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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Political predictions are always dicey. But, at FiveThirtyEight Geoffrey Skelley reports, “Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters Wednesday that suggestions he would leave the Democratic Party were “bullshit” with a “capital B.” He’d previously told Democratic leaders that he’d consider becoming an independent if they felt it would help them explain to the public why the party was having such a hard time coming to an agreement on its social spending plans, but he denied that he’d made threats about leaving the party….if Manchin did switch parties, it would, more likely than not, mean an immediate loss of clout for him in Congress, which is perhaps the biggest reason Manchin is likely to stay put….For starters, party switches are actually rare. Since 1951, just 34 sitting members of Congress have switched parties (four did so twice, for a total of 38 switches). And as the table below shows, most members who switched parties still ran for reelection or another office after changing their partisan stripes….Electoral calculations seem to have guided many of these members’ decisions to change parties, too. In his study of party switchers, political scientist Antoine Yoshinaka found that members were more likely to switch parties when they represented areas where their old party performed poorly — though they were most likely to switch if they intended on seeking a higher office in the future. However, troublingly for Manchin, Yoshinaka didn’t find that these switches necessarily paid off. In fact, he found party-switchers performed 4 to 9 percentage points worse in their next general election than non-switchers between 1952 and 2010. …And despite a blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections, Manchin won reelection by his slimmest margin yet — about 3 points. Moreover, running as a Republican isn’t really an option for Manchin. It’s true that he scores well among Republican voters in West Virginia — a Morning Consult poll recently found 44 percent approved of him — but he would undoubtedly have a challenging time winning a GOP primary, having voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in February.”

Skelley continues, “Granted, if Manchin were part of a 51-member Republican caucus, he would wield a similar amount of veto power. But outside of that, it’s unlikely he would be as influential as he is right now. He’d likely lose his post as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a politically advantageous position for a senator from a state deeply invested in the coal industry. And he’d also be unlikely to influence the trajectory of GOP legislation in the way he does as a longstanding member of the Democratic caucus….It’s possible Manchin could leave the Democratic Party while continuing to caucus with it and retain his chairmanship, but a public separation from his party would also strain relationships Manchin has spent years building. At home, for instance, Democratic activists might choose to work against Manchin by backing a more liberal challenger despite the difficulty such a candidate would have in winning. Meanwhile, in Washington, a switch could damage Manchin’s trustworthiness with his Senate colleagues and hinder future cooperation with them…..All this sounds like a much greater headache than using his current position to get more of what he wants. Moreover, when push comes to shove, leaving the party you’ve belonged to for years is simply very hard to do. Manchin has said that his stances on taxes and health care would make it difficult for him to join the GOP, and he’s pushed back on the idea of leaving the Democratic Party many times over the past few years….Long story short, Manchin could switch parties, but it’s unlikely that he will. And in the end, the main result of the party-switching storyline is yet another news clip of Manchin distancing himself from his party, which demonstrates his independence to voters in deep-red West Virginia.” In other words, at this political moment Manchin has a lot more leverage as a Democrat than he wold have as a Republican.

So, what does Sen. Manchin really want? In his article, “Manchin’s offer to Biden included universal pre-kindergarten and Obamacare expansion, but no child tax credit,” Phil Mattingly reports at CNN Politics that “Sen. Joe Manchin, just days before he called off negotiations with President Joe Biden, proposed a version of the Build Back Better plan centered on universal pre-kindergarten program, funded for a full 10 years, as well as an expansion of the Affordable Care Act and hundreds of billions of dollars to address climate change, a person with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed to CNN….The proposal, which was viewed as a counter-offer in long-running negotiations on Biden’s proposal, did not include an extension of the expanded child tax credit, a central priority for Biden and Democrats. CNN reported last week Manchin had proposed leaving the tax credit, which Biden’s proposal extended for an additional year, out of a final deal due to concerns over overall cost and structure….CNN has reported that the West Virginia Democrat presented the White House with a roughly $1.8 trillion proposal during discussions last week. In addition to universal pre-K and the Obamacare subsidies, the proposal also included several hundred billion for climate change mitigation efforts, though the climate policy itself was scaled back from the House-passed version,, the person said.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “For both reasons, President Biden’s speech Tuesday on the fight against the coronavirus’s omicron variant was one of the most useful he has given for some time. It got both substantive and political work done….He explained how he is trying to get on top of the new wave of infections that threatens to steal Christmas. He reassured Americans that we could get through this bad patch without reimposing lockdowns, including school closings. And he was unusually direct about the political forces making the pandemic worse….For months, Washington news has been dominated by the frustrating legislative struggle for the president’s Build Back Better program. The effort hit a wall on Sunday with the savage — though not necessarily fatal — blow delivered by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). With Tuesday’s address, Biden reminded the country he had not forgotten his most urgent task and sought to salvage his standing as a virus-slayer….In June, a Washington Post/ABC News survey found 62 percent of Americans approved of his handling of the pandemic while only 31 percent disapproved. By early November, his rating on the health emergency had plummeted: 47 percent approved, 49 percent disapproved. A CNBC survey this month found a similar deficit….But an address chock-full of new actions taken to address omicron’s challenge — expanding coronavirus testing sites, distributing a half-billion free at-home tests, deploying more federal health resources to shore up strained hospitals, new “pop-up” vaccination facilities — tells the tired and the frustrated that, at the least, Biden is on the case….it’s becoming ever clearer that a precondition for Biden’s success — in general, and on social, climate and voting rights legislation, in particular — will be a restoration of his image as a low-drama chief executive who can conquer the pandemic and allow Americans to enjoy life free of fears driven by a mysterious disease….As he reaches out to whatever minority of Trump supporters are willing to listen, Biden might discover that taking an even more aggressive stance on the virus, including booster mandates and vaccine passports, is the best politics.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Candace on

    “As he reaches out to whatever minority of Trump supporters are willing to listen, Biden might discover that taking an even more aggressive stance on the virus, including booster mandates and vaccine passports, is the best politics.”

    Trump supporters are not fans of wearing masks much less vaccine mandates or passports.


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