It’s now legitimate, pardon the presumption, for the media’s ruling class to write “long-form” and 400-word articles about the 2024 presidential election since it’s less than a year away. Leading the pack this week was The New York Times’ Ross Douthat—wishy-washy, or ambivalent, your choice—with a column, headlined “Should Joe Manchin Run for President” that, like a Vox “Explainer,” struggled to reach a conclusion. (Although, in fairness it’s better than the lengthy Joe Biden advertisement courtesy of Politico’s Jonathan Martin who said, by golly, Joe can turn it around, especially if he enlists America’s Most Popular Defeated Congresswoman Liz Cheney—and her father, along with George W. Bush, the Clintons to wave a wand and cease hostilities in the Mideast and currently-exiled Rahm Emanuel (Tokyo)—to spread the word that a compromised (physically, ethically) Biden is needed to stop Donald Trump.)
I’ll add that John Harwood (D-Media Elite) posted this on Twitter: “Biden needs expert political guidance. Voters are unhappy. Trump could win despite his flagrant criminality and deranged mental state. Journalists need to better convey 2 realities: the US economy is doing well, not poorly [and] Biden at 80 is handling the job effectively right now.”
Why Manchin is this moment’s savior—and I do mean moment, since his strictly media-wearing-flowers-in-their-hair attention will likely evaporate before Christmas—is beyond me. It’s Douthat’s idea that Sen. Manchin, who allegedly shook up Democrats last week with the announcement that he won’t run for reelection in West Virginia next year, almost certainly guaranteeing a GOP win and possibly control of the Senate, would be an ideal third-party candidate (fronted by the do-nothing-but-blow-smoke No Labels organization) who could possibly thwart Biden and Trump. As Douthat says, “the world being strange,” I wouldn’t rule that out, although Margaret Hamilton’s resurrection is more likely than a Manchin presidency.
My question: why Manchin? The man’s 76, as much a political hack as Biden, Chuck Schumer, Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, and couldn’t even perceive the wisdom of switching parties after the 2020 election, giving the Senate to the GOP and surely fattening his favor-bank with Mitch McConnell. Douthat, who writes that he’d “advise” Manchin to make a run, writes: “The West Virginian could run, authentically, as an unwoke supporter of universal health care, fiscal restraint and a middle ground on guns and abortion. That’s a better basis for a run than Bloombergism or Kennedy’s courtship of the fringes, with a chance of claiming votes from Never Trumpers and the center left.”
A Wall Street Journal editorial added: “Mr. Manchin might be a safe harbor. All the more so if a No Labels ticket has a GOP running mate who wouldn’t offend centrist Democrats and independents. Someone like former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Imagine if Mr. Manchin made it to the presidential debate stage.” I can imagine: Manchin would be a stiff, absorbing nonsensical barbs from Trump and ignored by Biden, whose presence would be represented by only his body, his mind perhaps already encased at the Smithsonian. And Hogan? No thanks: his second gubernatorial term in Maryland was an exercise in uselessness, unless showing up for Sunday talk shows is considered an achievement.
At least Douthat refrained, for now, from a summer scenario of smokeless-filled rooms, for both parties, where the modern-day machine pols (if they exist), decide on candidates not named Biden or Trump. And granted, as it stands now, with Bobby Jr., Jill Stein and Cornel West all potentially on the ballot—we’ll have to see how what Douthat calls “our political elites” squash the above three from eligibility in all 50 states, not counting Israel and Ukraine—squeezing away votes, mostly from Biden, what the hell, why not encourage the elderly Manchin to indulge his ego, and maybe five other candidates as well. And spring Bill Weld from his mothball suit, too, since at 75, he fits Douthat’s demographics. That’s entertainment, all right, and not in the way that the Jam sang in 1981.
I believe Douthat’s a reasonably intelligent man—though his stint in Gitmo, I mean The New York Times reeducation camp, shaved points off his I.Q.—and he correctly observes that third-party candidates (going back to Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, which allowed the election of Woodrow Wilson, forever a blemish on T.R.’s legacy) never succeed. George Wallace was the only third-party candidate to make a dent, winning five deep South states for 45 electoral votes in 1968; no one has since. Not John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 or Ralph Nader in 2000.
The nutty Perot’s candidacy is the most fascinating: at one point in the late-spring of ’92 he was leading in the polls, before temporarily dropping out, only to reappear and win 19 percent of the popular vote. Pat Buchanan’s primary challenge notwithstanding, had the incumbent G.H.W. Bush forsaken writing hand-written letters to foreign dignitaries and saw fit to, God forbid, stump for votes across the country early that year (in addition to immediately recalling Secretary of State James Baker, who’d become too fancy for his own good, to run the campaign), it’s likely Perot either wouldn’t have run or would be inconsequential. Bush reveled in his high poll numbers after the first Iraq War (mercifully short) and ignored the relatively mild recession that eventually gave Bill Clinton, who lived to campaign, the opening he needed and deftly exploited. Had Bush steeled himself to meet and greet what pundits call “ordinary” Americans he would’ve won, despite breaking his “Read My Lips” pledge of not raising taxes.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023