I’ve spent the last several months trying to settle on a straightforward explanation for why Joe Manchin decided to attack, denude and ultimately destroy the centerpiece of President Biden’s domestic agenda on the cusp of what already looks to be a brutal midterm season for the Democrats.
Manchin loves his coal, sure, so the clean energy provisions at the core of the Build Back Better Act (BBB) were poison to his own personal fortune. He’s a Democrat from a bright red state, and so must cleave at least somewhat to the economic fictions that sustain the right. Given the large chunk of hell he’s carved out for himself, however, these hardly seem like enough to justify the mayhem he has unleashed within his own party.
…and then it hit me in the middle of the night like an arcing splash of ice water dropped on my bed. I sat bolt upright in the gibbering dark and announced to the startled cat coiled at my feet: “My God! He’s running for president!”
Bollocks, you say? Stuff and nonsense? I thought so, too, at first, like I’d had a dream about being attacked by a bear that had hatched from an owl’s egg in the pinwheeling core of a laundry dryer set on high, claws and fangs and socks, o my! Once the thought had settled down for a spell, though, it seemed at least as good an explanation as any.
Put yourself in Manchin’s shoes. Your own seat is secure until 2024, so there is no need to run for anything next year. Over the long process of murdering the BBB Act, you raked in millions in campaign “donations” from the energy lobby and other right-leaning interests, which means you’re flush enough to fund a national campaign.
The immediate concern is party affiliation. You’ve just Superman-punched a Democratic president’s great big liberal bill, making you the darling Democrat of the right, but you won’t win a Democratic primary running as the most hated man in the party. The solution: Switch party affiliation to Independent, but continue to caucus with the Democrats. This will keep the Senate under Democratic majority control until at least 2022, and opens up your potential field of voters to a broad swath of the populace.
As for your immediate competition? If Biden, your deeply unpopular presidential rival, chooses not to run, everyone else will, and that field will destroy itself as you stand back and watch. If by some miracle Trump decides not to run, he will still be directing traffic like a smashy child who likes to dent his Matchbox cars. Meanwhile, you waft above it all on your Independent cloud and appear for all the world to be the only adult in the room.
As for street cred? You’re a former Democratic governor and present Democratic senator of a seething red state, which means you can “reach across the aisle” to “get things done.” The word “bipartisan” still retains magical qualities for that segment of the population which pays scant attention to the actual doings of politics, so it will be your campaign watchword. You talk like Joe Everyman, despite your obscene coal wealth, and the fact that you killed the BBB Act means you know how to “make the tough decisions” for the betterment of the country.
As for that BBB Act? That’s your closing argument, if you’re him. Sometime in early January 2022, after the present bruises have eased, you will propose a new version of the act, priced under $2 trillion and featuring a number of the original bill’s most popular policy items — universal pre-K, an Obamacare expansion, billions to address climate change. Desperate to pass something, the Democrats will leap at the chance, and after Biden has signed it, you and you alone will be given credit for achieving a legislative impossibility.
The mainstream media will love you all day long for no better reason than your novelty: Here is an Independent with an actual chance of winning. With a few primary victories under your belt, you will be gifted by that same media the air of inevitability. If you lose, the worst that will happen is that you’ll split the vote on the right and all but guarantee Biden’s reelection. If you win, it’s hats over the windmill, the successful culmination of a very long game.
Bollocks, you say? Stuff and nonsense? I thought so, too, at first…