Of all the Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin (D-WV) is probably the most Trump-friendly. He’s voted to confirm almost every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees and hails from a state that overwhelmingly went for Trump in November. At Trump’s joint address to Congress on Tuesday night, Manchin was among the few Democrats that stood up to applaud the president at times during his speech. Understandably, the very vocal progressive wing of the party is none too happy with Manchin; a number of groups are planning to petition Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to remove him from his leadership roles in the Senate.
That would be a very shortsighted move.
For one thing, 25 Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018. That number includes Manchin as well as other red state Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Of the eight seats Republicans have to defend, only Dean Heller’s (R-NV) is really vulnerable at this time. While midterm elections are historically bad for the incumbent party, especially if the incumbent president is extremely unpopular, the Senate map will likely mitigate potential Republican losses. If Democrats want any chance at taking back a majority in the Senate, they need to win as many seats as possible. Abandoning Manchin for being willing to compromise with Trump virtually guarantees a Republican will take his seat in 2018.
It’s also important not to underestimate the value of taking back the Senate. The majority party has control over committee assignments and chairmanships as well as which pieces of legislation can be heard. That has huge implications for slowing down Trump’s agenda. If you want an example of how much Senate control matters, look no further than the 114th Congress, during which a Republican-controlled Senate not only prevented Obama from putting Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court, but also refused to even hold hearings. If Democrats had control during that time, the Supreme Court would currently have nine sitting justices.
Additionally, turning on Manchin just proves that Democrats haven’t learned anything from the last election. Manchin represents the type of voter that spurned Hillary Clinton for Trump: white, working class, Rust Belt voters without college degrees. These voters used to support Democrats; indeed, West Virginia actually used to be a reliable blue state, voting for the Democratic presidential candidate in all but three elections from 1932 to 1996. But after a surprise victory by George W. Bush in the state in 2000, it’s been red ever since, and Clinton had zero chance of even competing in the state after threatening to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” If the party wants to compete in other blue-collar states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, it needs to adapt its strategy and be more willing to address the needs and concerns of these people. Otherwise, Democrats will continue to lose to Republicans in the Midwest.
I guess all of this raises the question, does the Democratic Party have room for people like Joe Manchin? As the party struggles to find its identity in the battle between economic populism and identity politics, we’ll soon find out.