An Independent Campaign for President by Joe Manchin Could Be Launched by Rejecting the Advice of Bill Clinton

Mountain State maverick could make mining and fossil fuels a signature issue and tap voters unhappy with either Biden or Trump.

Tom Williams/pool via AP
Senator Manchin at the Capitol, July 14, 2022. Tom Williams/pool via AP

President Clinton reportedly met earlier this month with Senator Manchin of West Virginia and tried to discourage Mr. Manchin from running for president as an independent.

The 42nd president made, the Washington Post reported, an “aggressive pitch” that Mr. Manchin “should absolutely not run for president.” He warned, the Post said, that Mr. Manchin’s candidacy would serve only to “bolster former president Donald Trump.” 

Leave it to President Clinton to frame the issue in terms of what would most hurt Mr. Trump rather than in terms of what would be best for the country. Mr. Clinton, deprived of a chance to move back into the White House because of Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016 over Secretary Clinton, may harbor a special grudge.

Yet, of all people, Mr. Clinton would have the experience to realize that a third-party presidential candidate doesn’t necessarily help the Republicans defeat the Democrats in a presidential race. Both of Mr. Clinton’s winning campaigns, in 1992 and 1996, featured Ross Perot on the ballot. 

Since July 2022, I’ve been plumping for a Manchin 2024 presidential candidacy. Bumper sticker: “We won’t condescend to you. And we already succeeded in stopping most of Joe Biden’s worst ideas.”

Americans in increasing numbers are growing unhappy with the two major political parties or the candidates who seem headed for the major-party presidential nominations. That would seem to create an opening for an alternative along the lines that the group No Labels has been advancing and that the Mountain State maverick has been exploring. 

No Labels says, “Our polling shows 63 percent of Americans would be open to supporting a moderate independent presidential candidate in 2024 if the alternatives are Donald Trump and Joe Biden.” The group adds, “That’s an unprecedented figure that reflects how fed up the American people are with the division in our country and how hungry they are for better choices.”

A July 2023 Monmouth poll showed a potential Manchin campaign drawing voters roughly equally from Mr. Trump and President Biden. What does Mr. Manchin bring that Messrs. Biden and Trump lack? At 76, he’s younger than Biden, 80, and Trump, 77, but not by much. He, like them, is a white guy who would end a second presidential term in his 80s. 

In a March Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Mr. Manchin positioned himself as more concerned about the debt and deficit, and more in favor of domestic energy production from fossil fuels, than Mr. Biden. The most intriguing possibility is that Mr. Manchin could use his experience representing the mining state of West Virginia to champion a resurgence of mining and processing in America. 

Sound farfetched? No less an establishment voice than Goldman Sachs is out with a new paper on the need for America and its allies to compete on this front with Communist China, which now dominates the “rare earth elements” used in electric cars, smart phones, and high-tech military systems. The Goldman Sachs analysis, by Jared Cohen, is being hailed by a retired admiral, James Stavridis, as “brilliant.”

Says the Goldman Sachs paper: “Unnecessarily long timelines for project development are often the result of outdated regulatory policies.” Goldman Sachs also notes that American colleges and universities are training fewer miners than they used to. A lithium deposit of between 20 million and 40 million tons was recently discovered along the Nevada-Oregon border, the Goldman Sachs paper says.

There’s a danger that the No Labels or Manchin types delude themselves in the manner of boosters of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign. Sometimes the coastal elites are more enthusiastic about a centrist presidential campaign than the rest of the electorate is. 

Mr. Manchin, though, will never know unless he gives it a try, and the Bloomberg comparison is inexact. Mr. Bloomberg ran as a Democrat, not as an independent. Mr. Manchin is from West Virginia, not Manhattan. He hunts. There’s a chance he draws significant numbers of non-college-educated rural voters away from Mr. Trump.

Even if one believes that American interests are better served by a more centrist Democratic Party or less extreme Republican Party than by a new third party, those goals could be advanced by having  a Manchin-like candidate on the field. 

Mr. Clinton used to stand for a more centrist Democratic Party. Now he’s trying to talk Mr. Manchin out of a presidential campaign. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mr. Clinton has been a disappointment. 


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