While she didn’t mention West Virginia’s Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, by name, it was very clear whom Harris was targeting with her words. And Manchin was upset.
Sensing an opportunity, Collins, who had a close relationship with Manchin, invited him to dinner with her, Portman and Thune, the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate. Manchin had rejected party-switching appeals in the past, so Thune pitched him on becoming an independent and caucusing with the Republicans, according to reporting from Burns and Martin.
“Thune suggested Manchin would likely be rewarded for taking such a step: You could write your own ticket, the South Dakotan told him. Chair a committee, we’ll help you raise money for your campaign.
“Manchin heard them out and gave Thune a politically deft response.
“John, he said, if you were the leader I would do it.”
Which, well, interesting, right? Yes! Absolutely!
Which isn’t exactly a denial.
Which, again, is not a denial that he told Thune that if the South Dakotan was the Republican leader, he would switch parties!
Now, Manchin is right in this regard: There is no way that McConnell is not the Senate Republican leader come 2023. But who’s to say what the future holds? And Thune could be positioned to ascend to the top job whenever the Kentucky Republican steps aside.
If Manchin is still in the Senate at that point, does his party-switching calculus change?
For Democrat activists already leery of Manchin — and for Democratic strategists perennially worried about him leaving the party — his comments are something well short of reassuring that he’s always going to be with them.