Joe Manchin Is the Only Thing Standing Between America and Sen. Cletus Von Ivermectin in 2024.
Time for Democrats to get a BBB reality check.
Hey all -
I’m sitting in for Charlie today and rather than even attempt to try to fill his shoes and give you a full rundown of the news before I have my morning coffee, I’m gonna zag and give y’all an epic rant on the frustrating political position Democrats find themselves in given yesterday’s announcement of a delay on the Build Back Better plan.
If that’s not enough and you want the full sermon on the GOP crazy mixed with an airing of grievances and a Sarah Longwell feat of strength join us tonight for the Bulwark Festivus. It’s gonna be fun!!
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A few weeks ago I was at the Groves-Mann funeral home in a little town called Union, nestled in the rolling Appalachian hills that dot the southeastern corner of West Virginia. Union doesn’t have a stoplight or a coffee shop, but in spite of its name it does possess a gleaming memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers. West Virginia was not part of the Confederacy, but whatever. As the Confederate-loving boys in Minnesota will tell you, these affinities tend to be more . . . cultural than historical.
It had been a busy time at this particular funeral parlor, with the county’s aging populace combining with COVID-19 to cause a spike in deaths. In the corner office, I noticed a little plaque from the state legislature, it turns out the owner was Kenny Mann, an affable former Republican state senator who had returned home to take over the business full-time.
I didn’t want to upend the occasion’s charmolypi by grilling Mann and other attendees about their politics. But from time to time the subject came up and I tried to take the opportunity to hear what these folks thought about their senator, the Twitter-maligned Joe Manchin.
Because Union is at the heart of many of the big questions about our political moment.
Consider this: Union is the Monroe County seat. County-wide Donald Trump won an Assad-like 78 percent of the vote to Joe Biden’s measly 20 percent. But Joe Manchin did much better here, still losing the county to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, but at a much more respectable 53-43 split, which gave him enough cushion for a 3-point, state-wide victory that today is the entire basis of the Democratic Senate majority.
You’re welcome, Rep. Jayapal.
How did Manchin take Biden’s -58 margin and turn it into a -10 for himself? One conversation really brought home the provenance of this gap. A man who recognized me as a prominent “Never Trumper” started venting about how Biden was a socialist, in league with the wokes and the far left, but admitted that liked Manchin just fine. He had concerns about how much Manchin had been going along with the rest of the Democrats and was watching to see if he gave in on the trillion dollar communist legislation that was coming down the pike. And if he did, that was going to be the last straw.
Now I get that anecdotes aren’t data. And frankly the guy I was talking to might’ve been a Morrissey voter for all I know. I wasn’t conducting any citizens’ investigations of the attendees’ voting histories.
But this general sense is reflected in the gap between Biden and Manchin in the state. In a town that prominently features a “Trump 2024: Fuck Your Feelings” sign (irony is dead in West Virginia, too), the Democratic senator maintained a reputation somewhere short of loathing. From these voters' perspective Manchin, wasn’t perfect. But he hadn’t gone full-in with the BLMAntifaCommies.
The ability to maintain that public perception is at the core of the Joe Manchin miracle. And let’s be clear about this, in this political environment the existence of a Democratic Senator in West Virginia is just a notch below loaves and fishes.
Manchin does it by going along with the Democrats just enough to get by, while bucking the party loudly enough to keep the Trump voters in his state happy.
And that tells you all you need to know about the reason why Manchin signaled on Wednesday that he wouldn’t support the current iteration of the Build Back Better plan, with sources in Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office telling NBC that the Democrats would shelve it until at least March.
So the question for Democrats is: What now? For the cable news pundits and Twitter class it seems that the answer to “what now” is “roast Joe Manchin until he tastes like chicken.” And for the casual progressive political observer, I understand that impulse. Manchin has the chance to do something and he’s not. It’s frustrating, I get it.
But for those who are ostensibly trying to influence Democratic party strategy, turning Manchin into the bad guy and railing against him is profoundly stupid. And it is actively harming the Democratic party’s stated goals.
These blue-checked Manchin-haters all seem to want one of three things so that their preferred agenda can pass:
(1) For Joe Manchin to go out in a blaze of social-justice, democracy-saving glory, give up on reelection, and hand the seat over to Republican Cletus Von Ivermectin in 2024.
(2) For Joe Manchin to wake up and realize the people in his state would actually love the Build Back Better plan if only they had a chance to enjoy its bounty.
(3) For the Squad and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to have used their supposed leverage to force Joe Manchin to sign on with the Squad’s spending bill in exchange for getting infrastructure.
None of that is tethered to what is happening in the real world.
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Here’s reality when it comes to Joe Manchin and the state of play for the Democratic agenda:
(1) Joe Manchin isn’t interested in blowing up his career to pass the Great Society 2.0.
Now I have real doubts about whether he can win another election in West Virginia in our polarized times, no matter what. But what counts for our present political calculations is whether Manchin thinks he can win. All signs point to yes. Manchin wants to at least have the option to run and win in a state that Joe Biden lost by almost 40 points. And he’s acting as such.
(2) Joe Manchin knows that those who think passing BBB will help him in WV are completely and totally out of touch with his electorate. Even if the individual elements of BBB poll well, signing on to a multi-trillion-dollar left-wing spending bill would be akin to signing his own political suicide note.
(3) Nancy & Chuck & The Squad never had any leverage over Manchin to begin with. This is a critical point. As long as Manchin remains open to running again in West Virginia, the absolute best thing he could do was stand in the way of legislation that is perceived by his voters as a socialist, AOC/Pelosi, left-wing fantasy. Passing infrastructure gained him exceedingly little politically. Blocking the Squad’s agenda gains him a lot. Some of the best ads he could run in West Virginia would be about how he crushed Pelosi and The Squad’s dreams.
For all these reasons, those of us who live on planet earth knew that Joe Manchin was never going to accede to the left’s demands. Their anger at Joe Manchin didn’t hurt him. Exactly the opposite! The madder lefties get at him, the stronger his political position is at home. Their rage is the spinach that makes his Popeye muscles bulge. He’s fueled by it. And without this ability to wedge against his own party, he would die a quiet, but noble, death. Like Heidi Heitkamp, or Mark Pryor, or Claire McCaskill, and all the other long-gone, red-state Democrats.
The only spending bill Manchin was ever going to support was one that leaders in his party, and left-wing celebrities, hate. Because that’s how he would sell it to the folks at the Groves-Mann Funeral Home.
These were the facts of life from the very start of this torturous, year-long negotation.
And they will still be the facts of life next year, when hopefully Manchin and President Biden can agree to a more modest compromise that he can sell back home.
If the Democrats want to avoid annihilation in 2022, they need a different approach.
The current path of depressing the base by not delivering on pie-in-the-sky promises and simultaneously alienating swing voters who think they are going overboard is not working.
No matter how much the progressive Twitter hive mind wants to insist their agenda is popular, there is no evidence that voters or politicians are acting as though it is popular.
Right now Republican senators in blue and purple states are voting lock-step against the Democratic agenda without feeling any pressure at all. And that’s because the voters they need to attract aren’t buying what the Democrats are selling.
It’s so bad that if you believe the quotes from this galling Politico article Democrats are actually getting blamed for the expiration of a tax credit that Republicans are blocking.
How’s that for fucked up?
If Democrats want to change the environment, they need to make the case that they are providing policy solutions that voters actually want and then peg the nihilist, insurrectionist Republicans as the ones who are standing in the way.
That would create some leverage they might be able to use. And it would redirect the political pressure away from the one person who is miraculously standing between us and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and towards the politicians that they need to beat in order for Democrats to have majorities in the future.
This realist view of politics might not be as fun as demanding that Joe Biden snap his fingers and eliminate everyone’s student debt and usher in our utopian future. But it’s the only way to change the current high-speed trajectory towards a GOP takeover.
The BBB’s demise should be a wake-up call for Democrats to change what they’re doing. We’ll see if anyone gets the message.