West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin represents the last of the segregationist southern Democrats, once known as the Dixiecrats. The term Dixiecrats was the slang term given to the breakaway States' Rights Democratic Party who followed South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond out of the party in 1948 in protest of the desegregation policies of President Harry S Truman. In 1964, Thurmond left the Democratic Party to support GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. By 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon cemented Republican control over the Dixiecrats by adopting his "Southern Strategy," which saw the Republican Party adopt many of the anti-civil rights policies of the Dixiecrats.
Nixon's "Southern Strategy" continues to haunt the Democratic Party. Several current Republican senators, including John Neely Kennedy and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, switched from the Democratic to Republican Party.
Today, Manchin continues to carry the banner of the Dixiecrats within the Democratic Party. Manchin's opposition to federal legislation protecting voting rights, raising the federal minimum wage, and his continued support for the Senate filibuster, instituted by segregationists and pro-slavery senators in the 19th century to block anti-slavery legislation, marks him as a de facto Dixiecrat. West Virginia, which was formed by pro-Union Virginians opposed to the state's joining of the Confederacy, is now politically indistinguishable from Alabama or Mississippi, both bastions of anti-civil rights Republicans who support Donald Trump.
Manchin occupies the seat of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, an opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, but who later came around to renounce racism, becoming one of the more progressive Democrats as the leader of the party in the Senate. Manchin has retreated from Byrd's later legacy in the Senate to embrace Byrd's earlier opposition to civil and voting rights.
Manchin's West Virginia Republican colleague in the Senate, Shelly Moore Capito, is the daughter of the late Republican congressman and West Virginia Governor, Arch A. Moore, Jr. Moore supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 24th Amendment (which prohibits states from instituting hindering voting rights through such devices as a poll tax), and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. President Biden has been trying to personally lobby Senator Capito to support his infrastructure proposal. Although Biden has failed to bring Capito around on infrastructure, it would make more sense for the president to remind Capito that her father supported voting rights measures that Manchin currently opposes.
Biden's vaccination and financial assist policies have been welcomed by the rank-and-file in West Virginia, which was once a heavily Democratic state, voting for Jimmy Carter in Ronald Reagan's landslide win in 1980 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted for conviction of Trump in the second Senate impeachment trial and for a January 6 investigations commission, supported the presidential candidacies of Dukakis in 1988 and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Paul Tsongas in 1992. Biden, who served in the Senate for four decades, has been reaching out to Capito and Cassidy.
Biden appears to be taking a page from the famed "jawboning" carrot-and-stick approach employed by Lyndon Johnson. By reminding Capito of her father's moderate Republican stance and Cassidy of his past support for liberal Democratic candidatesalong with sweetheart infrastructure development or improvement projects for their states, political switching away from the far-right party of Trump to the Democratic fold cannot be ruled out. Although there have been several Democrats who have switched to the Republicans, changing parties in the opposite direction is not unheard of. In 2009, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched to the Democratic Party.
If Capito or Cassidy, both having incurred the wrath of Trump and his supporters, could be convinced to caucus with the Democrats, Biden could tell the Donald Trump-admiring Manchin to take a hike. Trump's control over the Republican Party has witnessed a number of state-level crossovers to the Democrats, including in New Jersey, Kansas, Hawaii, Nebraska, Iowa, and New York. As Trump continues to move the Republican Party further to the right, we can expect to see more party switches from Republicans who no longer feel comfortable in a party dominated by conspiracy kooks, racists, and neo-Nazis. The situation lends itself to Republican office holders abandoning ship to become Democrats and that may play favorably to Biden's numbers in the Senate and House.