Well, you had to know we’d eventually get around to a regular feature — Manchin Watch! There has always been plenty of speculation that Joe Manchin would eventually cross the aisle to align with the Republicans, although Manchin has consistently maintained that he’s proud to be a Democrat. He managed to win re-election in 2018 despite the state’s governor, Jim Justice, very ostentatiously switching to the GOP in 2017. However, Manchin only barely held off Patrick Morrisey (no relation), 49.6/46.3 in that race.
Just ten months ago, Manchin voted to remove Donald Trump from office in his impeachment trial, so flipping with Trump in office was never going to be in the cards. Now that voters have apparently denied Trump a second term, however, perhaps all bets are off. And for the next two months, Manchin will never be in a better position to cut a deal with Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans for a chair in the next session of Congress.
Consider these harbingers of doom for Manchin:
- He will have to run for re-election in 2024 — a presidential cycle that will have heavy Republican turnout in West Virginia. He only beat Morrisey by three points (and only with a plurality) in a Democratic wave election in 2018.
- Shelly Moore Capito just won her Senate re-election contest 70/27 in West Virginia … and she won every single county. Handily.
- Republicans won all three WV House seats. And the closest race of the three took place in WV-02, which Alex Mooney won with 63.1% of the vote.
Also consider the fact that the progressives have taken over the Democrats’ agenda, including energy-production foes demanding a Green New Deal from an incoming Joe Biden administration. House Democrats are already revolting over progressive control of the party’s agenda, and those complaints are coming from states considerably less red than West Virginia. Nancy Pelosi is already proclaiming the election a “mandate” for the progressive agenda. How long will Manchin survive as a Democrat in West Virginia under the circumstances?
Eventually, Manchin will either have to retire or change parties to survive in his state. If he doesn’t want to retire, this is the best opportunity he will have to get something significant for the switch. Until Georgia holds its runoff election, McConnell is looking at the potential for a Kamala Harris-run Senate while he sits at 50 seats for the next two years. Flipping Manchin would cement Republican control of the Senate now, rather than hoping for at least one out of two runoff wins on January 5.
What can McConnell offer as an inducement? Manchin is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, perhaps the most important panel to West Virginia. Lisa Murkoswki chairs that panel and she might not be happy to step aside, as Alaskans have a lot of interest in that as well, thanks to federal control over most of their state. Perhaps Murkowski would step aside, but Pat Roberts’ retirement leaves the Agriculture chair open, which might interest Manchin. Or McConnell could move Jerry Moran to Ag and have Manchin take over Veterans’ Affairs. Lamar Alexander’s retirement also leaves the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee chair open, which is stacked with progressives on the minority side.
The point is that McConnell has room to deal for Manchin, and both have a significant interest in getting him on the GOP side at some point. Manchin won’t have this kind of leverage once David Perdue wins his runoff election, and especially if Kelly Loeffler also wins hers and gets McConnell to 52. If he ever cuts a deal, Manchin won’t find a better opportunity than in the next eight weeks.