This story about people in West Virginia trying to push Joe Manchin to the left came out in early February. It’s interesting to read it now given Manchin’s actions of the last month.
So what will? Smith is co-chair of West Virginia Can’t Wait, an organization launched in 2018 on the promise of building a “people’s government.” Its New Deal for West Virginia platform, developed after nearly 200 town halls and the collection of 11,000 voter surveys, includes policies like ending mass incarceration and homelessness, a state bank, and a workers’ bill of rights. And Smith says that the populist messaging approach West Virginia Can’t Wait has adopted might inspire the state’s voters to hold Manchin accountable.
“Real populist energy” exists, he says. “A bunch of small-business owners, working-class people, saying, ‘This relief plan is the difference between whether or not my small business stays open. It’s the difference between whether or not I’m able to get glasses or put gas in the car. That kind of a bottom-up populist energy that says, ‘This is the difference between whether or not my family can make it.’ That is something that politicians are afraid of because they can’t control it. And that’s what we’ve been up to for the last few years.”
Ryan Frankenberry, state director of the West Virginia Working Families Party, says that they are similarly hoping to engage voters at the grassroots level about Manchin and the state’s other representatives in Washington in the coming weeks and months. “January 6, we were already starting on our planning and organizing, and we’re engaged with a broad and diverse coalition that includes community-based organizations, our own statewide base of activists, dozens of progressive local legislators that we’ve helped elect, as well as local officials that we’ve helped elect,” he says. “We are building a robust field campaign to talk with West Virginians about these issues and plan on working with the Senator’s office in any way we can to try to make sure that these messages are getting heard.”
Getting Manchin to listen, Frankenberry believes, will also involve getting Manchin to understand that supporting the Democratic agenda will allow him to have a potentially historic impact on his state. “I’m reminded about how government has helped West Virginia,” he says. “You had FDR right? You had JFK. Then you had Byrd—everything is named after Robert C. Byrd in West Virginia, because of the amount of infrastructure that he helped bring West Virginia. This is an opportunity, in our view, for Senator Manchin to really make his mark and really help deliver for West Virginia in a way that will give our citizens a future.”
There’s some idiocy about primarying Manchin as well, but it’s too stupid to include in the quote here.
I actually don’t think Joe Manchin is particularly complicated or bright. He’s a rich conservative man who thinks the Republican Party has gone crazy but he buys into a lot of conservative talking points. He’s genuinely anti-immigrant. He is very close to the coal industry. He loves the attention he gets for being our personal lord and savior. He’s not even that interested in bringing home giant pork projects like Byrd. His vision of politics is limited to doing what he can to be re-elected and for him that is telling West Virginia voters that he opposes Democrats as much as he support them.
That’s why I don’t think there’s really anything anyone can do to push Manchin left. You’d have to put actual pressure on him and these little grassroots lefty groups aren’t going to do that. I think the world of Working Families Party. It’s had a big impact here in Rhode Island over the last few elections starting to purge the party of its horrific leadership and move the conversation to the left through primary campaigns. But that’s not going to work for Manchin. To say the least, the electorate of Rhode Island is not the same as West Virginia. Moreover, why WFP works is its focus on the state legislature, where races are winnable. You take over the state legislature for progressive candidates and that might actually start to move Manchin. Before that though? Forget about it.