U.S. senators are like star ballplayers. They like the spotlight, and they love to win.
Unlike the vast majority of their constituents, U.S. senators don’t have to worry about medical bills or food or their next paycheck. For them, politics really is just a game.
Like any athlete, senators move based on two forces. They respond to their opponents, with whom they compete on the field of play. And they answer to their coaches, who decide whether they get to play at all.
For some senators, their “coach” is their base—a mix of party officials, interest groups and donors that put them into office (and can take them out). For those senators, the best way to influence them is by influencing their base. If enough local unions, party bosses, or citizens groups weigh in, the senators will move in their direction.
Joe Manchin isn’t like those senators. In West Virginia, Manchin isn’t just the star player. He’s the coach too. Over the last few decades, as Manchin has consolidated corporate power (financiers and corporate lawyers are his most reliable donors), the Democratic Party of West Virginia has become the Joe Manchin Machine (his cousin is the current state chair).