West Virginia senator Joe Manchin unsurprisingly sees no particular reason to identify himself with the national Democratic Party while representing a state Donald Trump won with 68 percent of the vote in 2016 (the highest percentage in the country). But he’s administered two consecutive kicks in the teeth to the Donkey Party in recent weeks. Last Friday, Manchin acknowledged he’s thinking seriously about running for governor in 2020, which if he’s successful would very likely hand his Senate seat to the GOP. And now he has endorsed the 2020 reelection bid of his Republican colleague from Maine, Susan Collins. And it wasn’t just a pro forma endorsement, either, as Politico reports:
“I would go up and campaign for Susan Collins. If she wanted me to, I would campaign for Susan Collins. For America to lose somebody like Susan Collins would an absolutely shame. I feel that strongly about her,” Manchin said on Thursday.
Democrats desperately want to knock off Collins next year. She is one of just two Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020 who represents a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (the other is Colorado’s Cory Gardner). And she damaged her traditional bipartisan base of support back home when she supplied the crucial vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court despite her alleged pro-choice convictions. The backlash was strong enough to create a crowdsourced fund for a Collins challenger, which currently holds over $3.7 million (real money in Maine). Democrats haven’t identified a consensus challenger yet (one possibility, Obama national security adviser and ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, took herself out of consideration this week), but the odds are high this will be a close race.
With Democrats already suffering from a 53–47 deficit in the Senate, and Alabama Democrat Doug Jones being considered a likely casualty of Trump coattails in his state, a Democratic takeover of the Senate is beginning to look like an uphill fight, which is bad news for progressives no matter who wins the presidency. By potentially delivering one more Senate seat to the opposition, and helping them hold another, Joe Manchin is beginning to look like Mitch McConnell’s best friend. Whatever else it represents, it shows that Manchin has no interest in the national influence of the party under whose banner he has been running for office for 36 years. My colleague Sarah Jones is right: West Virginia Democrats need another strategy for regaining their mojo than continuing to depend on this extremely unreliable man.