Manchin: Come to Think of It, Endorsing Hillary in 2016 Was Actually a Mistake

Posted: Jun 08, 2018 10:56 AM
Manchin: Come to Think of It, Endorsing Hillary in 2016 Was Actually a Mistake

I mean, Hillary only lost Manchin's home state by 42 percentage points, so it's unclear why he'd be having second thoughts about calling her uniquely qualified while warmly endorsing her for president.  Oh, actually, it's quite clear: Facing a tough re-election, the incumbent Democrat reading the same polls as everyone else.  They show that (a) President Trump is popular among West Virginia voters, (b) Manchin's support for Hillary Clinton in 2016 is a major liability among his electorate, and (c) the national Democratic Party is anathema to most West Virginians -- a lesson the state's governor recently took to heart.  A few weeks ago on my radio show, I pressed the Senator on his backing of Mrs. Clinton in the last national election, asking whether he regretted doing so, and if he's glad that Trump is now president, as opposed to his preferred candidate.  His responses were surprisingly rambling and unprepared.  

As I observed at the time, I was stunned that a talented and popular politician in his position wouldn't have a prepared, locked-down answer for questions like these, given the clear ideological currents in his state.  He ultimately landed on "I don't know," praising Trump as much as he could without quite conceding the thrust of my question.  Scroll ahead to the (5:55) mark of this video and watch that portion of our exchange: 

Perhaps this episode helped prod him to realize that these types of equivocations and evasions weren't going to be sustainable over the coming grueling months of a general election campaign.  So since our segment, he's apparently decided to cut Hillary loose and forge even further ahead in his political flirtations with President Trump.  Here he is telling Politico what he couldn't bring himself to say during our interview:

In an interview during a drive across his state’s Eastern Panhandle, Manchin revealed that he repeatedly threatened to revoke his support for Clinton after she remarked, in March 2016, that she planned “to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” First, Manchin told Bill Clinton that he would withdraw his support, as the former president pleaded with him not to. Then Hillary Clinton called him. “She said, ‘Please don’t. Let me come to West Virginia, I need to explain.’ I said, ‘That’s a bad idea, you shouldn’t come,’” Manchin recounted. But the Clintons came, and they toured Mingo County, an economically devastated area in southern West Virginia. Even as he still threatened to withdraw his endorsement, Manchin explained that the area needed highways, broadband Internet and a hydroelectric dam — and Clinton promised that she could make it happen as president. “It was a mistake. It was a mistake politically,” Manchin said of continuing to support Clinton. But he said her $20 billion commitment to his state was too much to pass up. “Is this about me? Or trying to help a part of my state that’s never recovered and is having a tough time.”

What's more, he's not ruling out endorsing Trump for re-election: "The senator, up for reelection in a state Trump won by more than 40 points, told POLITICO he isn’t ruling out endorsing Trump for reelection in 2020 — a position practically unheard of for a politician with a 'D' next to his name. 'I’m open to supporting the person who I think is best for my country and my state,' Manchin said this week from the driver’s seat of his Grand Cherokee, insisting he’s game to work with any president of either party. 'If his policies are best, I’ll be right there.'  That isn't exactly a commitment, and the fact remains that he wasn't "right there" with Trump against Hillary Clinton -- against whom West Virginia voters delivered a resounding rejection.  He also voted 'no' on the biggest item on Trump's agenda to date: The succeeding tax reform law.  Manchin sounds like a man who is extremely worried about losing in November, and he's doing literally everything he can to appease Trump-supportive voters without switching parties.  And as for his leftward-drifting party, they're abiding his anti-resistance overtures because their gaze is set on the bigger picture:

Senate Democrats said they trust Manchin is doing what he needs to do get reelected, even if it sometimes pains them. One senator who requested anonymity said Democrats tolerate Manchin's rhetoric because he’s shown an ability to survive as a Democrat in a state where the party is an endangered species. And that’s the only way Democrats can ever win back the Senate majority, whether it’s this year or in 2020.  Even Bernie Sanders, who has almost no relationship with Manchin, is on board. Sort of. “I want to see the Democrats regain the majority of the Senate. Absolutely,” Sanders said when asked whether he supports Manchin’s campaign.

Manchin cozying up to Trump rhetorically or bucking his party on a number of votes is fine as long as he represents a tally for Chuck Schumer and Democratic leadership in Washington. Control of the Senate, and crucial Senate committees, boils down to a pure numbers game -- especially on high-stakes issues like judicial nominations. Schumer's math must include Manchin. That's why Republicans are urging their voters to consider Manchin's re-election pitch with a strategic eye: Regardless of what he says or how he positions his voting record, a vote for Joe Manchin is a vote for a Schumer Democratic majority. That's the cold, hard truth.  And as Cortney wrote earlier in the week, Donald Trump, Jr. isn't buying the MAGA routine:

I'll leave you with some scary-looking polling for another red state Democrat -- and her voting record is positively left-wing, compared to Manchin's:

McCaskill's likely GOP opponent also got a boost when his intraparty war with Missouri's embattled, scandal-plagued Republican Governor ended with a resignation.  A long, drawn out battle could have divided Republican voters and helped the luckiest Democrat in the Senate luck out yet again.