Nov 13, 2023

The impact of Joe Manchin retiring.

Manchin speaking at an event for the Third Way think tank. Photo: Third Way
Manchin speaking at an event for the Third Way think tank. Photo: Third Way

And, maybe, running for president.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Joe Manchin is saying goodbye to the Senate. But is he thinking about running for president? Plus, a question about Jewish celebrities and the conflict in Israel.

Mixed reviews...

On Friday, we released a moderated debate on the Israel-Palestine issue between Dan Cohen and Hussein Aboubakr Mansour. As I expected, the reviews were... mixed. You can watch the full interview here:

Quick hits.

  1. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has suspended his presidential campaign, he told Fox News's Trey Gowdy on Sunday night. Separately, progressive Jill Stein announced she is running for president again on the Green Party Ticket. (The announcement
  2. The Israeli Defense Force and Hamas are fighting near two major hospitals in Gaza. Both hospitals have lost power and stopped accepting new patients. Israel says Hamas has used the hospitals as command centers. (The latest
  3. The FBI seized and searched the phones of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, escalating an investigation into whether his 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government to accept foreign donations. (The investigation
  4. Five U.S. service members were killed when a military helicopter crashed over the Mediterranean Sea during a routine refueling mission, U.S. officials said. (The crash
  5. A high-ranking Ukrainian military officer named Roman Chervinsky allegedly played a central role in the September 2022 Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, according to several new media reports. (The report)

Today's topic.

Joe Manchin. On Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced he would not seek re-election in 2024, a decision that will reshape the fight for the Senate in 2024 and has set off rumors Manchin is considering an independent run for president.

Manchin, 76, announced his decision on X. He was re-elected in 2018 despite West Virginia voting for former President Donald Trump by a 39-point margin in 2020. Democrats, who have a 51-49 majority, were already facing an uphill battle in getting Manchin re-elected against Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who had been polling ahead of him.

The decision has major implications for control of the Senate in 2024, in which Republicans already enjoy a favorable map. Manchin is a moderate Democrat who often bucked the Democratic party line, regularly pushing the administration to water down spending bills or abandon more progressive ideas. But he was also a reliable Democratic vote and helped Biden pass his signature achievement, the $740 billion Inflation Reduction Act.

Replacing Manchin on the ballot will be difficult. He is one of the few Democratic candidates who could earn support in West Virginia and was the strongest Senate candidate Democrats have put forward in the last three election cycles, according to political analysis website Split Ticket, which said he performs 31 points better than a generic Democrat.

Worsening the situation for Democrats was that Manchin's announcement immediately sparked rumors he may run for president as an independent. In his announcement, he said he was frustrated with the two major political parties and would be touring the country to hear from voters. He has also left open the possibility he'd run for president with No Labels, a non-partisan effort to push a centrist candidate to challenge Biden and Trump.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia,” he said. “I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for re-election to the United States Senate, but what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.”

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions to the news from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right sees Manchin as a viable third party candidate who could pose a threat to both Biden and Trump.
  • Some say Manchin’s politics are well suited to appeal to moderate voters from both parties.
  • Others criticize Manchin for his support of Biden’s agenda and suggest it doomed his standing with West Virginians. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Manchin “may have a third-party opening because Biden and Trump are so unpopular.”

“It’s revealing that Democrats are fretting even though Mr. Manchin is a long way from running, and No Labels hasn’t decided whether it will even field a ticket,” the board wrote. “Democrats have only themselves to blame for this anxiety attack. They can, like everyone else, see the polls that show Mr. Biden’s approval rating even lower than Mr. Trump’s. That is some achievement.”

“Why worry about Mr. Manchin? If the country will eventually come to see the heroic benefits of Bidenomics, then the appeal of a third-party candidate will fade as the election nears. The problem is that Democrats really don’t believe their own political advertising. The chances are increasing that voters have reached a firm conclusion about Mr. Biden’s capacities and record, and they are looking for an alternative. Many of those voters find Mr. Trump unacceptable, and so Mr. Manchin might be a safe harbor.”

In The Spectator, Ben Domenech wrote “Joe Manchin has every reason to run for president.”

“Manchin has a real shot at being more than a protest vote. For the last true independent-minded moderate in the Democratic Party, it should be an easy choice: he has every reason to run,” Domenech said. “Americans want someone else, even to the degree of entertaining the possibility of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has never been elected to anything, just because he is a good podcast guest with different ideas… But RFK has limited resources and is anathema to the mainstream media, while Manchin has spent years proving his capability on that stage.

“The typical reasons that prevent politicians from running on a third-party line simply don’t apply to Manchin. Rather than have to go through the heavy task of gaining ballot access, he has the well-funded No Labels effort waiting eagerly for him. There is already an awareness that a significant amount of center-right donor money stands ready to flow to a candidate who won’t spend it paying for all their lawyers. And he doesn’t have to worry about his political future. Since he is truly at the end of his political career, if he loses, he can just go write the book he would have written anyway.”

In The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria argued Manchin’s decision not to seek reelection is “a direct result of both his failures and the failures of the Democratic Party.”

Manchin’s vote for the Inflation Reduction Act caused his “approval numbers in West Virginia to crater. After narrowly surviving a tough reelection challenge in 2018, Manchin was likely going to lose next year. He had finally tanked his reputation among West Virginia voters, and the inevitable loss he was facing almost certainly played into his decision to forgo another reelection race,” Faria wrote. “That is how Manchin’s failures determined his fate, but the Democratic Party’s failures may determine what Manchin does next.”

“The Democratic Party’s rapid left-wing lurch has left Manchin, and voters across the country, behind. Manchin knows this and has known it for years,” Faria added. “Whatever Manchin ends up doing, it is clear that he and the Democratic Party put him in this position. As a result, Republicans will almost certainly pick up a Senate seat, Democrats will sincerely have to wrestle with the concept of a centrist Democrat running an independent campaign and siphoning votes off of their unpopular liberal candidate, and Manchin’s political career probably ends either way.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is appreciative of Manchin for his support of key Democratic bills over the years but think he’d tarnish his legacy by running as a third party candidate. 
  • Some argue losing Manchin will have a negative impact on addressing climate change.
  • Others make the case that a Manchin third party run would help Biden and hurt Trump.

In Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein wrote “Democrats can’t blame Joe Manchin anymore.”

Manchin’s decision “means the end of years of liberal Democrats blaming him for nearly everything that goes wrong… They’re going to miss him when he’s replaced by a Republican in 2025, worsening Democrats’ odds of maintaining their slim Senate majority.” Bernstein said. “During the first two years of Biden’s presidency, Manchin was the swing vote on several key pieces of legislation and he relished his role as the make-or-break player… He also stuck with the party in the final votes for Biden’s pandemic recovery bill. Those bills, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin helped draft, have been Democrats’ biggest legislative accomplishments during Biden’s presidency.”

“Manchin also helped the party in more subtle ways. By loudly and repeatedly setting himself up as the party’s center, he created room for others from Republican-leaning states, such as Montana Senator Jon Tester, to vote for Democratic bills without seeming liberal. It’s also worth noting that while Manchin could be difficult for Democrats to deal with, he stuck with them when Republicans held Senate majorities and the presidency. For example, when Republican John McCain was the famous deciding vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act, Manchin was with the 47 other Democrats who opposed the bill. He’s really best thought of as a moderate liberal, rather than a conservative Democrat.”

In Grist, Katie Myers said Manchin wasn’t always a climate ally, but his successor “will be worse.”

“During the 13 years the Democrat represented the people of West Virginia in the upper chamber, he proved to be an essential supporter of climate legislation even as he stood in the way of climate legislation. He had no qualms about withholding votes on key legislation like the Build Back Better Act or demanding concessions — often in support of fossil fuels — to support party priorities like the landmark Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022. In a closely divided Senate, his ability to stymie President Joe Biden’s agenda made him a fickle ally in the climate fight — but an ally just the same.”

"Since arriving in Washington in 2010, he has rejected efforts to cap carbon emissions, opposed the Clean Power Plan, and supported building a petrochemical hub in the Ohio River Valley. He also voted with President Donald Trump about 50 percent of the time. But Manchin, being Manchin, also endorsed wind energy in his home state, came out against mountaintop removal coal mining, and worked with the United Mine Workers Association to help protect miners from black lung disease,” Myers said. “However, as Democrats will grit their teeth and admit, what climate legislation did pass during Biden’s presidency did so largely because of Manchin’s support.”

In The New Republic, Michael Tomasky explored “how a Joe Manchin candidacy helps Biden.”

“The conventional wisdom for months, or even for a couple years, has been that a presidential candidacy by the West Virginia senator under the ‘centrist’ No Labels banner would mean the end for Joe Biden,” Tomasky wrote. “But lately, even before this announcement, I’ve begun to wonder: What if Manchin is more likely to split the anti-Biden vote?... Even if Manchin does run, it is no longer manifestly obvious that he hurts Biden more than he hurts Trump.”

“Manchin is basically against abortion rights,” and “the 2024 election is going to be as direct a nationwide referendum on women’s reproductive rights as we’ve ever had in this country,” Tomasky said. Manchin is also “just not that popular. And to the extent that he is popular, he is more popular among Republicans than Democrats… If we agree that somewhere around 55 percent of Republicans are MAGA and 45 percent are not, which seems about fair based on polls, that tells me that there are, at least potentially, more—far more—disaffected Republicans who might pull for Manchin.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Democrats will be sad to see him go, as should anyone who values compromise and moderate legislation.
  • I don’t think he’s gearing up for a presidential run.
  • Either way, the 2024 Senate map that was already tough for Democrats just got a lot tougher.

I think Democrats are really going to miss him.

Over the years, Manchin has become a target of many progressive activists, often framed as the reason certain bills or legislative ideas couldn't pass the Senate. But the truth is Democrats have been lucky to have Manchin at all. No other high-profile Democrat I can think of in the country could have held onto his seat in West Virginia as long as he did, and it was always a gift for Democrats that Manchin was there caucusing with them — both when they had a 50-50 Senate split and more recently with their one-seat majority.

It's also worth being clear that the writing was on the wall, and Manchin’s party was coming to an end. He isn't stepping down out of principle, or because he is going to immediately jump into a presidential campaign, or because he was treated badly by Democrats. He is stepping down because he was going to lose his Senate race, and running for Senate is expensive and exhausting even when you think you can win.

All of that is unfortunate. I disagree with Manchin on plenty, but he was a Senator who actually understood the power of respectful negotiation, and he was key in shaping several major pieces of legislation. He was, at his heart, an actual legislator — not a Twitter performer who did more talking than actual work. In his announcement, he rightly pointed out that everyone in Washington, D.C., is being pushed into more and more partisan corners, and that there aren't many people left who are interested in compromising and working together. With his exit, there will be one fewer.

As for rumors about a third-party run, I wouldn't bet on it. In 2021, I predicted that a third-party candidate would win a higher percentage of the vote in 2024 than any third-party candidate has since Ross Perot. I still think that prediction has a good chance of coming true, and I actually think Manchin would be one of the strongest candidates to make it happen.

But it is very late, and — once again — running a presidential campaign is expensive and exhausting. Despite being a true legislator, the 76-year-old Manchin isn't a great fundraiser and he isn't nearly the politician to pull off such a monumental victory. Manchin is also realistic, which means he knows all of that. It also means he'd be running solely to make a point that a big chunk of the country wants a third-party candidate, which would come with the risk of undermining Biden and helping Trump get elected again. Given Manchin's respect for Biden and his loyalty to the Democratic Party, I'm very, very skeptical he'd take that risk.

Whether he jumps in or not, though, the biggest impact of this decision is what it just did to the Senate map. Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats in the 2024 election, including three held by Democrat-caucusing independents King (ME), Sinema (AZ), and Sanders (VT). West Virginia is now safely going Republican, which puts the upper chamber at a 50-50 split before voting even starts. The other states where Democrats are on defense include red states like Montana and Ohio, and swing states like Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Republicans are only defending 11 seats, and just two — Florida and Texas — are remotely close to potential pick-ups for Democrats. That means if they want to hold onto a 50-50 Senate split, they need to either successfully win every one of those Senate races — Montana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — or they can afford to lose one or two if they can pull off an upset in Florida or Texas. 

Despite the success Democrats have had since 2016, none of those outcomes seems remotely likely to me. I would have been surprised if Democrats held the Senate before Manchin stepped down. I'd be shocked if they can do it now.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I’d like to know to what extent you (or your readers) think it may be understandable to be concerned that so few Jewish celebrities or Jewish public figures ever seem to speak out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — over the last few decades let’s say. By extension, could it be reasonable to wonder if the reason we rarely hear such comments is because a high proportion of Jewish celebrities or public figures on this one issue are prejudiced, perhaps without realizing it? Obviously it’s ok for any one person to remain silent on any big political issue, but when the overwhelming majority of single demographics in the public eye stay silent on such a politically charged issue is that not itself evidence that public opinion within those communities is, on balance, both pro-Jewish and anti-Palestinian? 

— Anonymous from Yorkshire, England

Tangle: I appreciate the vulnerability required to ask this question. I know there are some people who might interpret even asking this as antisemitic, but I think it’s a genuine question that’s coming from a place of real curiosity. I also fundamentally disagree with the premise.

I do think there is a public perception of Jewish celebrities being not just pro-Israeli but anti-Hamas to an extent that could be seen as, at the least, ambivalent about Palestinian well-being (if not "anti-Palestinian"). We can call that the Gal Gadot camp.

However, I think it’s just as true that there are a significant number of Jewish celebrities who are very pro-Palestinian, as well as critical of both Israel and Hamas. We can call that the Jon Stewart camp. Then there are plenty of people, like Natalie Portman, whose sympathies are with Jews in Israel but whose positions on the Israeli government are more nuanced.

When I wrote about Kanye West's anti-semitic rants, I mentioned this old joke: “Two Jews, three opinions.” One of the few things most Jews can agree on is that we spend much of our time arguing amongst ourselves about the mundane and the serious — that's the Jewish spirit.

The issue of Israel is no different. American Jews are deeply divided on Israel. In 2021, just 40% of American Jews had a favorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 58% said they feel very or somewhat attached to Israel. Only 33% thought Israel was making sincere efforts toward peace. And though I haven't seen any recent polling on this issue, I'd bet that a majority of American Jews are deeply critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

The issue of Israel for Jews is like most contemporary political issues: much more complicated, divided, and nuanced than a two-sided polarized debate.

And I’ll be honest, as a Jew, it’s extremely uncomfortable to be pulled in the tug of war of these political extremes. It sucks to have to say “No, actually, ‘from the river to the sea’ is an antisemitic slogan” while insisting that I’m not defending the IDF’s unconscionable tolerance of civilian deaths. It also sucks to watch people deny the existence of Islamophobia in supposed defense against antisemitism, as Ron DeSantis did in last week’s Republican debate.

And in a polarizing landscape that interprets any statement of support as also meaning opposition, Jewish celebrities can't win. The ones who take some ardently pro-Israel stance are immediately accused of supporting genocide. Those who take an ardently pro-Palestine stance are called self-hating Jews. Those who try to say something nuanced are accused of dodging a real position.

So, to answer your question plainly: I don't think there is actually much evidence for the premise of your question, that Jewish celebrities aren't critical of Israel and don't speak out about it. Of course, Jews are on net biased towards Israel. But I definitely don't think it’s accurate to say they are generally “anti-Palestinian.”

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

The United States is now quietly pumping oil at a record rate, driving crude oil prices lower even as Russia and Saudi Arabia cut production to pump up prices, Axios reported. In the last week of October, the U.S. crude oil production was 13.2 million barrels per day, a new record. Meanwhile, the U.S. benchmark is down 15% since the end of September as global demand slumps, especially in China. Axios has the story.


  • 45%. The percentage of Americans who say they have not heard of Joe Manchin, according to an October 2023 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.
  • 12%. The percentage of Americans who say they view Manchin favorably. 
  • 7%. The percentage of Democrats who say they view Manchin favorably.
  • 18%. The percentage of Republicans who say they view Manchin favorably.
  • 41%-28%. Governor Jim Justice’s lead over Manchin in the race for West Virginia’s Senate seat, according to an October 2023 poll of the state’s voters. 
  • 34. The number of Senate seats up for election in 2024, including a special election in Nebraska. 
  • 23. The number of those seats that are held by Democrats or Independents.
  • 12. The number of states in which No Labels has gained ballot access for the 2024 election. 

The extras.

  • One year ago today we didn't have a newsletter, but we'd just published a subscribers-only piece asking if Republicans were ready to move on from Trump.
  • The most clicked link in Thursday’s newsletter was Ivanka Trump's testimony in Donald Trump's civil fraud trial.
  • Readers keep praising Haley: 506 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking who won the Third Republican Primary debate, with 84% saying Nikki Haley. 7% said Ron DeSantis, 4% said Vivek Ramaswamy, 3% said Chris Christie, and 1% said Tim Scott. "Nikki Haley has at least demonstrated her ability to listen and learn. She was bold in her statement on the issue of abortion and how that relates to the idea dear to the heart of each American: personal freedom to make their own decisions. I give her kudos for that," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Orcas continue their war on boats, sinking a yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of Joe Manchin's legacy in the Senate? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

When Anna Carin Elf walked past her workplace at The City Library in Gothenburg, Sweden, last week, she noticed something strange. “The people in the library behaved as usual. Many were sitting reading newspapers, some families were in the children’s section and others were searching for books on the computer,” Elf said. But what was unusual was that the library was supposed to be closed. Through a door mistakenly left ajar, the people of Gothenburg had entered the library, and once inside they proceeded to act no differently than if they had been supervised. After Elf announced to the guests that the library would be closing, they left cooperatively. And some left with books. During that day, 446 people visited The City Library. A total of 246 books were borrowed. To date, all the books have been returned. The City Library published a loving post, praising the city of Gothenburg for demonstrating the power of community and the shared value they place on the guardianship of community resources. ZME Science has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.