Note: The Briefing will take next week off in observance of Christmas. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
This week: Dec. 20, 2021, The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 50
- Manchin drives a stake through Biden’s agenda
- Murkowski’s opponent chooses to make McConnell an enemy
- Cortez-Masto may actually be the most vulnerable Dem incumbent
Build Back Biden: “Nope!”
That is the simplest paraphrase of Sen. Joe Manchin’s final answer, delivered Sunday on FOX News. He will not be voting for President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better reconciliation bill.
This marks the final thumbs down for Biden’s ambitious spending and social agenda. It was entirely predictable — and indeed, we predicted it.
Once Democrats had been clobbered in Virginia and underperformed in New Jersey last month, it was already clear that Biden was becoming an anchor for his party. His popularity is now near or below 40% in some polls, and far underwater in all reputable polls.
That provides some context. And here’s the rest: Manchin does not work for Biden. He works for West Virginians, whose opinions of Biden are…well, not good. Both from a constituent-service perspective and from a re-election perspective, Manchin has no motivation whatsoever to become one of Biden’s toadies. When the press (falsely) portrays him as the one man killing Biden’s agenda, that is actually a feather in Manchin’s cap. He is eating this up. It is his best path to re-election if he chooses to seek it in 2024, or back to the governor’s mansion if he decides to go back in that direction.
As for Biden’s agenda, Democrats really need to get a grip. They never had a mandate for a $5 trillion social spending bill (according to CBO), and they have been incredibly arrogant in failing to recognize it.
Biden won in 2020 by the skin of his teeth. Democrats’ House majority is razor-thin already. Their Senate majority is only notional, based on the idea that Vice President Kamala Harris will vote to break ties on their behalf in a 50-50 Senate.
In this context, it would have made a lot of sense for Biden to pursue a consensus agenda. Instead, he has done nothing since taking office except try to placate the far Left. This explains his drop in the opinion polls, and also his failure in doing the easiest job in presidential history — tagging himself to an already-ongoing economic recovery.
It’s less than a year until the 2022 election, and Democrats have been digging their own grave. If they had thought through Manchin’s likely opposition (he’s actually not the only Democrat standing in Biden’s way), they might have saved themselves a lot of trouble and heartbreak. Instead, they are setting themselves up for the same kind of wipeout they suffered in 2010, when Democrats embraced a radical agenda that at last seemed more appropriate based on their large House and Senate majorities. In that case, they at least succeeded in passing a few things. This time, they don’t appear set to accomplish much except to remind voters not to trust them and to ruin the reputations of their party’s top-tier candidates for 2024.
For conservatives, this might be the best of all possible worlds.
Alaska: The conservative opponent to Sen. Lisa Murkowski has made an apparent tactical error. In promising to oppose Mitch McConnell as majority leader, Kelly Tshibaka is pleasing a tiny, extremely politically aware group of conservatives, but gaining no votes beyond her current support base and acquiring an enemy who might have otherwise let the race go.
This seems like a completely unforced error. The standard answer to the question about whom to support for majority leader is to say one must first see who is running. This is not a popular issue, but a niche issue.
Tshibaka already has the Trump endorsement and doesn’t need to impress him with a denunciation of McConnell. If this has any effect, it will be to make McConnell more invested in re-electing the unreliable Murkowski, whom any conservative should be able to beat absent a massive effort by the national party on her behalf.
Remember — Murkowski survived in 2010 after losing her primary by running as a write-in independent candidate in the general election. There’s no need to tempt fate in this election, but Tshibaka is doing so.
Nevada: An early poll by Trafalgar has Republican former Attorney General Adam Laxalt leading incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto 44 to 41 percent. This is a very poor result for any incumbent — not only to trail the Republicans’ failed 2018 gubernatorial nominee, but to trail with just 41 percent, far below the safe 50 percent threshold. A few more polls like this, and this will catapult to the top of Republicans’ list for Senate takeovers — ahead of New Hampshire and perhaps even ahead of Georgia.
North Carolina: The exit of state Sen. Jeff Jackson from the Democratic primary leaves former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley as the likely nominee. But given that she narrowly lost re-election to the state Supreme Court in 2020, she faces an uphill battle in what promises to be a strongly Republican year in the Tar Heel State. But Republicans still face a potentially bruising primary between Rep. Ted Budd, Rep. Mark Walker, and former Gov. Patrick McCrory that could boost her chances for a Democratic takeover.