How to Protect Democracy while Joe Manchin Dawdles

Passing H.R. 1 is the best, but not the only, way to save democracy. Here's what we can do while we wait for Joe Manchin to make up up his mind

On the most recent episode of Pod Save America, Jon Favreau asked me what the plan was if Democrats didn’t pass H.R. 1, a necessary piece of voting rights and political reform legislation.

I didn’t have an answer. Failure is not an option. The Crooked Media advocacy campaign around the bill is called H.R. 1, or “we’re fucked,” for a reason. Not passing the bill is a conscious decision to hand political power over to a deeply dangerous and anti-Democratic Republican Party. Failing to pass the bill during this moment of Democratic control would be an unprecedented act of political self-sabotage. Could you imagine the Republicans failing to pass a bill that would dramatically increase their odds in the next election?

But as I write this, America being fucked is much more likely than H.R. 1 becoming law. The bill won’t pass without Joe Manchin. Every time Joe Manchin finds himself in front of a microphone, he tells us he has no intention of saving democracy. Kyrsten Sinema is less vocal, but no more helpful

To be clear, the fight is not over. The Senate begins marking up the bill this week. I haven’t given up hope (no matter how many times Manchin tells me to). There is more work for all of us to do to build awareness and urgency for voting rights. There is still time for Manchin to change his mind. Federal voting rights legislation is the single best way to push back against the rising tide of authoritarianism in the Republican Party, but it’s not the only way.

We need to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. With that in mind here some things we can be doing right now to help protect democracy — even if H.R. 1 never makes it out of the Manchin cul-de-sac).

The Stakes

It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of comfort by President Biden’s early success. Our party is unified around an agenda that every poll says is broadly popular, even with large swaths of Republicans saying otherwise. Republicans are swirling down the drain of Trumpism, spouting conspiracy theories, and purging their ranks of rock-ribbed conservatives like Liz Cheney. However, there are storm clouds on the horizon.

First, the President’s party almost always fares poorly in midterm elections. On average, the President’s party loses 27 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate. These historical trends are usually worse in the first midterm.

Second, the 2022 Congressional map will feature newly redrawn districts after the census. The redistricting process is completely controlled by Republicans in several states that gained seats. Experts believe that the Republicans can erase the narrow Democratic majority simply through partisan gerrymanders in those states. Despite being in the majority today, Democrats could go into the 2022 election down as many as a half dozen seats.

Third, Republicans in several key states are passing legislation to dramatically restrict the right to vote. Control of the Senate in 2022 and the White House in 2024 goes through Arizona, Georgia, and Florida. Thanks to new voter suppression laws, those states are going to be harder for Democrats to win going forward.

This is not to say that Democrats have nothing going for them. It is very possible that 2022 could be one of those rare elections when the president’s party bucks historical trends. As America comes out of the pandemic, we enter unchartered territory. It’s very possible that, with the backdrop of a roaring economy and a return to post-COVID normalcy, the public will reward President Biden and the Democrats. There are reasons to believe that the post-Trump Democratic coalition will turn out in midterms at a higher than expected rate. But we cannot assume those things will happen. We need to be clear-eyed about the tilted political playing field and the dire consequences of losing.

Protect the House

The stakes in the 2022 House races could not be higher. Losing the House would mean the end of the Biden legislative agenda. The President would not pass another law in his first term — no infrastructure, no minimum wage, and god forbid there needs to be more stimulus to help the economy. A Republican House would undertake dozens of partisan fishing expeditions that would almost certainly end up in impeachment proceedings based on some conspiracy theory that originated on Fox. Most alarmingly, Republicans could use control of the House to steal the 2024 election. Despite losing the popular vote and the Electoral College, Republicans tried to steal the 2020 presidential election by stopping the certification of the electoral results. That plan was doomed to fail because Democrats controlled the House. If Republicans take the majority in 2022 and hold it in 2024, all bets are off. Therefore, Democrats must do everything they can to protect their House majority.

The first step in supporting efforts is to push back against partisan gerrymandering. H.R. 1 would ban partisan gerrymandering, but if that bill does not pass, we are going to have to fight each gerrymandering effort individually. The odds will be long but saving even one seat would be a huge boost to our chances. For information on the redistricting process in your state and to sign up to join the movement to stop partisan gerrymandering, go to allontheline.com.

In Maryland, New York, and Illinois, we must push Democratic legislatures to ensure they create maps that reflect the overwhelmingly Democratic lean of those states.

The second step is winning with the new map. That process begins with contesting as many seats as possible. Groups like Run for Something are recruiting candidates up and down the ballot. They need as many resources as possible.

Every seat counts.

Expand the Senate Majority

If you find Joe Manchin’s penchant for raining on our parade to be annoying, channel your anger into the 2022 Senate races. If we can expand our majority by even one seat, Manchin would lose his self-appointed role as de facto prime minister. The 2022 Senate map is largely favorable to Democrats. We are not defending a single seat in a state Trump won. However, there are three Democratic incumbents running for reelection — Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Mark Kelly in Arizona, and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. Senator Maggie Hassan is running in New Hampshire, which Biden won by seven in 2020, but the race could be much closer in ‘22. If you are looking for a place to make contributions, their Senate campaigns would be a good place to start.

Republicans are defending seats in two states Biden won (albeit narrowly) — Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. There are also some more challenging Democratic pick-up opportunities in North Carolina, where Senator Burr is retiring, and in Florida, where professional punchline Marco Rubio resides. There will be long, potentially contentious primaries in all of the states currently represented by a Republican. There are a number of great candidates to back. If you want to focus on the general election now, please consider becoming a recurring donor to one of those state parties.

Downballot Bulwarks

In 2020, Republican officials in Georgia and Arizona pushed back against Donald Trump’s efforts to steal the election. The odds that any Republican will play that same courageous role in 2022 are close to nil. The ones that did, like Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger, paid a severe political price and became pariahs in their own party. Ultimately, that is the message of Liz Cheney’s purge — get on board with the Big Lie or get out of the way. The states with unified Republican control of government like Georgia, Florida, and Texas have passed voter suppression laws this year that will make it harder for Democrats to win those states. Republicans control the legislature in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The only thing stopping those states from passing similar laws are Democratic governors with veto pens. Each of those governorships is up for grabs in 2022. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers are up for reelection. Pennsylvania is an open seat because Governor Tom Wolfe is term-limited. If we lose those seats, the very first thing the new Republican governor will do is push through legislation, making it harder to vote in an attempt to turn the state red. Remember a shift of fewer than 100,000 votes across a few states would have delivered the White House to Trump.

In Georgia, Stacey Abrams is reportedly considering a rematch against Republican Governor Brian Kemp. If that happens, it will be a huge race. There could be gubernatorial pick-up opportunities in Florida, Arizona, and elsewhere depending on the political environment and the outcome of the primaries.

Prior to 2020, many folks probably paid no attention to Secretaries of State — the state officials that administer elections. Donald Trump changed that by trying to illegally bully Brad Raffensberger, the Georgia Secretary of State, into tossing out legally cast votes in Democratic areas. Controlling this office in key states gives Democrats a point of leverage against voter suppression efforts and a layer of protection against Republican election theft. In 2022, Arizona Secretary of State Kate Hobbs and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson are up for reelection.

In Georgia, Bee Nguyen, a very impressive member of the General Assembly, is running for Secretary of State. Just because Raffensberger courageously did the right thing in 2020, we should not assume he will do it again. He will face a primary and could very well lose to someone much less responsible. Democrats will also have the opportunity to claim the Secretary of State office in Nevada, another state that Biden won in a razor-thin margin that is likely to be the site of nefarious Republican shenanigans in 2024. iVote is an organization that is working to elect Democratic Secretaries of State across the country. I can promise that the Republicans are going to pour ungodly amounts of money, mostly from billionaires and corporate special interest groups, into these Secretary of State races. Democrats are going to depend on our grassroots fundraising base recognizing the importance of this critical office.

Not A Substitute

I am not giving up on H.R. 1. Senator Schumer has repeatedly promised to make a real push for the bill. President Biden has yet to lean into passing the bill, but I am confident that he will do so before too long. Every one of us needs to keep fighting to strengthen voting rights. Sign up at Vote Save America to join our campaign to push for passage of the bill.

But we also must be realistic about the challenges that come with passing a bill that Joe Manchin clearly does not love (to put it mildly). Everything I recommended above needs to be done whether H.R. 1 passes or not, but the importance of these actions becomes exponentially greater if the bill doesn't pass. The 2022 elections are winnable even without voting rights legislation, but they won’t be won on their own.

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