In writing that column with such unequivocal language as “I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Manchin may have crossed a Rubicon. He has made it clear that his vote is no longer in play for the Democrats and in doing so gave up quite a bit of his negotiating power within the party.
An additional benefit for Manchin if he changes parties presumably would be that he could ask Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for whatever committee assignments he wants or even a leadership position in the Senate Republican caucus. McConnell could also pave the way to Manchin’s reelection by doing whatever he can both to keep strong candidates from running a primary challenge against Manchin and making sure that Manchin is well funded in his bid for reelection.
If he is, Manchin should choose a better course and announce that he will not seek reelection when his term ends.
That will enable him to show that he’s not just another politician willing to damage American democracy in the name of personal ambition. It will empower him to support the broader Biden agenda, and the larger cause of American democracy, without fearing that West Virginian voters will reject him at the polls. And it should allow him to enjoy a post-Senate career that would include lucrative consultancies and the status of a respected elder statesperson of American politics.
Manchin’s unequivocal opinion piece may make it harder for him to take this step. But politicians frequently go back on their promises, and Manchin could still find a way to show the kind of courage that remains so rare in politics. He can still walk back the words he wrote in Sunday’s column and cast his lot with democracy and what is good for the country. That might cost him reelection, but it will ensure his place in history as a respected patriot, even if he is no longer a senator. And it will be the best thing for America.