So much for the party-switch offers, eh? Joe Manchin turned out to be a real Democrat after all, a revelation that should have come as no surprise to anyone. However, it does free up the GOP to do what it likely would have done anyway, only now add a sense of retribution to its 2024 challenge effort:
Sen. Joe Manchin is on the verge of giving Democrats a long awaited energy, tax and health care law. Republicans will get a chance to serve their revenge cold in two years.
In a potential 2024 race, the West Virginia Democrat would face his state’s conservative voters for what Republicans are already hoping to turn into a referendum on Manchin’s party-line deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. His prospective reelection opponents are already hitting him for “betraying West Virginia and destroying our economy,” as Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) put it. And there’s a crowded GOP field brewing.
Manchin’s last win, in 2018, came in a favorable year for Democrats and just weeks after he voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The GOP is banking on a much worse atmosphere in 2024 if Manchin decides to seek a third full term, hoping to take a seat that’s integral to its long-term strategy for holding the Senate majority.
It’s a political risk for Manchin to sign onto a bill that will impose a corporate minimum tax on large corporations, spend $369 billion on climate and energy, lower prescription drug prices and extend Affordable Care Act subsidies. The centrist’s willingness to become the bill’s top salesman — alongside Democratic leaders who are deeply unpopular in red states like Manchin’s — makes him a likely target for a GOP that has often treated him as an ally this Congress.
Come on, man. Republicans would have charged hard at that seat in 2024 as long as Manchin remained a Democrat. Manchin knew it too, as did Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Republicans in West Virginia have plotted the 2024 challenge ever since Manchin barely got past AG Patrick Morrisey (no relation) in 2018. As Politico points out, Manchin only won because of the Democratic mini-wave of those midterms and even then couldn’t get to 50%. Manchin got 49.6% of the vote while Morrisey won most of the counties.
Momentary alliances do not create electoral passes, especially not these days. Just ask all of those Republicans who sided with Democrats against Donald Trump in the impeachments, who nonetheless saw Democrats fund their primary challengers in their Akin strategy this cycle. Leadership votes are what matters in Congress these days, and Republicans need that West Virginia seat to control the Senate. If Manchin wants to keep it, he can cross the aisle … or at least he could have before signing onto Chuck Schumer’s face-saving tax-and-spend reconciliation bill.
This changes nothing except the amplitude of the motivation, and maybe the amount of money that will get directed to the Mountain State two years from now. And even that’s iffy; if Manchin did run again, his name recognition and personal favorability would still have made him formidable. It would take a significant investment to knock him off.
One has to wonder, though, whether Manchin will bother. He’s never really committed to another run for the seat, and West Virginia is now so deep red that another run would be a long shot. That’s especially true with Joe Biden’s collapse and runaway inflation hammering American households, plus Biden’s energy policy and its impacts on Manchin’s state. He might be better advised to seek out a Cabinet position in the eventual reshuffle after Biden’s midterm shellacking, although that would allow Republican governor Jim Justice to appoint a replacement. More likely, Manchin will retire at the relatively young age (for the Senate) of 77 and leave Washington with few friends and fewer fond memories. Manchin just precluded his best path to another term — crossing the aisle — which means he’s likely decided to get out.