Deliverance?   Joe Manchin offers President Biden an off ramp

No more pressing question faces America than next year’s presidential election. Given Joe Biden’s low approval ratings in the polls, and the growing list of splinter candidates, Donald Trump looks surprisingly electable.

Last week Sen. Joe Manchin announced he would not seek re-election next year as West Virginia’s only state-wide Democratic Party officeholder.  Instead, he said, he planned to “travel the country” for a year, hoping to discover “if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.”

In fact, Manchin’s availability offers the Democratic Party a more electable Democrat than Biden. Its leaders should carefully think it over.

At 76, Manchin is five years younger than Biden, and, from appearances, significantly sharper than the president.  Manchin’s age almost guarantees a single term, were he to find himself in the White House.

Before entering politics in 2001, Manchin was a coal industry family businessman. He was governor from 2005 to 2010, at which point he was elected to the Senate on the death of legendary Sen. Robert Byrd. He has been re-elected twice.

As a swing vote in a deeply divided Senate, Manchin has alienated the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on many issues, but remained loyal to key centrist features of its agenda.

As a “No Labels” third party candidate, Manchin would have a hard time doing anything more than assuring Trump’s re-election. But as a Democratic Party nominee? That could happen only if Biden were to step aside and endorse Manchin. Last summer Wall Street Journal  columnist Peggy Noonan wrote a devastating column (subscription required) about Biden’s reluctance to retire, and the problems it created for his party:

“Obviously if the president took himself out of the 2024 race, chaos would follow. Democrats would immediately commence a hellacious fight, sudden and jagged. A dozen governors, senators and congressmen would enter the race. There would be no guarantee it wouldn’t produce a repeat of the 2020 Democratic primaries, when the party flag was planted so far to the left on such issues as illegal immigration that it thoroughly tripped up the eventual victor’s first term and may account for his eventual loss.”

Friday, Noonan reaffirmed her judgement that Biden wouldn’t bow out of the primaries. “He won’t,” she wrote. “We all know this,” meaning her and her beltway colleagues.

EP isn’t so sure.  After all, something like it happened not once but twice before: first, when Lyndon Johnson was forced out of his 1968 re-election bid by the rival candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy; then, six years later, when the Republican Party persuaded its newly re-elected President Richard Nixon to resign as Watergate impeachment loomed.

Of course, America’s cohesion was greater fifty years ago. Manchin’s manifest centrist tendencies may have alienated both left and right wings. And once again, it is the Biden family’s decision to make, alone.  Still, the new possibilities deserve a good hashing-over in the next few weeks at every level of political discourse.

Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin fell flat in his bid to sell a majority of the commonwealth’s voters on a conservative fifteen-weeks ban on abortions. Democrats not only retained control of the Virginia Senate. They regained control of the House of Delegates as well.

Youngkin, a presumptive Republican hopeful in 2028, immediately abandoned whatever plans he possessed to challenge Trump in Republican primaries next year. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which had closely followed Youngkin’s attempt to win a legislative majority, pinned its hopes instead on a three-way race between Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Trump.

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