Manchin says he won’t be a 2024 spoiler as he frets Trump could destroy American democracy

Centre-right Democrat has teased a third-party ‘No Labels’ run in 2024

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 18 December 2023 23:54 GMT
Biden rushed to safety after car plows into SUV in motorcade

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin on Sunday took a hardline stance against former president Donald Trump, whom he says represents a direct threat to the future of democracy in the United States.

He spoke on CNN’s State of the Union as members of the Senate prepared to return this week for last-minute talks aimed at reaching a deal on three key issues: border security, funding for Israel’s military campaign against Gaza, and funding for Ukraine’s defence and counterattack against Russia. All three are linked by a GOP demand for border security measures to be addressed hand-in-hand with any foreign aid bills.

Mr Manchin has for months teased the prospect of running as an independent in 2024, and most recently stoked questions about his political future by announcing that he will not run for his Senate seat next year. The senator faced a serious challenge for re-election in the form of the state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, and has now likely pushed his seat entirely out of reach for the Democrats this cycle.

On Sunday, he declined once again to say whether he would run for the presidency, and dodged questions from CNN’s Jake Tapper about how he envisioned a third-party candidate could have a path to the White House beyond simply drawing votes from one or both major parties and serving as a spoiler.

“There is no timeline,” he told Tapper about when he will decide for certain whether or not to run.

Then, he addressed Mr Trump’s recent quip to Fox’s Sean Hannity — and later to his own crowd at a rally — that he would embrace authoritarian control on “day one” of his presidency, before supposedly relinquishing it. The ex-president and his allies have billed this remark as a joke, but it comes as news outlets have reported on the existence of a wide-ranging plan to reform the federal government and clear the way for the president to exert power over the Department of Justice.

“I think we all should be concerned about the support that Donald Trump has,” said the senator. “[H]e’s told us who he is. And when a person tells you who they are, you ought to believe them.”

“It’s not democracy as we know it, it’s not how the country has been able to survive through this experiment of ours for over 230-plus years. And here we are today now being threatened. Can democracy survive?” he went on.

Mr Manchin has previously insisted that he will not get into the presidential race unless he is certain he could win. In an interview with Hannity, he went as far as to declare that he wouldn’t be a spoiler were he to run.

But declaring one’s innocence from those accusations would not make a Manchin 2024 candidacy immune to the realities of the US political system.

Were he to jump into the race, Mr Manchin would face the traditional steep hurdles in front of any third-party candidate, including lack of ballot access, lack of funding, and lack of institutional support from the major parties and their associated infrastructures.

He would also face very pointed skepticism about his intentions and a real fear, at least among Democrats, of abandoning an incumbent president in the face of an alternative in Mr Trump that most members of his party find truly repulsive.

The most successful third-party candidates in recent memory have failed to win even a single state in the Electoral College.

Many Democrats in particular soured on independent presidential candidates after 2016, when angry party activists and Hillary Clinton loyalists blamed Green Party nominee Jill Stein for drawing votes from Clinton in states that she had refused to visit during her campaign and ultimately lost to Mr Trump.

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