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 coal, sure, but the Clean Energy Provisions at the Core of the Build Back Better Bill (BBB) were poison to his 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 might say? You mean 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! It seemed to be a plausible explanation once the thought had settled down for some time.
Put yourself in Manchin’s shoes. Your seat is already secure through 2024, so you don’t need to run 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 about 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. Switching to Independent party affiliation is the best option, but you can still caucus with Democrats. This will keep the Senate under Democratic majority rule until at least 2022. It also opens up your potential voters to a wider range of people.
What about your immediate competition? If you have a direct competitor, deeply unpopular presidential rivalIf Biden decides not to run for president, everyone else will. The field will collapse as you watch, while you sit back and observe. Trump will still be driving traffic like a child who loves to destroy his Matchbox cars, even if he decides not to run. You can still hover above it all from your Independent cloud, appearing to be the only adult present in the room.
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 who pays scant attention to the actual doings of politics, so that will be your 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.
What about the 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. The Democrats will jump at the chance to pass something. After Biden signs it, you will be the only person who will be credited for making it possible.
You will be loved by the mainstream media for your novelty. With a few victories in the primary, you will be able to give off an air of certainty from that same media. 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 might say? Stuff and nonsense? I thought so, too, at first…