We all watched it happen in real time. The minute the Democrats won the Senate majority, the media began pushing the narrative that Joe Manchin was going to become a power broker by standing against his own party. Manchin – who had spent his career largely just trying to stay out of history’s way – foolishly took the bait. Kyrsten Sinema stupidly decided to follow his lead. And instead of making them power brokers, it made them pariahs within their own party and targets of widespread protest. It backed them into a no-win corner where they’ve surely realized their mistake, but they’re nonetheless staked to it.
The good news is that there is in fact a way out of this particular corner. That’s because when Senators loudly go against their own party on something and then end up regretting the backlash they’re facing from their own side, they can in fact just flip flop without anyone really caring. Remember when Susan Collins was so loudly anti-Kavanaugh, and then in the end she decided her career would be better off if she voted for him? All she had to do was loudly announce a pro-Kavanaugh stance, and that was it. Her own party was just relieved that she came around. The other side hated her anyway. And the media ignored the fact that she was flip flopping, because it felt that the mere existence of her new position was a bigger story than the fact that it was incompatible with her previous position.
In other words, Manchin and Sinema can just flip flop at the end of all of this too. In fact we’ve already seen some of this. Remember like two weeks ago, when Manchin publicly lashed out at HR1 and called it garbage? Last night he voted “yes” on it, in exchange for minor concessions that even voting rights crusader Stacey Abrams thinks are fine. Did Manchin pay a price for flip flopping like this? No. Democrats are just glad he did.
So this lays out the roadmap from where they can go from here. Does it matter that Sinema published an op-ed just a couple days ago, insisting that she’ll never cave an inch on the filibuster? Not really. Manchin took that same position a few weeks ago, yet now he’s talking about reducing the filibuster threshold by five votes. So much for never giving an inch.
Manchin and Sinema are opportunists who gambled and lost by taking this weird anti-HR1 and pro-filibuster stance. If there’s one thing you can count on opportunists to do, it’s to brazenly chase the next opportunity, even if it means they have to sell out the stances that they adopted the last time they sold out.
All we have to do – and it’s not going to be easy but it really is this straightforward – is keep pressuring Manchin and Sinema to the point that they conclude they’re personally better off by caving on the filibuster than by not caving on it. Donor money doesn’t matter. Op-eds don’t matter. What they’re publicly saying never matters. If we just keep squeezing them, they’ll come around in the end. And they’ll sell out their own current positions, because they never believed in their own positions anyway. This is about winning, and now more than ever, we can bend these two featherweights to our will.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report