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Manchin’s Judges — and Democrats’ Judgment
If we build a Democratic Party with Joe Manchin’s focus and the GOP’s aggressive cross-party recruitment, perhaps 2022 won’t be so bad after all.
Democrats have been celebrating this Christmas season like the Constanzas, with an Airing of Grievances. However, the object of their scorn holds many lessons for Democrats: Joe Manchin is not only an “electoral miracle” but carries in his pocket an example of the type of focus Democrats lack, a prayer card with bullet points for the major legislative accomplishments that should have dominated the season.
The authoritarian GOP has proven that intimidation tactics work on their side of the aisle, but Manchin showed last weekend that there’s a reason to be far more gentle in our fragile big-tent. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell’s open wooing of Manchin demonstrates that today’s GOP is not only more ruthless but also more solicitous in recruiting, from elected officials to diverse working class voters.
The lessons abound — if we build a Democratic Party with Joe Manchin’s focus and the GOP’s aggressive cross-party recruitment, perhaps 2022 won’t be so bad after all.
More on that below, but first, a few things our team was reading this week:
Sunday Reading in the Big Tent
Must read: Joe Biden got off to a strong start, but the second half of his inaugural year was full of unforced errors. John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira in The Liberal Patriot’s 2021 Year in Review.
Politics is about making things better, not speaking truth to power. Jonathan Chait argues that Biden should take Manchin’s deal right now.
The precepts of political science can help explain party outliers like Joe Manchin. Sarah Binder on why Joe Manchin is such a thorn in the Democratic Party’s side.
Manchin’s Prayer Card
Joe Manchin would be the first to tell you about all of the things the Democrats have done in the inaugural year of Biden’s presidency, literally. He carries a list of these accomplishments with him wherever he goes on Capitol Hill — and he thinks his Democratic colleagues don’t talk about them nearly enough:
If there’s one thing the West Virginia senator tries to make perfectly clear, it’s that he’s focused — even if many of his Democratic colleagues aren’t.
An Electoral Miracle
While the popular press has framed Manchin as an outlier in today’s Democratic Party due to his politics, it is mostly because of the party’s electoral failures — if there were ten more Senators in the Democratic caucus, Manchin would have a lot more company in the middle. As Matt Yglesias wrote this fall of those times before the other moderates lost, “you only need to go back to President Barack Obama to find a time when Manchin’s view was the dominant current of Democratic thought.”
Yet Manchin’s moderation has been the subject of frequent contempt by most in the Democratic left, and increasingly in the mainstream mainstream — many of whom appear to forget just how much of an electoral miracle the West Virginia Democrat truly is. This summer, our co-founder Lauren Harper argued in NBC News that it would be a serious mistake for the party to attack Manchin:
In vitriolic response to Manchin’s “Fox News Sunday” appearance, the Twitterverse has been brimming with everything from preposterous assertions that the West Virginia Democrat is, in fact, a Republican to nonsensical insinuations that he has done more than Mitch McConnell to blow up Biden’s agenda. These extreme and dishonest characterizations come either from a place of ignorance, malevolence, or both.
For a prime example of the incredible value the maligned moderate provides to their party, Democrats should look no further than Joe Biden’s 40 judicial appointments — all of whom Manchin has voted to confirm.
As Seung Min Kim and Ann Marimow recently explained in the Post:
President Biden has muscled through the highest number of federal judges in the first year of a presidency in four decades, rapidly filling vacancies at a clip that outpaces his predecessor with judicial picks from a diverse range of racial, gender and professional backgrounds.
Thanks to Manchin, the Biden administration has already appointed more judges at this point in its tenure than any presidential administration in recent history. Not only are these appointments significantly more diverse in background than those of prior administrations, but they also provide a critical opportunity for the Democrats to shift the balance of power away from Donald Trump’s disproportionately white, male, and conservative judicial picks.
Those in the party who remain ungrateful to Manchin should also revisit his:
Enthusiastic vote for the President’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan
Oh and he gave Biden an offer to spend $1.75 Trillion on “pre-k, climate, and Obamacare”. That’s $1,750,000,000,000 for Democratic priorities.
To put it mildly, the differences between Manchin and MAGA are stark. Mitch McConnell couldn’t be more off-base when he argues that Manchin would fit in better with the GOP than with the Democrats, but that has not stopped him from getting away with doing so. At a time when Democrats should be doing everything they can to convert the handful of remaining pro-democracy Republicans (such as those who voted for Trump’s impeachment), it is both striking and problematic that the obstructionist in chief and his ever-more-authoritarian cabal are leading the charge on cross-partisan recruitment.
The Democrats desperately need a big-tent, pro-democracy faction capable of appealing to cross-partisan coalitions of voters in swing districts across the country — and there’s no better place to start than with those elected officials on the center-right who clearly feel alienated from today’s radicalized GOP. Fostering such a faction requires that the party and its leadership make it crystal clear that they welcome and encourage a diversity of voices and perspectives, and that begins with Manchin. While the West Virginia senator won’t support everything that his colleagues to the left propose, they should be receptive to and grateful for everything that he is willing to get behind. After all, they’re lucky to have him.
Political intimidation works for the authoritarian right, but it doesn’t for the far-left.
As we wrote earlier this fall in The Bulwark, Democrats should be responding with empathy and aggressive recruitment to the growing spectre of political intimidation on the right. When the far-right has chosen to engage in threats of physical intimidation against members of the GOP, the Trump wing has largely been rewarded with retracted critiques and retirements.
As The Spectator World observed back in October, this kind of intimidation — physical and psychological — doesn’t work on Joe Manchin. When the far-left tried to pressure Manchin (he told the White House his family had “been the target of abuse”), they simply tore at the seams of an already-fragile big tent.
Are all of the Democrats on the far-left now?
It sure felt that way this week.
The media has been chock full of Manchin criticism, with relatively little in the way of alternative perspectives or pathways forward beyond the current apparent intra-party stalemate (Jonathan Chait, Matt Yglesias, and Ezra Klein are a few notable exceptions). So, too, was the chatter critical and despairing in blue circles on Capitol Hill — even from fellow moderate Democrats.
The disproportionate one-sidedness of this week’s conversation seems to suggest that the kind of self-righteous, pie-in-the-sky thinking that animates the online left is increasingly seeping into and molding how a substantial segment of the Democratic mainstream thinks — across the party’s leadership, base, and media allies. In many ways, it’s a mirroring of the same kind of far-left groupthink that gripped the candidates during the 2020 party primary debates. Remember when Elizabeth Warren raked John Delaney over the coals (to thundering applause) for his suggestion that Democrats are best served by running on “real solutions, not impossible promises”?
Warren’s leftist nihilism — “I don’t understand why someone goes to all the trouble of running for President of the United States just to talk about what we can’t do” — eloquently forecast Democrats’ 2022 predicament, where the left can plainly state not only disinterest in reality, but disdain for it.
Democrats from deep-blue strongholds must remember that many of the policies and assumptions they take for granted are, in fact, controversial or downright unpopular with large and critical constituencies across the country.
That the party has lost its focus and allowed this moment to be construed as “Manchin vs. the Democrats” instead of “big-tent Democrats vs. the increasingly authoritarian GOP” is telling of its approach to this perilous moment. Instead of Mitch McConnell trying to recruit moderate Democrats to his team, it’s time for Democrats to roll up their sleeves and start working over moderate Republicans — and their constituents.