Joe Manchin Reportedly Considering Leaving the Democratic Party

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Is Joe Manchin considering leaving the Democratic Party?

That’s the claim per a new report from Mother Jones which details that Manchin has an exit in the event his party allies, including Joe Biden, don’t agree to his terms on the “build back better” reconciliation bill. That strategy includes declaring himself an “American Independent.”

In recent days, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) has told associates that he is considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill do not agree to his demand to cut the size of the social infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, according to people who have heard Manchin discuss this. Manchin has said that if this were to happen, he would declare himself an “American Independent.” And he has devised a detailed exit strategy for his departure.

There’s a lot of skepticism warranted here, though, I think there may be some meat on the bone as well. Mother Jones is a left-wing outlet, but they are not The Daily Kos. They have appeared in the past to have some standards when it comes to sourcing regardless of how they choose to spin the news, and I tend to think they aren’t just making this story up.

So what’s behind this? There are two angles, I believe.

For one, Manchin just wants to get his way on the legislation in question, and what better way to do that than to threaten the Democrat Senate majority a full year before the 2022 election? If Manchin left, the perception would be that he would caucus with Republicans as it would assure his re-election in deep-red West Virginia. Given that, this could be a largely empty threat operating as a brush-back pitch in the direction of the White House and the progressives. In fact, if I were betting on this, I’d bet Manchin denies this report by the end of the day.

On the other hand, the electoral realities in West Virginia for Manchin are not going to be good in 2024. His vote share decreased dramatically in the 2018 election. Those trends look to continue as West Virginians become more hardened in party-line partisanship. Does Manchin see an off-ramp to become an Independent and rid himself of the stink of his current party? It’s possible, and it would make a ton of sense. After all, he’s soundly hated within Democrat circles these days. Why stick around and continue to be treated like garbage when you can get political revenge and ensure your own future?

Still, I’m skeptical. Manchin has never struck me as a guy with the kind of guts to make such a move. At his core, he’s a union-loving, blue-collar courting Democrat. As much as his party has abandoned him, would he truly stab them in the back? We’ll see, I guess, but for now, I’m going to assume this is a negotiating maneuver.