Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Joe Manchin’s quest

Joe Manchin is looking for something.

The Democratic senator from West Virginia said he is going to travel around the country in search of the Great Middle, which he says is missing from divisive and tribal Washington politics.

“I know our country isn’t nearly as divided as Washington wants you to believe,” he said last Thursday as he announced he’s not running for reelection. “We share common values of family, freedom, democracy, dignity and a belief that we can overcome any challenge together.”

Is Manchin at the point of the spear of change or was he born 60 years too late?

We know that Manchin is wistful about his teenage years when he first became interested in politics. In his announcement he referenced President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Manchin said, “I was 13 when I first heard it and I’m still inspired by it.”

Few in Washington have been as openly critical of the toxic politics than Manchin. He can go toe-to-toe with the best of them, when necessary, but at the end of the day, he is always in search of a compromise without conflict.

In Manchin’s world, there is always a table — literal or figurative — that interested parties can gather around to figure out a way forward on whatever the issue. That must seem quaint, even naïve, in Washington these days.

“The Democratic and Republican machines have no interest in solutions,” he said. “Today, the business of politics is about monetizing anger and getting paid for it. And business has never been better. Not for me,” he said.

So, what does he want?  

In the coming months, he will be running … to see if he should run for president. His planned outreach is an attempt to gauge the political dissatisfaction in the country and see if it can be mobilized and monetized to support a realistic third party/independent campaign.

A recent Gallup Poll found that 63% of adults agree that the Republican and Democratic parties do “such a poor job” of representing the American people that “a third major party is needed.” And polls show a high level of dissatisfaction with both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

But does dissatisfaction translate into action? Third party races are typically quixotic or vanity exercises. Even the few exceptions have never come close to winning. For one thing, the entrenched two-party system and challenging ballot access rules make it difficult to level the playing field.

There’s one thing Manchin says he does not want to be, and that’s a spoiler. He fears another Trump presidency and would not want to be responsible for taking away votes from Biden and throwing the election to Trump.

Manchin has never lacked confidence and he has honed his political skills over a lifetime in politics. Maybe the coming months will be an exercise in futility and Manchin’s wide-eyed search for the Great Middle will be little noticed.

Or maybe the people are as fed up as he is with the state of our politics, and he will find enough kindred spirits to ignite a movement.

It is a quest worth watching.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.