Thomas Gallatin / December 15, 2022

Will Manchin Finally Depart the Dems?

Odds that the West Virginia senator will make the switch are growing.

The (for now) Democrat senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, is a politician if there ever was one. While he hails from a blue collar state that eschews Washington’s establishment class arguably more so than most other states, Manchin has been able to remain in the Democrat Party.

Yet with the somewhat surprising move of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema recently leaving the Democrats and donning the “independent” label (despite the fact that she will still caucus with the Democrats), it’s natural that Manchin, who often served as a stick in the mud to Joe Biden’s agenda, would be questioned regarding the possibility that he may jump ship.

In a recent interview, Manchin was asked if he would soon be following Sinema’s lead. Questions about party commitment are not new for Manchin over the last couple years, but he has always parried them away by insisting that he is a “West Virginia Democrat.”

This time, however, Manchin’s response clearly left the door open for a coming party exit. “I’ll look at all of these things,” he answered. “I’ve always looked at all those things, but I have no intention of doing anything right now.” He added, “Whether I do something later, I can’t tell you what the future is going to bring.”

Manchin didn’t leave it there, but continued: “I’m not a Washington Democrat, I don’t know what to tell you. But I have a lot of friends who aren’t Washington Republicans, and if a Washington independent is, as I said, more comfortable, you know, we’ll see what happens there, we’ll have to look.”

The senator then finished up his rather coy answer by playing off of Sinema’s explanation for her party exit: “People are registering more for independent than any other party affiliation. They are sick and tired of it.”

The fact of the matter is that Manchin is a moderate Democrat representing a deep red state that Donald Trump won by 39 points, and his party is seemingly dead set on becoming nothing but a party of hard-left progressives. To complicate matters further, Manchin is up for reelection in 2024. If he choses to run again, continuing as a Democrat is likely a recipe for defeat.

So, like Sinema, is Manchin reading the tea leaves and angling to cut himself free from the crazy Dems, while at the same time avoiding being tied to the Republicans? If Manchin does go Sinema’s route and declare himself an independent, the big question will be whether he will choose to caucus with the Republicans.

For Sinema, whose politics align with the Democrats on a majority of issues, it was no surprise to see her still caucus with them. Manchin is another story. He’s not a conservative by any stretch — he’s still a tax-and-spend Democrat, but he’s not a woke one, and he maintains a friendly relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Also, as noted above, Manchin knows that if he’s going to have a realistic chance at holding onto his seat in 2024, he’ll need to increasingly separate himself from both Biden and the Democrats.

The question is, will just going independent and caucusing with the Republicans be enough to hold off a genuine conservative challenger? Indeed, that may be the message McConnell is sending to Manchin: “Leave the Dems and join the GOP or we will throw our weight behind your Republican challenger.” If Manchin does plan to seek reelection, expect to see him exit the Democrat Party in the near future.

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