"This place sucks": Manchin warns Dems they could remain in the minority "the rest of your life"

How close did Democrats come to losing the Senate seat from West Virginia? Close enough to take a lecture from incumbent Joe Manchin, who reluctantly committed to running for another term in November only yesterday. The New York Times reveals Manchin’s surprising holdout, as well as his blunt assessment of the Senate and Democrats’ sharp left turn:

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia told colleagues on Tuesday that he intended to run for re-election this year after all, ending an anxiety-making flirtation with retirement and easing Democratic fears that the most conservative Democrat in the Senate was about to effectively hand his seat to a Republican.

In an interview, Mr. Manchin said he repeatedly expressed his frustration to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and other colleagues, telling them that “this place sucks,” before finally signaling Tuesday morning to Mr. Schumer’s aides that he would file his re-election paperwork before West Virginia’s deadline on Saturday. …

“I’ve said this point blank: If people like me can’t win from red states, you’ll be in the minority the rest of your life,” Mr. Manchin said about his conversations with other Democrats about the need to tolerate more moderate lawmakers.

It might be news that Manchin was holding out in the first place. While his seat gets routinely included among those vulnerable in November’s midterms as one of nine Democrats hold in states Trump won, it’s been widely assumed that Manchin might be among the strongest incumbents in that group. He faces a serious challenge from state attorney general Patrick Morrisey (no relation), but Manchin has a long history with voters and a fairly strong approval rating.

Manchin’s holdout was serious enough to get the attention of other members of the Red State Club, however:

Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, also red-staters facing tough reelections, urged him not to quit, and Manchin, who was also inspired by the bipartisan deal to reopen the government on Monday, listened. He vowed to file paperwork for the campaign before the Friday deadline.

There would be more than a little self-interest for Heitkamp and Donnelly in keeping Manchin on the ballot in November. Manchin might not need a lot of help from the national party organizations, but his retirement would force the DNC and DSCC to direct more resources to West Virginia that might otherwise get used to help fend off Republican challengers in Indiana and North Dakota. They’re already the canaries in the coal mine for Manchin’s warning to Senate Democrats about radicalization and the basic math of statewide elections in the US, and they need all the oxygen they can get.

This warning puts a fresh spin on Chuck’s Buckle, too. According to the Times, the shutdown appears to have nearly sent Manchin into retirement, and Manchin didn’t commit to running again until Schumer caved. That adds an entirely new dimension to the February 8th deadline on the current CR — if Schumer tries pulling another government shutdown, will Manchin withdraw his candidacy? He has to file by Friday to qualify for the ballot, but he can withdraw nearly anytime between now and the mid-May primary. That potential threat may limit Schumer’s range of options in the DACA battle, even as the same extremist activists about which Manchin warns continue to demand the scorched-earth tactics that nearly drove Manchin into retirement.

For that matter, Manchin has another option than retirement. There has been ample speculation that Manchin could be ripe for a conversion to the GOP, especially given the sharp Republican turn in his state. Up until now, Manchin has insisted that he’s never considered jumping to the other side of the aisle, and this episode does make it look as though Manchin isn’t all that enchanted with either side or the institution itself. However, if Schumer continues to bend to the will of the extremists in the Democratic coalition, he might want to teach them a lesson by crossing the aisle permanently, although he’d have to do that before the primaries as well. A conversion to the GOP would put even more pressure on other red-state Democrats defending their seats in November and give the GOP more resources to hammer them in the fall.

The media has spent a lot of time focusing on the so-called civil war among Republicans during the Trump era. This story reminds us that the fractures among Democrats are just as interesting, and potentially more impactful.