Senator Joe Manchin, behave yourself.

You may have heard the rumor that Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia who made his name driving his party crazy with close votes, may now be running for president. Kind of.

“If I get into a race, I’m going to win,” he predicted at an appearance in New Hampshire this week. “That being said, I haven’t made a decision.”

A crowd filled the auditorium, straining to hear his every word. Really Many of them were undoubtedly attracted not so much by the promise of rousing rhetoric as by rumors that Manchin might announce that he would be a third-party candidate in 2024.

It didn’t happen. Although Manchin certainly dropped hints. He appeared on stage with Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah. The hosts included Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000. To stay on topic, we’ll refrain from digressing into a description of how Lieberman contributed to Al Gore’s very narrow defeat with a stunningly poor debate performance against…Dick Cheney.

Lieberman is now one of the public faces of No Labels, a new future political party that is all about being, um, against political parties. No Tags is busy qualifying for the presidential election in as many states as possible, and people are wondering if the party honchos are planning a Manchin Hunter ticket.

“Most Americans still believe in the American promise … the political parties have not delivered,” Manchin said. Honestly, that was about as exciting as his New Hampshire moment got.

So, okay, Manchin is not a warm speaker. He wants you to think of him as a bipartisan voice of moderation, even though most of his national fame comes from his willingness to demand favors in exchange for his vote in the Senate. Of course, there are about 100 senators who try to make such deals, but Manchin is kind of special in the way he goes after major bills with very large, very public proposed trades. For a while, he stalled Joe Biden’s biggest achievement, the Inflation Reduction Act, withholding his critical vote until he got an energy deal on the sidelines.

Now he is threatened vote with Republicans to repeal that entire package unless Biden cuts back on support for electric vehicles. When it comes to energy, Manchin really wants us to think about coal. After all, he’s from West Virginia, which has gone seriously Republican, and he could be set for a very tough re-election race next year.

Pop quiz: Not only does Manchin represent a state that’s big on coal, he built his own considerable fortune on a very profitable coal business. What do you think was key to his success?

A. A long history of getting up in the morning to go to work in the mines

B. Ph.D. thesis on energy efficiency

C. Trading political favors for commercial advantages

I know I have to tell you the answer here, but if you couldn’t figure it out, there’s really no point in us going together.

Manchin’s current political talents are about working within the system, even as he threatens to take the system down. Does he really believe he could win election to the highest political office on earth?

You’d like to think not — it’s always a little depressing when politicians have a self-image that’s completely out of sync with reality. (Reminiscing about your career again here, Joe Lieberman.)

But even if the whole effort were hopeless, as a third-party candidate Manchin would get a lot of attention. And running a losing campaign for president would certainly be a lot more exciting than running a losing campaign for re-election to the Senate.

According to a recent survey by Quinnipiac University, 47 percent of registered voters would consider voting for a third party candidate. That’s a huge number, although most of them would probably change their minds when it actually comes time to choose. They are just expressing their displeasure. However, given the nutty way our electoral system is set up, a well-publicized third option could sway the results just enough in a few crucial states to change the outcome. The winner of a presidential race, remember, does not have to be the person who got the most votes. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

That spoiler scenario is what drives Democrats crazy.

If Manchin just wants to campaign and complain about his big problems, like deficit spending, why isn’t he running in a Democratic primary? Could it be because taking on the sitting president of the party would be so utterly, obviously hopeless that it would only make him seem delusional? The biggest Democrat complaint about Joe Biden, after all, is the fact that he’s 80 years old. Will that send voters racing to 75-year-old Joe Manchin?

Won’t work. So he plays into the hands of Lieberman and the No Labels crowd instead. There he was at their event, dripping with bipartisanship, claiming that the current sorry state of American politics stems from “the growing division in our political parties and the toxic political rhetoric of our elected leaders.”

Let’s stop here for a second and consider whether one particular party is actually responsible for this toxicity explosion.

But anyway, there are only three possible ways to combat it.

A. Choose a party and work within it to nominate good candidates.

B. Refuse to vote while whining about how awful the elections are.

C. Rally around a third party and feel quite principled, while helping to draw votes away from the candidate who is the best real choice.

Yes, Manchin appears to be flirting with C. Which could lead to Donald Trump’s return to the White House. And give the senator from West Virginia a tag I can’t mention in a family newspaper.

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