With Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) continuing to give his own party nightmares as the infighting over President Biden's “Build Back Better” agenda rages on with no end in sight, talk on Capitol Hill has (predictably) turned to speculation over whether or not Manchin is planning an eventual flip to the dark side – also known as switching to the Republican party.
The Associated Press floated a story today suggesting that some Senate Democrats were very “concerned he could switch parties and take away their slim hold on power” considering the Senate as it stands now is at a 50/50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris frequently being the tiebreaker when the voting takes place:
NEW: Dem senators have grown weary of their colleague, whose vote they cannot live without —but whose regular chats with GOP leader Mitch McConnell leave them concerned he could switch parties & take away their slim hold on power. @LisaMascaro & me https://t.co/pNuneKj35s
— Farnoush Amiri (@FarnoushAmiri) December 17, 2021
While the tweet teaser from the AP reporter noted that Democrats were worried that all of Manchin's machinations to date are calculated moves that will eventually lead to him doing what to the left would be the “unthinkable,” that intriguing bit of information didn't make it into the article. What did make it in, however, was a cliffhanger quote of sorts at the very end from Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on his prior private conversations with Manchin about making the switch:
Manchin met with McConnell on Thursday, as they often do.
“As you know, he likes to talk,” the Republican leader told reporters. “It would not surprise you to know that I've suggested for years it would be a great idea, representing a deep red state like West Virginia, for him to come over to our side.”
McConnell added, “I don't think that's gonna happen.”
Maybe. Maybe not. But that's not stopping McConnell from putting on the pressure in a very public way anyway. He also said this earlier today:
McConnell on Manchin: “I have a lot more in common with him, our states are similars.” He says he has a lot more in common with him than any other Democrat.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) December 16, 2021
McConnell says he has a "cordial" relationship with Manchin and, when it comes to switching parties, McConnell thinks that would be a good idea for Manchin "representing a deep red state."
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) December 16, 2021
While McConnell is right that West Virginia and Kentucky are a lot alike in terms of the political philosophy shared by most voters, someone with his knowledge of how to conduct pretty epic power plays whether while in the minority or not probably knows deep down that Manchin at 74 years old is likely not going to switch parties.
Manchin would be the first person to remind people that he's delivered for his state again and again throughout his time served in public office, whether it be as governor or senator, and he's done all of it while being a Democrat.
Plus, as it stands now, he is the most powerful man in Washington, D.C., even more powerful than Biden himself when it comes right down to it. The keys to Biden's perceived “success” in the first two years of his team are almost quite literally in Manchin's hands at this point, and he knows it.
As far as he's concerned, there would be no political advantage for him to switch parties right now (though a couple of months ago he half-heartedly suggested he'd consider switching to independent if he was becoming too much of a “problem” for his part). He can block Biden's agenda and he doesn't need to have an “R” by his name to do it.
That said, Manchin is still early on in his second full term as a U.S. Senator. When reelection time gets close (assuming he runs again), he'll have some thinking to do on the party flipping thing, because though his first election to the Senate in 2012 for a full term was a cakewalk, his 2018 race was much closer, with the Republican nominee Patrick Morrisey losing by just .3 percent (about 19,000 votes) in a race that saw Libertarian nominee Rusty Hollen get 24,000 votes.
Considering how much redder his state gets (and how Democrats are chomping at the bit to try and primary him), Manchin may decide a year ahead of election time to switch parties. Or not. Who knows?
Until then, Manchin will enjoy basking in his role as Democrat party contrarian and all the attention that goes with it, while “Cocaine Mitch” will occasionally dangle the party switch carrot in front of him if for no other reason than to give Senate Democrats including Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) more stressful, sleepless nights.