Manchin in a Nutshell

The West Virginia Senator is the epicenter of contemporary American politics.

An ABC News report on Joe Manchin’s negotiations within the Democratic Party leads with this “aw shucks” observation that could read as a barely-disguised threat:

“I don’t know where in the hell I belong,” Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday when asked about possibly switching parties amid his stubborn bargaining with frustrated fellow Democrats and President Joe Biden.

Manchin said people approach him “every day” about doing so, and that it would be an easy decision. But he insisted he won’t, speaking out in a revealing interview with Economic Club for Growth Chairman David Rubenstein.

“Is that the purpose of being involved in public service? Because it’s easy?” Manchin asked. “Do you think by having a “D” or an “R” or an “I” is going to change who I am?” he said, adding he didn’t believe Republicans would be any more pleased with him than Democrats are right now.

But this nugget from later in the piece strikes me as more revealing:

He called being the only statewide Democratic public official in his home state “very lonely,” but said he understands why his constituents mostly vote for Republicans.

“My little state has never complained. We’ve done all the heavy lifting — we’ve done the mining, we’ve made the steel, we’ve done everything it took for this country to be a the superpower of the world,” Manchin said. “And all of a sudden they took a breath and looked back and we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we’re not green enough, we’re not smart enough, so to hell with you. So, they said, ‘Well, to hell with you, too.'”

Aside from vastly overstating West Virginia’s role in mining coal and producing steel—they’ve historically been pretty far down both lists—the sense of being downtrodden and despised is thick. Then again, it’s certainly true that they’ve been the target of federal regulation for unsafe practices. The state’s coal mining practices were notoriously the worst in the industry and they’re the site of the worst disaster in US coal mining history. Indeed, the Bureau of Mines was created in response to that disaster.

Regardless, this sense that the poorest, least productive, least educated parts of society are what makes it great combined with a resentment that it’s looked down upon explains a lot about the state of American politics.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, US Senate
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Good post, James

    3
  2. de stijl says:

    Resentment is a hell of a drug.

    On top of vanity. Vain glory.

    Is he a d-bag asshole too? Signs point to yes.

    Address my concerns or you can all fuck off and die is not a healthy mind set.

    10
  3. Ken_L says:

    “I don’t know where in the hell I belong”

    Not in the government of the United States, that’s for sure. Maybe in the minority, where he doesn’t have to be accountable for anything. That’s where he’s doing his best to end up in 15 months.

    I can’t recall anything Manchin says he is for. All he does is snarl that he can’t agree to one of his party’s platform items after another. He asks about the purpose of ‘public service’. Maybe he should have answered that to his own satisfaction before he started running for public office.

    9
  4. de stijl says:

    No well adapted pol is going to consent to the picture at the top of the post without thinking that through and deciding that it sends the “correct” message.

    You looking intensely down the barrell of a shotgun. It is both super lame and extremely spooky. You are a Senator.

    I read that photo as unstable and incendiary. Gun nut loco asshole.

    Given the number of political assassinations in our past and just the raw numbers of gun violence in the US vs. OECD averages I find Manchin’s choice to pose for that picture chilling.

    Plus he seemingly delights in holding the whole shebang hostage because he can. Fuck him.

    4
  5. de stijl says:

    I have absolutely no idea what is going on in Sinema’s mind.

    Manchin I can understand – he’s a vain contrarian.

    Why is she doing this? To what end? To what purpose?

    I have no goddamn idea. The number of D voters in AZ who think Sinema is on the right course are low single digits. She can be easily replaced. AZ is pretty purple and trending bluer. It will likely happen. That is an easy prediction.

    WV electing a different D Senator than Manchin is way harder. He knows it.

    2
  6. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl: It’s actually from a 2018 television ad. He didn’t just pose for a photo, he had this filmed and then paid to put it on statewide television.

    EDIT: It’s actually an update/reprise of an ad he ran in 2010 in his first run for the Senate.

    1
  7. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    American pols cosplaying with guns is one of the creepiest aspects of our modern day campaigning ad cycle.

    I absolutely reject it. It is profoundly disturbing. I hope they all rot in hell.

    Anyone with a smidge of historical knowledge would not do it ever. It is shocking that it has become normalized. The concept is deeply abhorrent.

    7
  8. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl: Yes. And these ads are rather scary. While they ostensibly just show him “standing up for West Virginia,” they definitely imply a threat of violence to those who stand in the way.

    1
  9. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: Personally, I’d be okay with all that cosplaying if he showed a smidgen of economic populism in one of the nation’s poorest states. That’s the part I find harder to understand: he consistently takes economic positions that aren’t popular among his constituents, who are pretty culturally conservative, but generally back expansions to the social safety net, if you bother to ask them. The logic of his self-branding seems based on a simplistic Democrat-Republican binary in which he’s vaguely defined as somewhere in the middle of wherever the two parties happen to be, while largely ignoring the particular issues that W. Virginians supposedly care about.

    3
  10. wr says:

    “Then again, it’s certainly true that they’ve been the target of federal regulation for unsafe practices.”

    And the genius of their system is that the regulation is intended to protect the workers from the crimes of the owners, and the owners managed to convince the workers that they are really the ones the government is going after.

    Granted, it takes a lot of stubbornness and sheer stupidity for any mine worker to believe a mine owner has his best interests at heart and all those safety regulations are really a trick by an oppressive government, but clearly the owners and WV politicians understand how to manipulate the marks.

    5
  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “I don’t know where in the hell I belong,” Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday

    In West Virginia or Hell, but I repeat myself.

    “My little state has never complained. We’ve done all the heavy lifting — we’ve done the mining, we’ve made the steel, we’ve done everything it took for this country to be a the superpower of the world,” Manchin said. “And all of a sudden they took a breath and looked back and we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we’re not green enough, we’re not smart enough, so to hell with you. So, they said, ‘Well, to hell with you, too.’”

    Wah. More grievance peddling. They have had all kinds of help offered to them over the years. The BBB has more in it that would benefit the citizens of WV. And who is standing in the way?

    4
  12. Kathy says:

    Manchin probably won’t change parties unless the 2022 election results in a 51-49 Senate in the Democrats’ favor (very unlikely).

    1
  13. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    Gun cosplay with US pols is never cool.

  14. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: I get where you’re coming from. I do. The gun culture in the US is fucked up, it’s cost the lives of numerous people and continues to make this country fundamentally unsafe. But Manchin doesn’t have the power to change that and continue to get elected in WV. He does, however, have the ability to forge out a culturally conservative but economically populist branding if he wanted. I suspect both his and Sinema’s positions are more a reflection of their donors (the d is silent) than it is about their constituents.

    5
  15. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    The ugly truth is that Manchin will never do that ever. Manchin wants to be the last sane Senator. A classic tragedy.

    And that the most likely replacement for Manchin will be an R with little doubt. Manchin knows that and exploits that. It is his leverage.

    Sinema is in purple AZ I just do not get. At all. You are eminently replaceable. You ran as a progressive.

    What exactly is her deal? I cannot grok it. It looks like forced failure. I don’t want to be here.

    Well, find a less shitty way to bow out, please.

    2
  16. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    Until someone nudges me off the idea I see Manchin as a vain contrarian.

    He sees himself as the last sane man.

    1
  17. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: What makes Sinema especially baffling is that she didn’t just run as a progressive (or did she? I wasn’t paying attention to her 2018 campaign, all I know is that from basically the moment she entered office she was voting as one of the most conservative Dems in the Senate–538 gave her the second-highest Trump-friendly voting score in the caucus, right behind Manchin, and well above even uber-red-state Dems like Doug Jones and Jon Tester), but she’s got a long history as one. She was a member of the Green Party, and there are quotes from her in the 2000s in which she criticizes Joe Lieberman as a DINO, who is in many ways the closest analogue to her now (though unlike her, Lieberman’s motives are pretty grokable if you’re familiar with his history).

    It’s something that heightens my long-time suspicions about the Green Party. It’s filled with some very bad-faith actors who talk progressive but make a habit of doing things that only strengthen the Republican Party. I wouldn’t even call it the horseshoe theory, since I totally don’t trust that these people have progressive interests at heart. They can’t all be useful idiots.

    The most charitable theory I can come up with it that she decided early on her only hope of getting elected in John McCain’s state was carving out a niche for herself as a centrist independent, and she’s been too stubborn to course-correct even as the state continues to trend blue.

    3
  18. Modulo Myself says:

    People fought and died to organize coal miners in WV. The Battle of Blair Mountain happened in Manchin’s state. It was considered heroic to kill Pinkertons. There’s something sad about this representation of rural white America as united or together, like everybody loves good old West Virgina and hates regulation and really hates those uppity leftists in their coastal cities.

    I can’t blame voters for going along with this. But most everything rural in America becoming the equivalent of the dumbest most closed-minded Mississippi town in 1961 in order to fight off liberalism and big government is just depressing. I don’t believe there’s any way to reach these people either. I used to think there was, but no longer.

    5
  19. becca says:

    Well, you can’t spell ANaCHroNIsM without Manchin.

    2
  20. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl:

    He sees himself as the last sane man.

    That’s the whole problem with the “professional centrist” class. There is no political faction more full of itself. It’s based in part on a logical fallacy, the notion that staking a position between two extremes automatically makes you more fair and objective. There is no way to get through to these people because you cannot reason with someone who has defined themselves as the most reasonable person in the room at the outset. And it almost guarantees you favorable coverage in the mainstream media, who love that sort of thing. A couple weeks ago Kingdaddy brought a quote from former NYT editor Arthur Sulzburger, who said that because of the criticisms they received from both the left and the right, “We must be doing our job just about right.”

    This is a ridiculous non sequitur (reality is not defined by some kind of Goldilocks middle position to everything), but it’s seductive because it allows people to shut their brains down while simultaneously thinking they’re smarter than everyone else.

    5
  21. Michael Cain says:

    Manchin reminds me a lot some of the members I met when I worked for the Colorado state legislature. Their view of the world, based on where they were from, was 20 or 30 years out of date. Heck, the area they represented was 20 or 30 years behind the times. For example, reading between the lines, Manchin doesn’t just want a WV that makes steel — he wants a WV that makes large quantities of basic low-carbon steel, and employs large numbers of blue-collar workers to do it. Down the road from me is a quite successful steel mill, making 150 different specialty steels, as many as 50 in any given month. There are more advanced-degree metallurgists and quality-control specialists there than blue-collar workers. Perhaps more important from a Manchin perspective, the basic steel that mill starts from is almost all recycled, not new.

    5
  22. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    When I was a relatively new voter my local alt weekly put out a pretty comprehensive voter guide.

    I plowed through all of it because I thought that what was a responsible voter should do. About a quarter of the way through I figured out that attitude counted for more than proposed solutions. Many proposed solutions are undoable and would wreak havoc.

    To be fair, most local candidates are fucking idiots barely able to maintain a through line.

    That was also the election I voted for the last judge I wanted to be elected – the judge I hated most because I bolixxed up the name in my brain when I was in the box. I ended up voting for the reactionary Republican white guy by mistake. (It was okay, he lost. But I really hated I’d fucked up that badly on name recognition. I went in with a voting plan damnit!)

    I was extremely obsessed with voting in a way that fit me perfectly.

    I learned that no one really does that. No one actually reads the voter guide. No one really pays much attention to policy proposals really. It is totemic.

    It is about feelings. One often votes solely on feelings.

    I stopped obsessing about the alt weekly voter guide so much next go round. I firmed up on who I thought deserved my vote and why.

    Developed a shorthand methodology for determining who got my vote.

    Saved me a lot of time.

    2
  23. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    It’s kind of a sophist take on bothsiderism.

    Me, I think they come across as Robot Santa on Futurama. Choice quote: “Let’s see who’s been naught and who’s been naughty. Mobsters beating up a shopkeeper for protection money: very naughty. Shop keeper not paying their protection money: exactly as naughty.”

    2
  24. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    To be brutally fair I discovered who I did not want anywhere near levers of power. Vote against them at all cost.

    To this day I mostly vote against someone rather than for someone.

    Sometimes if circumstances allow I get to pick. I like and relish those opportunities.

    1
  25. gVOR08 says:

    Oh FFS. Only @Kylopod: gets it. Why does the press, and us, expend so much ink on the psychology or ideology of pols and never talk about money? Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli explained politics, “Money money money money money money money money money” Have you noticed that other Ds continue to speak very respectfully of Manchin? They know they need his vote, and that they’ll eventually get it, but they’ll have to let him accommodate his carbon industry wealthy donors. Whatever else he is, he is, miraculously, a D from WV, and he’s stuck with a very difficult dance.

    3
  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod:

    It’s something that heightens my long-time suspicions about the Green Party.

    I saw someone comment that her failure to support action against AGW is less puzzling if you realize the Green Party isn’t about the environment, but about performative virtue signaling using the environment.

    I commented above that Manchin is explained by politics and money and it’s a waste of time to talk about his psychology or ideology. Sinema, on the other hand, comes off as a fruitcake. It does make sense to talk about her psychology, which Balloon Juice did yesterday, quoting a Twitter stream with the best explanation I’ve seen of Sinema.

    my unifying theory of kyrsten sinema is that she’s a particular type of very intelligent person who feels like their unconventional path to success was exclusively the rest of their own work, and who reacts very badly to even the mere suggestion that this might not be accurate.

    the democratic party (by it’s nature as a coalition party) doesn’t normally elevate people like this to this level, unless they get through in a fluke, and, welp. …
    this also kind of explains why she’s been so enthusiastic about meeting with lobbyists, who are singularly gifted at flattering people who are enraging and exhausting.

    this also kind of explains why she’s been so enthusiastic about meeting with lobbyists, who are singularly gifted at flattering people who are enraging and exhausting.

    also, you know, the money, and as a senator who was very poor by senator standards with heavy debts when she came into office, i think she may be more susceptible to it than most

    So maybe, in the end, it is the same explanation as Manchin, “Money money money money.
    Money money money money. Money money money.” Manchin strikes me as a very skilled pol trying to do the right thing and support his party without throwing away has job. I don’t think Sinema has sorted out what she’s trying to do.

    2
  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “Do you think by having a “D” or an “R” or an “I” is going to change who I am?”

    No. You’re a self-important twit and that doesn’t change.

    2
  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: My favorite guy from the last voters’ pamphlet I read was the guy who believed himself to be most qualified because he had no training or experience in the area of government he was running for (I believe it was insurance commissioner). As the answer to his lack of expertise, he was proposing that he would hire the current office holder as his deputy in charge of carrying out the mission of the office. Yow!

    (Yes, he was the Republican candidate. Why did you ask?)

    3
  29. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Local races can have many morons. Sometimes it is moron vs. moron. Hot moron-moron action.

    When I lived in Minneapolis the Green candidates often offered up really cool ideas and have just no idea how to implement it. It just made me sad.

    You have the core of a decent idea. Figure out how to try to accomplish it *before* running for office next time.

    Part of me wanted to vote for the Greens just on principle, but incoherent wishes are not prudent governance. I chose not to at the time.

    For local races I always go for the nerdy technocrat. Keep current services going. Improve them. Possibly institute new cool ones we can pay for.

  30. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    Sinema is in purple AZ I just do not get. At all. You are eminently replaceable. You ran as a progressive.

    What exactly is her deal? I cannot grok it. It looks like forced failure. I don’t want to be here.

    It looks like a way for a freshman senator to get noticed and have some leverage. In a Senate with a clear majority, she couldn’t do this. But with the current split, this gives her some power–and makes other senators pay attention to her.

    Now… whether she tries to leverage that as a reason to reelect her (“look at how much power I have in the Senate! They’ll respect Arizona!”) or as a reason to be hired by a high-end company or lobbying firm, is up in the air.

    1
  31. dazedandconfused says:

    We forget the targeted demographic of Great Society was poor rural whites at our peril. It’s a majority white country, with a structure that gives a great deal of the Senate to poor rural whites.

    This is key to what remains of the collective positive memory of Democrats in such places. It has been transformed in the imagination of the US public as a program for urban blacks, and is consequently under existential threat.

    Joe’s saying his constituents are dirt poor and getting poorer. How can he support something that he can’t sell, the making them poorer still? Whether or not Joe is aware of it this is a call for earmarks. Either keep those old industries going or give them something better. “Tough luck” isn’t going to cut it.

    3
  32. Lounsbury says:

    @dazedandconfused: Yes, and reading this from afar, the majority of the Left commentators reaction is virtually an illustration of the engagement failure.

    And indeed, it is not a path to political success but rather a path to having a 2016 repeat to not engage with the challenge (and engaging means not sneeringly dismiss Manichen et al).