What Happens to Joe Manchin?

The controversial senator from West Virginia's path is uncertain, but one thing is for certain: He will have plenty of enemies either way

Several months into Joe Biden's presidency, there are already signs of stagnation for Biden's plans. Two members of the Democrat-controlled Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, and Joe Manchin refuse to support critical parts of the party's legislative strategy. They argue that bipartisanship is the only way forward, making it difficult for the Democratic party to take the initiative against Republican opposition. There is perhaps no stateman more symbolic of this position than Joe Manchin. 

Manchin is the Senator for West Virginia and was the 34th Governor of the state. He's been described by The Atlantic's Clare Foran as "the most conservative and Trump-friendly Democrat" in the Senate. During his career, Manchin voted with the Trump administration a little over half of the time. In other words, Manchin is a fish out of water.

Recently, Manchin has ensured an almost uniform backlash from within his party after publishing an Op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In this now infamous Op-ed, Manchin argues that: "...that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy..." 

Aside from the misrepresentation of the act or the undue faith in Republican-appointed judges' respect for the Civil Rights Act, Manchin has set himself up for infamy, both in the present and in history. By opposing the For the People's Act, Manchin has put himself in direct opposition to the Democratic Party and put himself against the people's will. 

What matters now is how that Manchin is facing a simple but all-concerning question: Where does he go from here? Manchin's path is far from certain. Though he has remained steadfast in his opposition to abolishing the filibuster, his recent decision has set a new tone for his political future. 

Some have turned to call him a 'DINO' or 'Democrat in Name Only.' Others, however, have seen an opportunity to advance their partisan agenda. Once a former advisor and ally to Trump, Steve Bannon has proposed that a 'major effort' could convince Manchin to switch parties on his podcast, The War Room. While largely symbolic, the fact that Bannon finds any comfort in Manchin's politics speaks volumes. 

Still, it is unlikely that Manchin will switch parties. Switching partisan allegiances would undermine his reputation and render his word worthless. It is one thing to be a conservative Democrat. It is another to flip from Democrat to Republican just because it is convenient. Joe Manchin is not Strom Thurmond.

He is, however, a man under pressure. Though Manchin has won re-election multiple times throughout his career as a senator, his recent election shows that his grip on power is slipping. In a state that voted for Donald Trump by 69 percent in 2020, Manchin is increasingly facing pressure to get with the political position of his base. West Virginia has been shifting to the right for years, which is sure to pressure Manchin. And that pressure is not going to go away in 2024. 

Despite Manchin's strong opposition to abolishing the filibuster and refusing to vote in favor of the For the People Act, Manchin is not a man in power. His electoral chances in 2024 are slim, considering he barely managed to hold onto his seat in 2019, with only 49.5 percent of the vote. In other words, Manchin has a choice to make.

He could oppose the Democratic position on the filibuster and other proposals even though his prospects for an additional term are faltering, or he could change course. So far, he is still willing to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, giving some hope to Democrats and voting rights advocates. But as his support continues to decline in West Virginia, that does not seem likely. What is more likely, and appears to be unfolding as I write, is that Manchin will strive to maintain the bipartisan fantasy he's sought so firmly at the detriment of his party. 

Whatever the case, Manchin's future will be an interesting thing to watch.