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Can Joe Manchin Mobilize the Middle?

Add the WV senator to the lengthy list of problems for a presidency in collapse.

by | Nov 14, 2023 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

Democrats have tried to put on a brave face since West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced days ago that he would skip another run for the US Senate and instead travel the country looking to see if he can “mobilize the middle.” Reports are that Joe Biden tried to talk Manchin out of it – and for good reason.

The centrist Democrat’s decision is a double blow to this president. It wipes out any chance of the Dems holding his seat in blood-red West Virginia, imperiling their hopes of retaining their one-seat majority in the upper chamber. But perhaps even more damaging is that, though Manchin would not run as a Democrat per se, his prospective presidential candidacy as an independent or for the well-organized No Labels party would effectively serve as a primary challenge to Biden, since most of the country knows Manchin has been a Democrat for his entire career. And we know what happens when an incumbent president faces an intra-party challenge. It happened in 1968, 1980, and 1992 – and each time, the party holding the White House was defeated.

GettyImages-1784127853 Joe Biden

Joe Biden (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

In response to multiple recent polls showing Donald Trump on the march, leading decisively in most of the battleground states, the Biden spinners take us on a march down memory lane to one year before the 2012 presidential race, when Barack Obama supposedly trailed badly against Mitt Romney, or 1995, when Bill Clinton was running behind the eventual GOP nominee, the late Bob Dole – arguing that polls 365 days before Election Day mean nothing. Nice try, but Obama actually beat Romney in 11 of 13 polls conducted in November of 2011, putting the lie to the meaninglessness of surveys one year out from a presidential election, and Dole was never really leading Clinton.

In a political climate dominated by extremes, and polling showing some two-thirds of the American people believe Biden is simply too old and of questionable mental fitness to hold on for another four years and are, shall we say, unenthused by Kamala Harris, can Manchin succeed where other third-party/independent candidates have failed? We are likely to find out.

Joe Manchin Pros and Cons

Joe Manchin has decided assets and liabilities to offer voters looking for someone different whom they view as less threatening than the two major-party candidates essentially running as incumbents – evidenced by Trump seeking a third straight GOP nomination and wiping the floor with challengers who had at one time been expected to give him a run for his money.

The West Virginian has one of the biggest advantages any politician can hold: name recognition. Much like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., he will not have to introduce himself to the American people, after serving as a bulwark against the extremism of his own party. He has the reputation of a straight-shooter, plain spoken, moderate in both his politics and tone, and popular enough in the Mountaineer State that he has never lost an election – though he faced a steep uphill battle if he ran again for the Senate. He was a heroic figure in saving the country from his party’s attempted full-on transformation to social democracy, before losing his nerve in the end – though he claims to have been lied to – and signing off on an “Inflation Reduction Act” which reduces not inflation but fiscal sanity.

New banner Memo - From the Desk of Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner 1At the same time, that familiarity won’t help with voters looking for someone new and different like Vivek Ramaswamy. They will hardly find that in Joe Manchin. Like Biden, he is a seasoned politico, but also widely viewed as a gadfly, a centrist in a party heading ever further away from him to the left. How that plays to an anxious electorate is almost impossible to gauge precisely at this time. The No Labels party, odds-on favorite to host a Manchin candidacy, will vie for ballot access at the same time as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Cornel West, newly announced Green Party nominee Jill Stein, plus someone from the Libertarian Party. It seems we might be looking at something more closely resembling a European-style parliamentary election, with its multiple candidates, parties, and coalitions.

Politician, Thy Name Is Hubris

It is quite a spectacle to witness the hubris of career politicians play out in real time. The things of which they can convince themselves seem to know no bounds – and they are usually the last to acknowledge or even realize when it is time, or beyond time, to leave the stage. A president needs to function in disaster and finish in style, not shrink in the face of a world on fire and slink off the stage hardly comprehending the disaster he left behind.

This commander-in-chief’s aimlessness and inability to even remember what to do or where to go on the stage during the most solemn salute to America’s fallen on Veterans Day was yet another colossal embarrassment for both Biden and the country. He has become Pig Pen of Charlie Brown/Peanuts fame, enveloped by dust and dirt everywhere he goes, a figure who would be truly comical if the future of the world were not on the line.

For those who questioned the longevity of his career during the 2020 campaign, Biden responded by making clear his intention to serve merely as a transitional figure i.e., a one-term president. “Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” Biden said in 2019. But upon attaining power and its requisite benefits, the man whose entire adult life has been spent in the Swamp has done what most career politicians would do: cling to power at all costs. And he has now put his party leaders in a huge bind as the chickens come home to roost from their 2020 decision to ram Joe Biden across the finish line and force him to select an even more unpopular Kamala Harris.

Every American prepares to cringe when he speaks publicly. Every American can see the obvious decline of a man who is confused at best, addled at worst – as two ground wars rage, the Middle East threatens to descend into utter chaos, and the threat of a third world war suddenly seems more possible than any time since the fall of the Soviet Union more than three decades ago. Most in the know agree that Biden’s abject weakness has invited the aggression of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and Hamas terrorists in Gaza bankrolled by the Iranians. And almost everyone also agrees that Biden’s weakness, as demonstrated in the bombing of empty warehouses following the murder of more than 30 Americans by Hamas and repeated attacks on American military outposts that injured dozens more, is doing nothing to deter Putin or the mullahs of Iran.

While many worry about the risk of reinstating Donald Trump in the Oval Office, it is now occurring to more and more people that having a leader at the helm widely viewed as weak and cognitively impaired with such a perilous climate across the world represents a far greater risk. Joe Manchin presents one of a growing number of options, including RFK Jr., for those begging for someone other than Trump and Biden.

So, now Manchin is off on his own hunt for the brass ring and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) has announced his primary challenge to the president, becoming the first Democrat to say out loud what the rest of the party was uttering privately about Biden’s age. It has informally granted others like Obama strategist David Axelrod permission to suggest a similar sentiment – and to question whether Biden is running for himself, or for the country. As the walls close in on Joe Biden, it just might be that the president and perhaps the first lady remain the only ones who still believe that he gives Democrats the best shot at holding the White House in 2024.

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