Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was in New Hampshire on Monday, where Republican presidential wannabes are testing out their stump speeches and likability ratings. So why is Manchin—the sentient lump of coal, killer of desperately needed policies, and lawmaker who hasn’t said whether he’s running for reelection next year—cavorting around the state that holds the first presidential primary? Because he’s thinking of running for president himself, he told NBC News—on a third-party ticket that could hand the election to a Republican. When asked about the prospect that he’d run, Manchin said he was “not taking anything off the table.”
During his Granite State visit, Manchin spoke at an event in Manchester hosted by the centrist group No Labels billed as a “Common Sense Town Hall” alongside former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), achieving No Labels’ moderate wet dream. According to Reuters, Manchin said at the town hall that Republicans have “gone too far right” and Democrats have become “too far left,” and that neither party’s candidate would tack toward the center “unless they’re threatened.”
But if Manchin and Huntsman actually were to campaign together, it would be a dangerous prospect. Strategists argue that the combination of multiple third-party bids and weak support for Hillary Clinton is why Donald Trump won in 2016. That year, 6 percent of voters chose third-party or write-in candidates; in 2020, that number fell to 2 percent, and Joe Biden defeated Trump. According to an NBC News exit poll, most of those who voted third-party in 2016 voted Biden in 2020.
No Labels claims it’s only going to run a ticket if Biden and Trump are the nominees; the group is set to hold a convention in April 2024 where it would announce its ticket. But other moderate groups, including Third Way, have been organizing against the move because they fear it will result in Trump winning another term.
“Nobody at No Labels that I’ve ever spoken to would ever be a spoiler,” Manchin said. “There is no spoiling going [on] here to give an advantage to one side or the other. We’re hoping both sides come to their sensible middle.”
No Labels Founder and CEO Nancy Jacobson told NBC News, “We will not spoil for either side. The only reason to do this is to win.” But she “repeatedly declined” to outline the metrics the group would use to decide to abandon a third-party bid. Former senator and current No Labels co-chair Joe Lieberman also swore up and down to The Atlantic that their third-party ticket wouldn’t hand the election to Trump.
At the moment, No Labels is working to get its “party” on ballots in all 50 states, an effort it says costs $70 million. Jacobson, however, told NBC that the group wouldn’t disclose its donors. “There’s nothing nefarious going on here,” she said. Guess we’ll have to take her word for it.
If these people really wanted to help give Americans more of a choice than the current two-party system, they could advocate for abolishing the Electoral College so presidents are actually chosen by popular vote. (There’s already an effort to do this called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact!) However, it’s very revealing that people like Lieberman would rather spend tens of millions in dark money to prop up lawmakers who will limit progress at every turn, rather than let Americans have true democracy.
If Manchin runs for reelection to the Senate, he faces a very tough opponent in current West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R). Manchin has appeared to adore the fawning attention he’s gotten from the media and his Senate colleagues in recent years, as lawmakers of both parties try to cajole him into being their tie-breaking vote, so it seems depressingly in character that he might launch a vanity bid for president just to avoid losing a Senate race. Seems like his head is far too up his own ass for him to recognize that this would almost certainly hand the election to Trump—that, or he just doesn’t care.