Democrats can't win unless they're more centrist, declares The Atlantic's Clare Foran, and there's no bigger hero for the Donks in Trump's America than Joe F'ckin' Manchin. But there's no bigger target for the GOP than Manchin's seat in 2018, and they want him exterminated.
The West Virginia voters I spoke with at the state fair who plan to vote for Manchin in 2018 all said they thin he’s very different from all the other Democrats in Washington. It was a group that ranged from lifelong Democrats who still mostly vote Democrat to Trump-loving Democrats who rarely vote Democrat anymore to Republicans willing to cross the aisle to support Manchin.
Charles Hicks, a Republican from Ripley, West Virginia, who voted for Trump but “always” votes for Manchin, plans to do so again in 2018. “It really isn’t a matter of Republican or Democrat. He’s just a very good representative for the state of West Virginia,” he said. “The national Democratic Party has become too extreme liberal. Democrats as a whole just went too far left,” Hicks said, “but he tends not to be an extremist, he’s not extreme left, he’s not extreme right. He’s for what benefits West Virginia: coal, agriculture, things on that nature.”
As the national party has grown more liberal in recent years, Manchin has stayed put. When Democrats called for repeal of a ban on federal funding for abortion in the 2016 platform, Manchin, who identifies as pro-life and has voted to fund Planned Parenthood, but only on the condition that the ban would remain in place, called the decision “crazy.”
A majority of Senate Democrats now support raising the minimum wage to $15 dollars, an idea Sanders championed on the campaign trail, but Manchin has expressed skepticism, saying that $15 dollars won’t work in every state, though he does support raising the minimum wage. A majority of House Democrats, and high-profile names in the Senate, like New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have said they support single-payer universal health coverage. Manchin has said he’s open to studying single payer, and what its impact would be, but has raised questions about the potential cost, and feasibility, of implementing universal coverage.
Manchin’s isolation has left him increasingly vulnerable to attack on all sides. Liberal activists argue he’s too conservative for the Democratic Party, while Republicans argue he’s too liberal for West Virginia. “Manchin consistently votes against the core principles and values of the Democratic party’s progressive base,” reads a petition urging Schumer to remove Manchin from Senate leadership that’s been circulated by a coalition of liberal organizations. West Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has announced plans to run for Manchin’s seat in 2018, has also taken issue with Manchin’s position on leadership. “West Virginia could not be more different from Chuck Schumer’s New York,” Morrisey, who will face Republican Representative Evan Jenkins in the GOP primary, wrote in a letter to Manchin calling on him to step down.
“The days are numbered for Joe Manchin. I feel very confident that he is on his way out in what will be a decisive loss for him come next November,” Conrad Lucas, the chair of the West Virginia Republican Party said in an interview. “He’s tried for a long time to be someone who pleases everyone, but that's not going to work anymore. He cozied up to Hillary Clinton, and he’s cozied up to liberal Washington Democrats when West Virginians are looking for conservatives.”
The accusation that Manchin “cozied up” to Clinton illustrates how a connection to the national Democratic Party can turn into a liability in a red state. Manchin endorsed Clinton in 2015, only to see her later ignite outrage in West Virginia by saying “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” The comments were an awkward attempt to make the point that she wanted to help people hurt by the industry’s decline. Clinton apologized for the remark, which Manchin called “horrific,” but she went on to lose all 55 counties in the state twice, first to Sanders in the presidential primary and then to Trump in the general election.
If Manchin can overcome potentially damaging associations with the national party, it will be because he is a known quantity with deep ties to the state. Charles Showalter, a Democratic voter who supports Manchin, said the senator “really cares about West Virginia. “A lot of politicians say they do, but they don’t.” His wife, Joy, another Manchin supporter and Democrat, praised him for “taking care of the coal miners.” In May, Congress reached a deal that Manchin had fought forproviding health benefits to retired miners.
Before starting a career in politics, Manchin worked as a coal broker. He was born in Farmington, West Virginia, a town that became infamous in 1968 after a mining accident left nearly 80 people dead, including one of Manchin’s uncles. “His family were miners,” Charles told me as though offering up proof of the senator’s credentials.
So far, Manchin has managed to remain popular in West Virginia. According to Morning Consult, he has a 57 percent approval rating, just shy of the 60 percent popularity Trump has maintained in the state. But even if Manchin’s strategy of running as a conservative Democrat continues to work for him, it won’t necessarily work for the rest of the party, especially in an era of deep partisan division. The more national Democrats try to hold onto their core liberal supporters, while making overtures to conservative voters, the more a clash of ideas, ideology, and moral principles becomes unavoidable.
After Manchin’s West Virginia state fair town hall, I spoke with Larry Tolliver, a Democrat who voted for Trump but supports Manchin. Tolliver cited Manchin’s pro-life position, and the fact that he’s not as liberal as most Democrats in Washington, to explain his loyalty to the senator. Then he rattled off a list of reasons why he feels alienated by the Democratic Party in Washington.
“The Democratic Party used to be for the working men and women of this country,” he said, “now the party is for homosexuals, they’re for abortion, and they’re for illegals, and they’re for giving stuff to anybody.”
And that's the problem. 2016 was more than anything a backlash again black, Latino, LGBTQ and women voters, who all "got too much stuff" in the Obama era. If embracing that backlash is the "way forward for the Democratic party" then I don't want to be a part of it, and I won't be. If the Dems are the party that stands up for people, not just the white working class voter. then I'll stay.
Joe Manchin is the Democrat who can win in West Virginia. But what works in WV won't work in Vermont or California or Illinois, and anyone who tells you that the Dems need to stop with the "identity politics" is flat out wrong.
Including Joe Manchin.