Yesterday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D?-WV) sat for an interview with a West Virginia-based radio host named Hoppy Kercheval. That sounds like a supporting character in a Dashiell Hammett book, but apparently he's a real person. And during that interview, the Senator said—yet again—that he is thinking about becoming an independent, just like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) did. "I'm thinking seriously," Manchin explained, "I have to have peace of mind, basically. The brand has become so bad. The D brand and R brand ... You've heard me say a million times, I am not a Washington Democrat."
There's no doubt that Manchin's political career is near its end. If he's reelected to the Senate, he would be 83 at the end of his next term. If he returns to the West Virginia governor's mansion (manchin?), he would be 81 on reaching the end of that term. And that's with his political identity falling more and more out of alignment with his home state. What it boils down to is that he needs to pull one last rabbit out of the hat in order to win one more election and then exit the political arena on his own terms.
Further, at this point, it seems to us that Manchin has largely shown his cards. If he was going to run for president as the "No Labels" candidate, there would be no need for all of this public gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. The only point to his regular public dithering about whether or not he is really a Democrat anymore is to give West Virginia voters the strong impression that, well, he's not really a Democrat anymore. It's either a built-in apology for the (D) next to his name on the ballot, or it's laying the groundwork for the "I've decided that I'm now an independent" press conference.
Of those two options, it's considerably more likely that it will be the latter. Manchin has spent too much time trashing the Democratic Party, in terms that are far too clear, for him to run for reelection as a member of Team Blue. It is probable that the public performances will continue for another few months, until it's too late for any sort of meaningful primary campaign by an actual Democrat. Then, Manchin will execute the Sinema Maneuver and announce that he's decided to become an independent. His regular performances of the "The Ballad of Joe the Independent" will make it look like a tough, heartfelt decision, as opposed to the opportunism it really is.
If this is the plan, then it makes much more sense if Manchin is aiming to keep his U.S. Senate seat. If his Republican opponent is Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), Manchin can say: "I embrace the commonsense ideas of both parties, as opposed to my opponent, who is beholden to far-right elements that want to shut down the government, stage fake impeachments, and otherwise run the government into the ground." And if his opponent is (term-limited) Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV), Manchin can say: "I'm a true independent, as opposed to my opponent, who changes political parties like some people change their underwear."
And speaking of Sinema, we still don't get what she's playing at. There is no way that her switch from Democrat to independent made her more electable, because she represents a very purple state that is trending blueward. Manchin, of course, represents a very red state that is trending even further redward. "Independent" makes a heck of a lot more sense for him than for her. And as far as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) & Co. are concerned, they're happy with whatever it takes to hold on to that seat. They know full well that Manchin will continue to caucus with them, since he's still far more a Democrat than he is a Republican. For example, he has approved all the judges Joe Biden has nominated and has always been a strong supporter of the coal miners union. (Z)