially at this relatively late date.
“I wouldn’t say that he can’t or won’t run, but I know he hasn’t run for anything that he doesn’t want to win, ever,” said Phil Smith, a longtime lobbyist and official at the United Mine Workers of America and an ally of Manchin’s. “If you look at independent candidates for president, even well-known ones, those who started this late never got more than 2% to 3% of the vote.”
Then there’s the question of Manchin’s age. He is 76, and would be running in a race with heightened attention and concern about the ages of President Joe Biden, 80, and the likely Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump, 77.
One thing Manchin has always enjoyed since he won a special election to the Senate in 2010, when he was West Virginia’s governor, is the attention that comes with being a critical vote when Democrats control the chamber.
That has often afforded him a platform that has made him popular among cable television bookers and centrist donors, while drawing the ire of the Democratic Party’s progressive activists. He said this summer that he was thinking “seriously” about leaving the Democratic Party.
“If he sees that Biden continues to be the Democratic nominee and Trump the Republican nominee, I think he truly sees a huge slice of the American electorate, both Republican and Democratic, fed up with both of their parties’ nominees,” said former Representative Nick Rahall, a fellow West Virginia Democrat who has known Manchin for decades.
For months this year, Manchin has cozied up to No Labels, which has so far secured ballot access in 12 states in its attempt to offer an alternative to Biden and Trump. The group’s president, Nancy Jacobson, has told potential donors that the group intends to select a Republican to lead its ticket—a decision that would exclude Manchin if No Labels maintains that position.
Even so, No Labels’s drive to get a slot on the ballot in all 50 states appears to have stalled at 12. Thirty-four states allow a group like No Labels to claim a place-holder slot without a candidate, but 16 others and the District of Columbia require a ticket.
What’s more, there will be no shortage of unsolicited advice for Manchin from Democrats when it comes to his plans.
Matt Bennett, the co-founder of the centrist Democratic group, Third Way, who is organizing efforts to stop No Labels and dissuade Manchin from joining its ticket, said he was “not worried” about Manchin running as an independent candidate.
Rahna Epting, the executive director of the progressive group MoveOn, said Thursday that Manchin should “reject any overtures from No Labels’s dangerous ploy.”
Research contact: @nytimes