Talking Points

The left's big Manchin risk

Politics is not "The Secret" — you can't produce a political or policy outcome just by speaking it into existence. Still, progressives might want to be more cautious with how they talk about Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

In the hours after Manchin declared on Sunday that he won't support the For the People Act, the phrase "He's a Republican" trended on Twitter. A Democratic congressman accused Manchin of voting to preserve Jim Crow. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) similarly proclaimed the senator was standing up for the GOP and voter suppression. All of this led one high-profile conservative columnist to publicly fantasize about Manchin joining the Republican Party, depriving Democrats of their control of the Senate and all but putting an end to President Joe Biden's legislative agenda.

"He would be welcomed by the Senate Republicans with open arms," Marc Thiessen wrote at the Washington Post. 

As Thiessen and others have pointed out, there is precedent for this kind of consequential party-jumping: Republicans controlled the Senate from 1994 to 2001, until Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont — tired of being battered for his unorthodox stances — left the party, declared himself an independent, and handed control of the chamber to Democrats.

For Jeffords, the switch made sense: Vermont voters had gone for Democrats in three straight elections, and the state has always embraced quirkily independent politicians anyway. Similarly, Manchin's home state of West Virginia is overwhelmingly Republican — and Gov. Jim Justice, now a Republican, has jumped back-and-forth between parties depending on what was advantageous.

Given his state's very conservative political landscape, one assumes Manchin has his reasons for sticking with Democrats for now. Progressives, meanwhile, should do everything they can to lobby and pressure Manchin into joining their positions — he's simply wrong about the filibuster — but they might temper their rhetoric with the knowledge that it's better to have him on the team, however loosely, than definitively working against them. The reason so many progressives get angry with Manchin is because he is the necessary 50th Democratic vote to pass anything on their agenda. Things could be worse. What if Manchin was the 51st Republican vote instead?