Here’s a little secret about Joe Manchin: he doesn’t care if he gets re-elected. He is going to do what he feels is right for his constituents—and that’s pretty much the bottom line. The West Virginia Senator spoke with Townhall briefly about his home state, the Supreme Court fight, and what he’s done back home to cement his reputation as one who walks a more centrist line. He also touched upon his warning to his more liberal colleagues about the dangers of Democrats not being able to win anymore in red states.
“Re-election is not the most important thing to me,” he said. “The way I look at it is if you beat me, I go home.” So, for all the publications who label him as dead meat, on life support, or highly vulnerable as we enter the 2018 midterms, they don’t understand this aspect about Manchin.
“I can live with the outcome. I’m not afraid to lose,” he said. Concerning his votes, he laughed, saying that the political winds have “never changed one iota how I vote.”
The West Virginia Senator knows there are pockets of hard-core progressivism in his home state, despite its trend towards the right; West Virginia has gone Republican since 2000 in national elections, with Mitt Romney and Donald Trump winning every county in 2012 and 2016. Trump won the Mountain State by 68 percent of the vote. So, in a way, I can see how one could come to the conclusion that Manchin might be fighting for his political life. Heck, I thought the same thing. Yet, as Politico noted, Manchin seems to be in a unique position: his state might go Republican, but voters break for him since he’s well known and well liked. Even Republicans like Manchin.
Manchin told Townhall that he sees himself as “fiscally conservative and socially compassionate.” Growing up among Democrats who used to form the backbone of the party—white working class voters—you can see how Manchin might be one of those who could lead the Democratic Party out of the wilderness. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has decided to go the all-out war route that Manchin feels caused his party to make serious strategic mistakes.
Take the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, where Manchin said that the “smart thing” that his party should have done was to vote for cloture, then vote him down. The balance of the Court was not at stake; this wasn’t the hill to die on.
He warned his colleagues, saying they’re going to "shoot your whole wad here for Merrick Garland, while the next one is going to decide where the Court goes.” Garland was President Obama’s initial nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans, invoking the Biden Rule, which states that no Supreme Court nominees should be considered in a presidential election year, blocked the nomination. The move infuriated Senate Democrats, which possibly prompted this maneuver. As Senate Democrats one-by-one lined up to block Gorsuch, Senate Republicans were ready to invoke the nuclear option to confirm the qualified nominee by a simple majority. Manchin knew what was up with these filibuster games.
“You’re making it easy for Mitch,” he said. Not to mention that when you have legal scholars, both left and right, supporting Gorsuch, along with Obama’s former solicitor general, the GOP had miles of political cover to invoke this rule change. Yet, even with Manchin making the case that Gorsuch was not the person to filibuster, he understood that Schumer was trapped by the base’s demands to oppose Trump at all times.
“The base was fired up and Chuck couldn’t get off of it.”
With Democrats pondering what to do after their stinging defeat, one wing wants to cleave Manchin and his fellow red state Democrats—Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Jon Tester (D-MT)—from the herd. Manchin said he told Mr. Schumer straight up that if his brand of Democratic politics can’t win in these rural areas, where this batch has shown they have the messaging and political skills to win, Democrats would be in the minority forever. Whether Mr. Schumer, a safe Democrat from the Empire State, took these words seriously remains to be seen. As of late, the Democratic Unity tour, featuring DNC Chair Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been marred by disunity, with Perez being peppered with boos and heckling. It’s really the Sanders tour, which is problematic since Sanders isn’t a member of the party.
The data crunchers at FiveThirtyEight give Manchin a 50-50 shot at re-election, though I feel that given how Manchin has branded himself, the odds are much better. I asked Manchin if his state party has forgiven him for supporting Cecil Underwood in 1996 when he first ran for governor. Manchin lost to Charlotte Pritt, a more run-of-the-mill liberal Democrats who beat him in 1996. Manchin denies he gave a formal endorsement to Mr. Underwood and explicitly said he never encouraged his supporters to vote for Cecil. He did say that he could never have worked with Ms. Pritt, who he said lied about him during the primary campaign and would never correct the record. The explanation she gave him was that it was politics. Needless to say, that didn’t sit well. Eventually he won the governorship in 2004, where he proudly said he got the state's fiscal house in order, finding enough savings for a $1 billion rainy day fund from a budget that is a little over $4 billion. It’s here that he formed his ethos regarding government nominees.
It’s quite simple actually. If the person doesn’t have a criminal record, has a clean financial record, and are good people, lets give them a chance to work to help the people. If they fail, as governor, he said the responsibility was on him, which he would accept. If that angered enough people, he would have gladly packed his bags.
As Trump’s presidency enters the 100-day phase, Manchin sees the anti-Trump rabble-rousers simply enraged that he would vote for some of Trump’s nominees. Manchin said that in deference to the president, he would support most of the nominees. For the ones he didn’t feel were qualified, he voted no. Yes, he voted for Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions for treasury secretary and attorney general respectively, but couldn’t vote for Betsy DeVos due to her lack of experience in public education. He was also a no-go on Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be health and human services secretary due to pharmaceutical investments he made while making policy that could have benefited him financially.
The road out of the woods for the Democrats isn’t hard. Remember, Trump voters aren’t die-hard Republicans. They’re swing voters. Talk job creation, growing the economy, and understanding the issues impacting these rural areas, they might vote for you. Instead, we have the DNC chair giving profanity-laced tirades against congressional Republicans. Manchin has proven he knows how to reach these people, though he’s in a situation where some members of his party want him out because he’s not liberal enough. Talk about a circular firing squad. One thing is clear. If Manchin were to lose in a primary, it would be an easy pick-up for Republicans who already have a very favorable 2018 Senate map.
Still, the West Virginia Senator seemed adamant that he will continue to be the way he’s always been in public life, voting his conscience while keeping a bottle of moonshine handy to ease partisan tensions among his colleagues.