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Sat, Jun

'Vain' Manchin Plots US Tour While Weighing Third-Party Run

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THIRD PARTY - Amid speculation that outgoing U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin may launch a third-party 2024 presidential run, the right-wing West Virginia Democrat known for battling his own party's agenda confirmed this week that he plans to start an extended trip around the country next month.

"I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for reelection to the United States Senate, but what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together," Manchin said in a video released last month.

Asked about that statement during The Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit on Tuesday, Manchin explained that "I start in January. I'll be two months on the road. And all we're trying to do is just mobilize people like myself who feel like they're homeless, politically homeless. I don't recognize the Democratic Party, and I have a D by my name."

"I have a lot of Republicans that don't recognize Republican Party, that have Rs by their name—so the Grand Old Party and I guess the Blue Dog Democrats, they're homeless, and I hear it every day," added the senator, who has thwarted fellow Democrats' legislative efforts to tackle the climate emergency and child poverty as well as expand abortion and voting rights.

Basav Sen at the Institute for Policy Studies took aim at the senator's climate record in a Wednesday opinion piece for The Hillwriting that "Manchin's career embodied the incredibly corrosive influence of fossil fuel money in politics" and his exit from the Senate "should spark a bigger conversation about the corruption that's become a defining feature of the U.S. political system."

As Sen detailed:

The outgoing lawmaker reportedly received more fossil fuel industry campaign money in the last cycle than any other federal legislator—and is himself a coal millionaire. Worse still, he leveraged his perch as the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to enact policies benefiting his corporate donors and himself.

Manchin was the architect of a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act requiring oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters as a condition for any renewable energy leasing. He championed provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act thatsubsidize risky, unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage and hydrogen energy, which greenwash continued fossil fuel production and use.

Perhaps his most infamous climate legacy is a deregulation bill known to the environmental justice movement as "Manchin's Dirty Deal." After three failed attempts to pass it by attaching it to must-pass government spending bills, Manchin finally managed to jam it into a bill averting a government default. 

Manchin on Tuesday declined to say whether he will challenge Democratic President Joe Biden, who is seeking reelection in 2024, and the GOP nominee—the leading contender is former President Donald Trump—but he did criticize the current top candidates.

"Donald Trump shook it up; he'll break it this time if he gets back in," Manchin said. "And Joe Biden needs to wake up," he added, arguing that "the administration has been pushed so far left" and the president needs to move back to the "center" to win.

Regarding 2024, Manchin also said that "I will not be a spoiler. I've never been a spoiler in anything. I get into something, I get in to win." In a recent Journal survey, he got just 3% support as a presidential candidate with No Labels, a group that wants to run a "unity ticket" next year. In response to the results, he quipped it was "probably a bad poll" and chuckled.

During the Tuesday event, Manchin also railed against regulations, celebrated his successful effort to kill Biden's Build Back Better legislation in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act, and praised No Labels, saying that "I'm very proud of what they're been doing, what they're trying to do, to give options."

At least one high-profile political figure has signaled support for a Manchin run: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The former Republican presidential nominee, who also isn't seeking reelection next year, was asked on television this past weekend if he would vote for Biden given his criticism of Trump. He  said that "the Joe I would like to vote for is Joe Manchin."

Democrats fearful of how a Manchin presidential campaign could impact Biden's odd next year "have good cause to worry," Ry Rivard, a West Virginia native who spent several years reporting on state politics, wroteSunday for Politico.

"A presidential run would be a fitting capstone for Manchin, who's built a career around putting his own interests ahead of his party," he asserted. "His brand of centrism has helped him survive West Virginia's rapid transformation from a blue to red state. But it also helped sow the seeds of the Democratic Party's demise back home."

Rivard wrote that Manchin's decision not to run for Senate again—against a former ally, Republican Gov. Jim Justice—was "no surprise," but he is also skeptical that the outgoing senator will actually run for president. He explained:

Manchin is hyper-competitive and hates to lose. He also knows how to read a poll: while Justice's complicated finances could generate some decent attack ads, he remains a formidable candidate. I couldn't imagine Manchin ending his public life with such a blow to his ego.

This makes it equally hard for me to imagine Manchin embarking on a long-shot, third-party presidential run, despite his suggestions otherwise. Seats on corporate boards, heading up an interest group, a Cabinet post, maybe. But not a presidential bid. It's not that he would hesitate to challenge a fellow Democrat—rather, losing an election might cost him whatever leverage he still has.

If Manchin did launch a No Labels-backed third-party run for president, "he would be remembered as the Democrat who ushered two Republicans into the governor's office in Charleston, and possibly a third into the White House," Rivard concluded. "But maybe that's the point."

(Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for CommonDreams.org where this story was first published.)