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December 23, 2021

The ‘Move Manchin’ Strategy

McConnell has made another offer, but he may be biding his time.

Will West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin become West Virginia Republican Joe Manchin? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has reportedly made another overture for his next-door, coal-state neighbor to switch parties.

If Manchin crosses the aisle, McConnell promised that Manchin could keep his chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. After all, Republicans would regain control of the Senate. Party switches have happened twice in recent years, with two Republicans defecting to give Democrats either control of the Senate or a 60-vote threshold. And Manchin has been the subject of speculation for most of 2021.

“I think what Manchin is discovering is that there just aren’t any Democrats left in the Senate that are pro-life and terribly concerned about debt and deficit and inflation,” McConnell noted. “So he feels like a man alone. If he were to join us, he’d be joining a lot of folks who have similar views on a whole range of issues.”

Manchin has indeed been under heavy fire from other Democrats for killing Joe Biden’s Build Back Better boondoggle. Congressman Jamaal Bowman claimed that Manchin “doesn’t care about black people” or Latinos or immigrants or women or the poor. Representative Pramila Jayapal accused him of no longer being “a man of his word.” Social media diva Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed him for “an egregious breach of the trust.” Even Joe Biden put words in Manchin’s mouth, saying he had told fellow Democrats, “I misled you.”

On Monday, Manchin more or less issued a dare: “I would like to hope that Democrats feel like I do. I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now, if there are no Democrats like that, they ought to push me where they want me.” He said Democrats can’t keep governing “as if you had 55 or 60 senators.” He added, “I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from, and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period.”

To be sure, Manchin is no conservative. For example, he’s been all too happy to confirm Joe Biden’s leftist judicial nominees at the fastest pace in 40 years, and he voted for both the inflation bomb known as the American Rescue Plan and Biden’s “infrastructure” plan. But he knows he represents a state that went for Donald Trump by a 39-point margin, and his constituents strongly opposed Build Back Better — by as much as 3-1. Despite polling already showing that opposition, Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders says he told Manchin “I’ll pay for the damn poll” to “see how the people of West Virginia feel.” Sure thing, Bernie.

The 2022 midterm elections will be challenging for Senate Republicans because there are more GOP seats (20) being challenged than Democrat (14). So, strategically for Manchin but even more so for McConnell, it boils down to this: If Manchin switches parties now, it would arguably strengthen the Democrats’ ability to regain the Senate because of the shock of losing it in such a manner. But if Manchin waits, it strengthens the GOP’s hand to campaign on the urgency of electing more Senate Republicans in 2022. As always, McConnell’s strategy is akin to three-dimensional chess, not one-dimensional checkers.

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