When West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin declared that he would not seek re-election, the announcement sparked speculation about his political future. Rather than stepping back from the national stage, Manchin continued to hint at aspirations beyond the Senate, fueling rumors of a potential presidential run on the No Labels ticket, possibly alongside GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
Manchin, known for his bipartisan approach and centrist stance, has vowed to continue working towards bridging the partisan divide and addressing critical issues facing the nation. The No Labels movement, which promotes bipartisan problem-solving, could provide a platform for Manchin to pursue his vision of a more cooperative and united America.
Manchin’s resignation from the Senate creates concerns for Democrats regarding the party’s future in a politically polarized environment. The lightning rod Democrat frequently disagrees with the party’s more progressive members due to his unusual status as a moderate in a state that has historically supported conservatism.
A particular facet of Manchin’s legacy that has been the subject of criticism is his rapport with African Americans. Black voters are concerned about Manchin’s stances on significant issues, including his refusal to support strong voting rights measures introduced by Democrats in response to the GOP’s rampant voter suppression laws and tactics. Given the concerted efforts by Republicans to curtail voting rights, specifically in minority communities, Manchin’s position has engendered skepticism regarding his dedication to guaranteeing equitable ballot access.
“I hear over and over again that Manchin is in no peril because there are no African Americans here,” Rev. David Fryson said during a summer 2021 demonstration in West Virginia at Manchin’s office. Fryson compared Manchin’s 3.3-percentage-point reelection win in 2018 to the percentage of West Virginians who are Black, 3.6%. During that demonstration, which included Rev. William Barber III, Black West Virginians expressed feelings of being dismissed and written off by Manchin, a sentiment echoed by many African Americans nationwide.
Democratic supporters, particularly African American voters, have found it difficult to reconcile Manchin’s track record with their anticipations of substantial backing on matters pertaining to voting and civil rights. The distinction between Manchin’s stance and Republican endeavors to restrict voting rights adds layers of intricacy to his legacy. His earlier rebukes of former President Barack Obama, and his refusal to help a once-Democratic control Congress push legislation vital to communities of color may always be viewed as problematic.
With Manchin stepping down, Democrats’ chances of keeping the coal country seat and holding on to their slim Senate majority are greatly handicapped and provide almost a guarantee that West Virginia voters, who supported the twice-impeached and four-times indicted former President Donald Trump, will elect a Republican in 2024.
Together with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a former Democrat who became an independent after last year’s midterms, Manchin helped weaken Biden’s plans for higher social spending to help underserved communities. Further, During Trump’s presidency, Manchin was the only Democrat to vote in favor of confirming conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and one of three Democrats to back another conservative, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017.
If Manchin does run for president, his record and ability to appeal to a wider range of voters will be closely looked at over the next few months. With a Democrat and a Republican leading the No Labels ticket, it could be the start of a new age of working together across party lines, or it could show how hard it is to get things done politically right now.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia,” Manchin stated. “I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for re-election 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.”