This isn’t the winning hand Kyrsten Sinema thinks it is

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Kyrsten Sinema announced today that she’s leaving the Democratic Party and will serve out the rest of her term as a registered Independent. However she will continue to caucus with the Democrats, just as Independent Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King have long done, meaning the Democrats will retain their 51-49 majority. So what’s really going on here? This has to be about 2024.

Sinema’s endlessly corrupt and frequently unhinged behavior in office has made her a pariah on all sides. She’s deeply unpopular nationwide and in her home state of Arizona. One fairly recent poll showed her approval rating in Arizona to be 37% among Democrats, 36% among Republicans, and 41% among independents. Even throwing in the usual margin of error for any one poll, these numbers are devastatingly bad for her 2024 prospects.

When Democratic Senator Mark Kelly got reelected by five points in Arizona last month by essentially running on an “unlike Sinema I’m an actual Democrat” platform, it was even worse news for Sinema in 2024. She was a sitting duck for a Democratic primary challenge. If someone like popular Arizona House Democrat Ruben Gallego were to challenge her, she’d likely lose badly, no matter how much dark money her campaign takes in from right wing donors.

By becoming a registered Independent, Sinema is avoiding the scenario where she loses the Democratic primary race. She’ll simply enter the general election without party affiliation. Anyone with a profile as high as hers will have little trouble finding the scant number of signatures needed to make it onto the general election ballot, no matter how unpopular she is.

It’ll put the Democrats in the tricky position of having to decide whether to run an official Democratic candidate and make it a three way race, or whether to back off and simply let Sinema run as the de facto Democrat in a two way race. The Democrats have long allowed Sanders to run for reelection in Vermont without a Democratic opponent. But as cantankerous as Sanders is, he reliably votes with the Democrats when needed, so there would be no reason for the Democrats to challenge his reelection. Sinema, on the other hand, is the opposite of reliable. The Democrats will absolutely try to replace her with a real Democrat in 2024, if they can. The question is whether they can.

Sinema is betting that the Democrats will decide it’s too much of a risk to run a Democrat against her in the general election, which would split the left and center vote, and could hand the seat to the Republican candidate. Sinema, as awful as she is, would be preferable to an actual Republican. But what she’s not considering is that if she becomes so unpopular that she’s likely to lose to a Republican in a two way race anyway, the Democrats will have nothing to lose by making it a three way race.

So now the Democrats will be best off if they can make Sinema extremely unpopular in Arizona, so that she would be a distant third place candidate, and the real race would be a close one between the actual Democrat and the Republican. If Arizona Republicans run a far right extremist who only appeals to the right (as Arizona Republicans keep tending to do), and if most left and center voters choose the Democrat over Sinema, then the Democrat could win a three way race.

Another ideal scenario for the Democrats would be that Sinema’s penchant for taking dark money becomes so scandalous, she ends up so buried in campaign finance fraud that she’s too busy fighting off indictment to run a viable 2024 campaign. That might or might not be a pipe dream, depending on how reckless she’s been about how she’s been taking dark money. Funny feeling says people are about to start digging and find out.

But the point is that with as unpopular and non-viable as Sinema already is for 2024, and the likelihood that her seat would go to a Republican in a two way race, the Democrats now have more motivation than ever to spend these two years simply destroying her. If they can scandalize her, drive her approval rating down, perhaps even drive her from office before the end of her term, it’ll increase the odds that the seat doesn’t fall into Republican hands in 2024.

In other words, Kyrsten Sinema just set herself up to be finished off. She may think she’s improving her prospects by protecting herself from a Democratic primary challenge. These things will come down to numbers. How much more unpopular will she become with each demographic? Specific numbers can be tricky to predict. But in reality she’s probably just making it an easier decision for the Democrats to make a full-on effort to destroy her. Whichever of her right wing “friends” is giving her this kind of advice, it’s really bad advice.

In any case, it’s a good thing we put in all that effort to win that super close Senate race in Nevada, and all that effort to win the Georgia runoff. In addition to giving us a 51 seat true majority, it also gives us an insurance policy in case Sinema’s ongoing downfall results in her resigning or becoming an official Republican prior to 2024. When someone is self destructing this badly, anything is possible. But we’ll retain a Senate majority no matter where her downfall takes her. And we’ll deal with the 2024 election when we get there.

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