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Joe Manchin is a bona fide centrist. Deal with it

His job is to represent his constituents in West Virginia, not socialists in Queens and Seattle

Joe Manchin is the kind of senator Joe Biden wouldn’t have had a problem with, once upon a time, Winston writes.
Joe Manchin is the kind of senator Joe Biden wouldn’t have had a problem with, once upon a time, Winston writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Joe Manchin is a bona fide centrist, a political animal nearing extinction in the Democratic Party, whose home state of West Virginia gave Donald Trump his second-highest winning percentage last fall, with 69 percent of the vote. 

Manchin is a traditional Democrat, not a bomb thrower. He seeks out compromise to move the country forward and, unlike many of his fellow Democrats, uses reason and rationality to argue for his positions on issues, not race or moral shaming.

His views are probably closer to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton than the progressive wing of today’s Democratic Party, which, in this political climate, would probably not have nominated either one of them for the presidency.

Manchin’s the kind of senator that presidential candidate Joe Biden and, once upon a time, Sen. Joe Biden wouldn’t have had a problem with. But, apparently, newly minted progressive President Joe Biden does, and so do many in the party he leads.

Manchin’s decision to support maintaining the filibuster, along with Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, as well as his opposition to Democrats’ attempt to nationalize elections with their For the People Act, has brought him harsh attacks and personal denunciations from progressives and their allies who live under the impression that the last election gave them a mandate to upend the Constitution and radically remake the country.

Here’s a small sampling.

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman said Manchin is “upholding a system of white supremacy through wealth inequality through people like the Koch Brothers” and “is beholden to the wealthy elite overall, who have control of our democracy.”

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin weighed in on how Manchin’s political legacy will be determined. “He either will be known as the man who defended democracy in its darkest hour, or the man who helped Republicans subvert our democracy.” No hyperbole here. 

New York Rep. Mondaire Jones attacked Manchin for his recent op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that explained why he wouldn’t vote for the For the People Act. Jones said the piece “might as well be titled, ‘Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow,’” calling it “intellectually unserious and cynical.”

Even Biden himself, last week, threw shade at Manchin and Sinema, excusing his slow-moving legislative agenda by pointing to their voting “more with my Republican friends.”

Meanwhile, an anti-Manchin and anti-Sinema political PAC has formed to defeat them in their prospective 2024 primaries and another is running an ad campaign to pressure Democratic senators to abolish the filibuster, with ads running in West Virginia. Liberal activists have also threatened a protest at Manchin’s home next week, calling it a “Moral March on Manchin.”

The better representative

But, in reality, who better reflects the views of the American people — progressives and a president pushing a far-left agenda or middle-of-the-road Joe Manchin? Who better represents the views and values of voters outside New York and California, especially in West Virginia?

In our April 7-11 Winning the Issues survey, we tested Senate Democrats’ current rationale for eliminating the filibuster with a Senate Republican argument using Biden’s words from his 2005 speech opposing ending the filibuster.

Voters were given two choices and asked, “Who do you agree with more?”

Democratic message: “Republicans are using the filibuster to stall the agenda of President Biden and that use of the filibuster is racist. We should eliminate the use of the filibuster.”

Republican message: “As President Biden once said when he was in the Senate, eliminating the filibuster is not only a bad idea, it upsets the constitutional design and disservices the country. Senate rules should not be changed no matter which party is in power.”

Overall, voters agreed with the Republican argument over the Democratic one, 44 percent to 31 percent. Not surprisingly, Republicans agreed with the Republican message, 68 percent to 16 percent. Independents tended to agree with Senate Republicans over Senate Democrats, 37 percent to 23 percent, especially conservative independents, 67 percent to 11 percent. It’s worth noting that less than a quarter of independents, 23 percent, actually supported the argument to end the filibuster.

Manchin’s centrist view on maintaining the filibuster was reinforced by the significant difference in the reaction to the two arguments by liberal Democrats and moderate Democrats. Liberals backed the Democratic rationale over the GOP one, 58 percent to 25 percent; but moderates supported it by a much lower margin, 44 percent to 23 percent.

When progressives claim a mandate for change, they ignore the fact that just barely a majority of Democrats, 51 percent, agree with their own party about the rationale for eliminating the filibuster. Voters with college degrees or postgraduate degrees agreed with the Senate Republican argument over the Democratic one by an 8-point margin, 43 percent to 35 percent.

This means that as Democrats clamor to eliminate the filibuster and Republicans use their own arguments against them to defend it, Democrats may be alienating large portions of the electorate.

Beyond the filibuster

But progressives are under water with voters on more than the filibuster.  In a May 22-25 Fox News Poll, 47 percent of voters said the Biden administration was proposing too much of an increase in government spending, while only 33 percent said it was the right amount.

When it comes to the Democrats’ elections overhaul legislation, voters are not on board. According to a March 27-30 Economist/YouGov survey, Americans favored sending absentee ballots only to those who request them by a 59 percent to 24 percent margin. They also backed requiring a photo ID for in-person voting, 64 percent to 22 percent. Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act is nothing more than a reflection of what a majority of Americans want. 

What Manchin’s critics forget is that his job is to represent the views of his constituents, not progressives in Queens or socialists in San Francisco and Seattle.  While Republicans may not agree with his views on many issues, he appears to be a man of conscience trying to do what he believes is right for West Virginia and the country.

In his op-ed in the Gazette-Mail, Manchin wrote: “Yes, this process can be frustrating and slow. It will force compromises that are not always ideal. But consider the alternative. Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?”

He’s asking exactly the right question.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as an election analyst for CBS News.

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