Sen. Joe Manchin says Donald Trump would destroy US democracy if he wins second term as president

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, days removed from announcing he won't seek reelection, said Wednesday that if the nation's voters give former President Donald Trump another term in the White House, “he will destroy democracy in America.”

Manchin, whose home state voters overwhelmingly backed Trump in the last two presidential elections, made the comment on a press call with West Virginia-based reporters amid speculation that Manchin himself might be weighing a third-party run for president.

The moderate West Virginia Democrat said Wednesday that he would never want to be a “spoiler” who contributed to getting any other candidate elected. But he said he would do what he had to in order to save the country.

“If they said, ‘You’re the only person to do it,' I’ll do whatever I can to save this nation,” he said.

Manchin had harsh words for how the two-party system is currently functioning.

“These parties have taken over to where they weaponized us against each other," he said. “And that's wrong.”

But Manchin reserved his harshest comments for Trump, who won every one of West Virginia’s 55 counties in both 2016 and 2020, making it one of the former president’s most loyal states. Manchin said it would be “dangerous” to give Trump another term.

“You can’t have this visceral hatred spewing out of every time you give a speech, denigrating Americans,” he said. “And the only good American is the one that likes you and supports you; the only fair election is the one you win; the only laws pertain to everybody but you.”

Manchin also critiqued Democratic President Joe Biden on Wednesday, saying he has been pushed too far to the left during his term in office.

After Manchin announced his decision last week not to seek another term, Trump took to social media to take credit for nudging him out of the race by endorsing the current West Virginia governor's bid for Manchin's Senate seat next year.

“Because I Endorsed Big Jim Justice of West Virginia for the U.S. Senate, and he has taken a commanding lead, Democrat Joe Manchin has decided not to seek re-election. Looking good for Big Jim!” the former president said on his Truth Social internet site.

Manchin's condemnation of Trump came less than a week after the senator, who was a state lawmaker, secretary of state and governor of once-deep-blue West Virginia before being elected to the Senate in 2010, announced he would not pursue another term because of frustration with the political divide in U.S. politics.

Manchin would have had a difficult path to reelection as the only remaining Democratic statewide officeholder in West Virginia, likely running against either GOP U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney or Gov. Jim Justice, both loyal Trump supporters.

Since his decision not to run for reelection next week, political pundits have speculated that Manchin might be eyeing a potential presidential run as a candidate with No Labels. Manchin has long been friendly with No Labels, which has already begun holding private conversations with potential presidential nominees, Manchin among them.

A group pushing for Manchin to partner with retiring Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to seek a third-party presidential bid independently filed paperwork to form a formal draft committee with the Federal Election Commission on the same day Manchin announced he wouldn't vie to return to the Senate.

Manchin said he has yet to make any decision about his next steps, but repeated his vow to travel the country to gauge interest in a centrist political movement.

“I’ve done everything I can to try to change the political dysfunction and political divisions that we have in Washington, and I’ve come to the conclusion, it can’t be done here in Washington," he said.

Manchin's remarks came a day after a congressional hearing devolved into an angry confrontation between a Republican senator and a witness in which Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged Sean O’Brien, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to a fight.

Manchin said he was “ashamed” of the testy exchange as a member of Congress and cited it as the latest example of the rise of extremism in the U.S. political system. He said Trump has contributed to and taken advantage of that.

“The normal procedures in the political arena today, from Donald Trump’s point of view, is attack, attack, attack, insinuate, and then basically invigorate hatred, spew, call you names, wants to get a reaction, wants a fight,” he said. “It’s not who we are. We didn’t become this country like that.”

Manchin said when Trump was elected in 2016, he tried to work with him, but that the president's approach to politics goes against “every grain I understood of what we’re supposed to do in public service.”

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to take the most powerful office in the world and use it for vengeful purposes,’” he said.

Manchin has played a key role in the closely divided Senate, helping to pass the bipartisan infrastructure law and crafting the inflation reduction act, which lowered prescription drug prices, provided health care subsidies and invested heavily in clean energy projects, as well as embracing support for carbon sequestration and storage and other projects to support the fossil fuel industry.

He said it had been one of the most productive congresses in U.S. history because Democrats and Republicans were forced to work together.

“There were people upset thinking I had this power. I said, ‘I don’t have any more power than any of the other senators,’" he said. "I can’t figure out why you all won't use it to do something good for our country and our states we represent.”

Manchin is the last in a line of powerful West Virginia Democrats who advocated for coal interests in Washington, something that has become untenable as the progressive party has embraced clean energy and the transition away from fossil fuels.

He said when he first came to the Senate, he was asked, “What happened to the West Virginia Democrat?”

“I said, ‘They want to know what happened to the Washington Democrat,'’' Manchin said. ”The West Virginia Democrats still worked hard, they mined the coal, made the steel, built the guns and ships, they gave everything they have, shed more blood, lost more lives for the cause of freedom than most any state, but all of a sudden, we’re not good enough, green enough, clean enough or smart enough. And they got sick and tired of it."