Waaaaayyy too fun to check, but in the end this doesn’t make much sense. A new book from NYT reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns delivers some choice gossip by claiming that Joe Manchin may have come a lot closer to switching parties in early 2021 than he let on. The only thing holding him back, Martin and Burns allege in This Will Not Pass, was Cocaine Mitch McConnell.
It’s dishy, but ultimately incoherent:
Early in 2021, shortly after the election of President Biden and after Democrats had taken control of the House and Senate, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Thune tried to convince Manchin to switch parties, according to reporting in the book by journalists Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns.
Manchin had reportedly grown frustrated by his own party at the time following an interview Vice President Harris gave to a TV station in his state and said the White House had not notified him she would be doing so beforehand. The two sides at the time had been working on the White House’s coronavirus relief proposal.
In their book “This Will Not Pass,” a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, Martin and Burns report Thune pitched Manchin on the idea of not formally joining the GOP, but instead becoming an Independent and caucusing with Republicans.
Manchin was not sold on the idea, according to the book, because he did not want to make Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) the Senate majority leader again.
If Thune were the GOP leader, Manchin reportedly told him, he would make the switch.
Did Manchin really say this? Nope, Manchin told Manu Raju:
Manchin responds to this. “John Thune is the most decent human being, a good friend of mine. But no, they know where I'm at. And Mitch McConnell knows he's tried everything humanly possible. The bottom line is I am a West Virginia Democrat," he said, per @morgan_rimmer
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 28, 2022
Of course, Manchin could be just in denial mode. Alternatively, he might have made such a remark flippantly to his buddy Thune without either man taking it seriously. However, neither seems particularly substantive or even likely. Manchin was under a microscope all last year and well into this one over the potential of a flip, and any hint of movement on his part would not have remained hidden for any length of time, let alone as long as Martin and Burns suggest.
To buy this, you need to swallow two unlikely ideas, and perhaps three. First, that somehow a Thune caucus leader strategy would differ at all from McConnell’s highly successful run at the top of the caucus. Anyone who replaces McConnell already has to meet a very high bar in terms of partisan wheeling and dealing. Second, you’d have to believe that Manchin buys into the McConnell-as-evil-incarnate rhetoric used by the Left when there’s been no evidence of any animosity, personal or otherwise, between the two. There’s been a lot more evidence of such animosity between Manchin and his fellow Senate Democrats and even Joe Biden, who indirectly accused Manchin of taking the side of racists and supremacists by not voting to eliminate the legislative filibuster.
But third, you’d have to believe that Thune could offer Manchin something that McConnell couldn’t, and that the reward would exist at all by the time Thune took the leadership position. As Manchin told Raju, McConnell already offered everything plus the kitchen sink at a time when it made a difference where Manchin caucuses. All of the possible incentives were in place after the GOP lost the two Senate runoff races in Georgia. Not only would a flip fix a potential land mine for his 2024 re-election bid in deep-red West Virginia, it would change control of the Senate. With that value in hand, Manchin could therefore demand any committee chair he wanted, and he could force the GOP to moderate its approach to Biden in the expectation that Biden would moderate his congressional allies back to the center.
By the summer, that last piece had utterly vanished. Biden had thrown in so extensively to the radical-progressive wing of the Democrats that Manchin’s best shot at moderating it would be to stay in the caucus. That should have forced Biden and Chuck Schumer to negotiate with him up front and in good faith, but when they didn’t, the results embarrassed the two of them more than Manchin. That leverage would have disappeared if Manchin flipped, and no one knew that better (other than Manchin himself) than Cocaine Mitch McConnell.
This claim from Martin and Burns is easier to believe, in large part because it’s been all but said publicly as well:
Former President Trump told New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns that he would still be in the White House if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had bought into his false election claims.
”Had Mitch stuck with many members of the party who knew the election was rigged, I think we wouldn’t be at Mar-a-Lago,” Trump said in an interview at his resort in Florida, an excerpt of the reporters’ “This Will Not Pass” book that was obtained by Punchbowl News states.
“We would be at the White House having this conversation,” he added.
As long as we’re doing counterfactuals, consider the more obvious one: If it hadn’t been for Mitch McConnell’s successful stall of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court and the voter-turnout boost it created, Trump might not have gotten elected in the first place. And this one: if it hadn’t been for Trump’s ongoing grievances over losing the election, the GOP might have won those runoff elections in Georgia and made Manchin’s affiliation status nothing more than a curious footnote until the 2024 cycle.