Could Manchin Actually Leave The Democratic Party?

Senator Joe Manchin told reporters on Wednesday that Suggestions that he would leave the Democratic Party became “Bullshit” with an “uppercase B”. He had before said the democratic leaders the he would consider becoming independent when they felt it would help them explain to the public why the party was having such a hard time agreeing on their social spending plans, but he denied he threatened to quit the party.

But what if Manchin did leave the Democratic Party?

Manchin’s exit would undoubtedly upset the status quo – Democrats control the Senate only because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie – and it could even put Republicans in control if Manchin meets with them. But considering that Manchin is often at odds with his party, it’s not such a wild idea that he could leave the Democrats and run for an independent in deep red West Virginia. After all, the change could make sense for him in terms of electoral policy if he decides to run again in 2024. But at the same time, a change of parties for Manchin would most likely mean an immediate loss of clout for him in Congress, which is perhaps the main reason Manchin is likely to stay.

For a start, party switches are actually rare. Since 1951, only 34 incumbent members of Congress have changed parties (four did so twice, for a total of 38). And, as the table below shows, most members who changed sides were still running for re-election or other office after changing their party strips.

Few senators or representatives have turned parties

Seated Congressmen who switched parties since 1951

Run again? *
member state chamber Party counter Change year Ran Won
Wayne Morse OR senate R to I 1952
OR senate me to D 1955
Vincent Dellay NJ House R to D 1958
Strom Thurmond SC senate D to R 1964
Albert Watson ** SC House D to R 1965
Harry Byrd Jr. will senate D to I 1970
Ogden Reid NEW House R to D 1972
Don Riegle ME House R to D 1973
John Jarman OK House D to R 1975
Bob Stump THE House D to R 1981
Eugene Atkinson PA House D to R 1981
Phil Gram ** TX House D to R 1983
Andy Ireland FL House D to R 1984
Bill Grant FL House D to R 1989
Tommy Robinson WITH House D to R 1989
Richard Shelby AL senate D to R 1994
Ben N. Campbell CO senate D to R 1995
Nathan offer GA House D to R 1995
Greg Laughlin TX House D to R 1995
Billy Tauzin THE House D to R 1995
Mike Parker MRS House D to R 1995
Jimmy Hayes THE House D to R 1995
Bob Smith NH senate R to I 1999
NH senate I to R 1999
Michael Forbes NEW House R to D 1999
Virgil Goode will House D to I 2000
Matthew Martinez † THE House D to R 2000
Jim Jeffords VT senate R to I 2001
Virgil Goode will House I to R 2002
Ralph Hall TX House D to R 2004
Rodney Alexander THE House D to R 2004
Joe Liebermann CT senate D to I 2006
Arlen Specter PA senate R to D 2009
Parker Griffith AL House D to R 2009
Justin Amash ME House R to I 2019
ME House I to L 2020
Jeff Van Drew NJ House D to R 2020
Paul Mitchell † ME House R to I 2020

The diagram shows members who changed parties during the Congress. Excluded are members who changed parties during their tenure but later returned to Congress, as well as members who were elected under a different party label but immediately joined or re-joined one of the two major parties in Congress.

* Including members who have applied for re-election or for new offices.

** Watson and Gramm resigned from their seats and won the following special elections under the banner of their new party to fill their own vacancy in the same Congress.

† Martinez and Mitchell switched parties after leaving Congress. Martinez became Republican after losing his Democratic primary, while Mitchell didn’t seek re-election and left the GOP three weeks before the start of the next Congress.


Election calculations also seem to have led many of these members to change parties. In his Study of party changers, political scientist Antoine Yoshinaka found that members are more likely to switch parties if they represent areas where their old party does poorly – although they are most likely to switch when they seek higher office in the future. For Manchin, however, Yoshinaka did not find that these changes necessarily paid off. In fact, he found that party changers scored 4 to 9 percentage points worse in her next general election as a non-changer between 1952 and 2010.

However, Manchin might be better off leaving the Democratic Party and running as an independent candidate. It will be very difficult for Manchin to win otherwise. Only Wyoming has voted more Republicans than West Virginia In the 2020 presidential election. And despite a blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections, Manchin has Re-election won with its narrowest lead so far – about 3 points. Furthermore, running for Republican is not an option for Manchin. It’s true that he does well with Republican voters in West Virginia – a Consult survey in the morning recently found that 44 percent of him were approved – but he would undoubtedly have a challenge winning a GOP primary if Voted for the impeachment of former President Donald Trump in February.

So there is clearly an incentive for Manchin to run for an independent as he would avoid running in a GOP primary while shedding the Democratic Party’s national label that has become toxic to many West Virginians. But this formula is not a guarantee of success as it could easily be upset if a more liberal Democrat runs for Democratic standard-bearer and gets a decent portion of the Democratic vote, which is likely to secure a GOP victory.

While one can argue fairly convincingly in the election why Manchin should consider changing party, it is highly likely that it will stay where it has the tremendous leverage it has. He can essentially Veto any proposal with which he does not agree while he is also working within his party to adapt the legislation to better reflect what he wants. And because the Democrats are in full control of the government, he is more likely to pass laws that are convenient for him.

Granted, if Manchin were part of a 51-member Republican faction, he would have a similar veto power. But other than that, it’s unlikely that he would be as influential as he is now. He would likely lose his post as a Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a politically advantageous position for a senator from one state invested heavily in the coal industry. And it is also unlikely to affect the development of GOP legislation in the way he does as a longtime member of the Democratic Group.

It is possible for Manchin to leave the Democratic Party while continuing to work with it and retain his chairmanship, but a public separation from his party would also strain the relationships Manchin has built for years. At home, for example, democratic activists might choose to work against Manchin by supporting a more liberal challenger, despite the difficulties such a candidate would have in winning. In Washington, meanwhile, a move could damage Manchin’s trustworthiness vis-à-vis its Senate colleagues and hinder future cooperation with them.

All of this sounds like a much bigger headache than using your current position to get more of what you want. Plus, when the going gets tough, it’s very hard to leave the party you’ve been a part of for years. Manchin has said that his stance on taxes and health care would make it difficult for him to join the GOP, and he is Repulsed At the idea from Resignation from the Democratic Party several times in the last few years.

Long story short, Manchin could switch parties, but it is unlikely to be. And in the end, the main result of the party change is another news clip in which Manchin distances himself from his party and demonstrates his independence to the voters in deep red West Virginia.

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