He should run for president as a Republican in 2024

    One of the pleasures of being filthy rich, I’d imagine, is that you can never have an idea that’s “too silly.” By dint of your wealth and influence, you’ll always be given a respectful hearing even if you’re wildly out of touch with reality on a subject.

    Like, for instance, if you’ve convinced yourself that Joe Manchin, conservative-ish Democrat, has the faintest chance of winning a national Republican primary.

    Although I’ll say this much for these guys and their harmless game of fantasy politics: Among my own relatives, nearly all of whom voted for Trump, Manchin is the Democrat whom they respect the most. He said no to Build Back Better, said no to H.R. 1, has called for a reboot of the Keystone pipeline, has spent months warning the White House about inflation risks in new spending, and on and on. Within a party that struggles to project common sense, he’s a glaring example to the contrary.

    “He sticks to his guns,” one relative told me, admiringly. In a Biden vs. Manchin race, there’s no question they’d support the other Joe.

    But in a Trump vs. Manchin election? Uh, no. DeSantis vs. Manchin? No again. Why would they choose a centrist Democrat when they could have a Republican?

    Working-class people have no choice but to remain in touch with political reality. The other half lives a little differently:

    Wall Street veteran Nelson Peltz hosted a $5,000 a plate fundraiser for Sen. Joe Manchin at the billionaire’s sprawling Florida estate last month, where several top executives said they privately hoped the conservative Democrat would switch parties and run against President Joe Biden in the 2024 elections, CNBC has learned…

    “Mr. Peltz supports Mr. Manchin. He believes Mr. Manchin is a rare elected politician from both sides of the aisle who puts country before party, something which Mr. Peltz believes is much needed in our country today,” Anne Tarbell, Peltz’s spokeswoman, said in an email to CNBC. Peltz told CNBC last year that he speaks to Manchin every week and has been personal friends with him for a decade…

    Although Manchin told the group he plans to run for reelection to the Senate as a Democrat, a small group of donors at the event privately said they hope he changes parties and runs for president as a Republican against Biden in 2024 instead, the attendee said.

    This person noted that some attendees at the Peltz event, who once supported Trump, look at Manchin and his stances against some of his party’s policies as someone who could successfully run in a Republican primary and then possibly defeat Biden.

    The fundraiser included some well-known Republican donors, like Ken Langone. I assume Langone and the other guests have the basic sense to realize that Manchin, who’s voted to confirm a raft of Biden judges and opposed Amy Coney Barrett, would lack the right-wing cred that Trump enjoys. It’s hard enough even for solid conservatives like DeSantis to make a dent in the GOP base’s loyalty to Trump. Imagine a guy who spent his political life as a Democrat trying to do so.

    For all the hype about Trump supposedly losing his grip on the GOP, notes Amy Walter, all you need to do to see that it’s not true is look at what the Republicans running this year who *haven’t* been endorsed by him are saying about him.

    In West Virginia, Trump has endorsed Rep. Alex Mooney in this member versus member showdown in the newly drawn 2nd CD. But, that hasn’t stopped GOP Rep. Dave McKinley from trying to grab the Trump mantle. Not only do McKinley’s attack ads call Mooney “bad for Trump’s agenda,” but his most recent commercial featured an endorsement by Gov. Jim Justice who testifies that “McKinley stands with Trump.” In the Pennsylvania Senate race, where Trump just recently endorsed TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, businessman David McCormick has been running ads in which he pledges to “fight for America First energy policies like Donald Trump” and to “fight for what Trump and Reagan showed us all — the world is safest when America is strongest.” A recent ad for Gov. Brian Kemp, which attacks Perdue for “outsourcing jobs” to China while he was in the private sector, features clips of Pres. Trump admonishing politicians for failing to stand up to China.

    Someone may eventually manage to dissolve the Trump cult. But it won’t be a centrist “Republican” who was a Democrat until five minutes ago.

    Maybe the idea of Manchin running in a GOP primary is based on a scenario in which Trump doesn’t run again. But even then, what would be his claim to the nomination in a field of 20 or so Republicans? Is the idea that the populist vote would split 20 ways, allowing Manchin to win each primary with a coalition of centrists comprising 20 percent of the electorate or whatever? Because that’s not what would happen in practice; Trump voters would quickly coalesce behind DeSantis and maybe one or two others, with the rest asterisks.

    And don’t forget that, while he doesn’t look it, Manchin’s old. He’s 74 this year and will be 77 on Election Day 2024 — still younger than Biden and Trump but decades older than most of the GOP hopefuls who are likely to run if Trump doesn’t. After Biden, my sense is that Americans will want a president who’s young and vibrant. Manchin isn’t that.

    But you know what? A Biden versus Trump rematch with Manchin running as a third-party independent would be … interesting. I assume that, after a spike in initial interest in Manchin, voters will retreat to their partisan corners and stick with their party’s candidate despite their misgivings. Dems who are dissatisfied with Biden and looking for an alternative will be driven back into his camp by the possibility of splitting the vote on the left and clearing a path for a Trump victory. (In fact, progressive hatred for Manchin may lead disaffected lefties to warm up to Biden again.) Ditto for centrist Republicans who may dislike Trump and are interested in a third-party candidate in the abstract, but not at the cost of splitting the vote on the right such that President Inflation gets another four years as his sundowning phase proceeds.

    Still, in the abstract, there’ll never be a more opportune moment for an independent candidate than an election between an unpopular incumbent who’s widely viewed as too old and unequal to the country’s challenges and a twice-impeached authoritarian who tried to overturn the last election. The country needs new blood. I’d be curious to see some Biden vs. Trump vs. Manchin polling.

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