I can recall at least one article I’ve written where I meekly defended Joe Manchin. Even then, I don’t think “defend” is the right word to use to describe what I was doing. I think of that article as my best attempt to argue that political communication — whether it be an ad or an op-ed penned by even the most well-meaning of politicians — would be much more effective if a state or region’s specific concerns are taken into account. I won’t be defending Manchin again here, nor his party for that matter. Whenever I see Manchin, I also see an equally complicit Democratic party looming not too far behind him.
I’m well aware of the fear that a lot of liberals — and perhaps progressives — have in regards to Manchin. I’ve had that fear too –– the fear that Democrats might lose their already thin margins in the Senate if they cultivate a primary challenger against Manchin; the fear that Manchin is the best we can get or the best that West Virginia can offer. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Manchin is the best that a Democratic establishment has to offer. It’s high time to stop thinking Manchin is immovable because of the preconceived notion that his red state would never vote for an outright progressive. Better options are possible — Democrats just have to put in the effort to look for them.
Unfortunately, the task of looking for a challenger often falls into the hands of independent activist groups who are fed up with Sen. Manchin. When Manchin challenged West Virginian activists to raise a primary challenger against him, local activists created organizations to do just that, such as one called West Virginia Can’t Wait. Even the folks in these groups admit that they can’t rely on the establishment backing Manchin. Katey Lauer, co-chair of West Virginia Can’t Wait, admitted so much by saying that they couldn’t go through “traditional party channels” in order to vet, train and support a challenger, much less help raise up candidates for local and municipal elections.
Therein lies the biggest problem. Grassroots activists and organizations such as Lauer and West Virginia Can’t Wait are communicating a striking, but nevertheless, unsurprising message: They see no progress and frankly, no trust in the traditional party apparatus when it comes to setting up a localized road map to challenge and replace Manchin. The fact of the matter is that the campaign arm of the Democratic party is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine when it comes to investing in state and local elections. Non-white Democratic candidates in local state elections, even outside of West Virginia and the South, are notably left behind by the party establishment. As detailed in a comprehensive piece by SpotlightPA writer Kate Huangpu, candidates from both parties in the Pennsylvania house have been left to fend for themselves by their respective parties.
And going back to my point earlier about ditching the ill-formed thought that West Virginia would never vote for a candidate left of Manchin, West Virginia Can’t Wait and groups similar to it were able to elect almost a dozen progressive and working-class candidates to local seats all over the Mountain State. Now wouldn’t it be a helluva lot easier to replicate that success if the Democratic party started investing in local candidates and initiatives such as that?
Another issue I have with the party lies within their messaging and how they sell their policies. With the way things have been heading into these midterms, their messaging attempt to defend their slim majority seems to be the same, something along the lines of, “Listen, we’re the best you’re gonna get”.
That kind of branding won’t get Democrats any votes. If they can’t start fulfilling campaign and platform promises or entrust local organizers who are the most knowledgeable about the state with the resources to support better candidates, there won’t be any blue wave or even a blue ripple in the 2022 midterms. Might I suggest bringing up the fact that Manchin is a modern-day coal baron, making millions from an industry that’s repeatedly taken advantage of the state and its residents, or how he has lifted constituents from poverty thanks to the child tax credits he now helped axe?
So, when non-Southern Democrats get all riled up and start blaming West Virginia voters for Manchin when he inevitably makes a move that’ll infuriate others in his party, they ought to take a step back and ask if West Virginians really had that much of a choice to begin with.
Quynh Anh Nguyen is a rising junior writing about the implications of current Southern political events in her column “I Reckon.”
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