In Defense of Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin

Democrats must present a united front for success

Since Biden proposed his three-part Build Back Better plan, valued at $7 trillion, support for Republican control of Congress has risen steadily. Moreover, President Biden’s popularity has dropped 10 points to its lowest level since taking office. Generally, a newly inaugurated president enjoys a strong honeymoon period in the polls, but invariably it declines as they progress through their first term. What makes Biden’s case so historic is how quickly he has squandered his popularity.

After months of party infighting, with much of the blame thrown on moderate Democrats, a recent YouGov poll found that more Americans blame the Democrats than the Republicans for the current gridlock in Congress. However, contrary to what Twitter would have you think, only 5% of Americans believe moderate Democrats in Congress deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

Nonetheless, battalions of activists and Democratic-aligned groups have sought to intimidate party moderates like Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia into submission. Protesters have ambushed Sinema while in the bathroom, while on an airplane and while officiating a friend’s wedding. Climate activists, together with the White House’s public advocacy arm, have funneled tens of millions of dollars in advertising to pressure them and other centrist Democrats to back Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan. Groups like No Excuses and Our Revolution, the political action committee spun out of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, have raked their names through the mud, labeled them “corporate Democrats” and prepared primary challengers to unseat them from their swing seats in Congress.

This maximum pressure strategy being pursued by the party’s left phalanx and Congressional leadership is undercutting the Democratic agenda, furthering the divides within our party and worsening the political environment we now must traverse before the midterms. As Senate Democrats seek to close ranks on Biden’s social spending plans, House Democrats continue to hold up the bipartisan infrastructure package spearheaded by Sinema for leverage. Meanwhile, Republicans and pundits, on all sides, have plastered the news with the usual “Dems in Disarray” trope to play up our party’s divisions and paint us as unfit to govern for their gain. To their credit, can we blame them? Biden and progressive members of Congress have effectively done the job of the Republican National Committee by turning on their own, Sinema and Manchin, punishing them for daring to think for themselves.

Both Sinema and Manchin campaigned on a promise to put their states’ needs before those of their party and they’re doing just that. The efforts by progressives to cajole and threaten them have been inappropriate and ineffective at persuading them while also adding to the obstacles our party must overcome in 2022. Despite being treated like punching bags and targets of the left’s ire, Sinema and Manchin persist, holding their ground and reining in the Biden administration’s excessive spending. The two maverick senators are saving this party and this administration from itself. By prudently asking the questions of why and how for each proposed program (free community college, Medicare expansion and paid family and sick leave, for example), Sinema and Manchin have saved taxpayers money, lessened the burden on job creators and ensured that the final plan will be comprised of targeted initiatives intended to help the most vulnerable.

By choosing such aggressive and confrontational tactics, party leaders and progressive activists have violated what Ronald Reagan called the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican Democrat. I believe it is a miscalculation on their part. It will only result in their proposals falling on deaf ears among the holdouts and will place our party’s thin majority at risk in 2022. Therefore, Democrats should take a page out of the Republican playbook and try to be more conciliatory with one another and present a more united front.