Manchin says he 'absolutely' can see himself as president

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is reportedly considering a run for president as an independent in 2024, should there be a health scare for Biden or a conviction for Trump. In public, Manchin has been traveling through key primary states, advocating for a middle ground in American politics. Privately, Manchin has told people that a Joe Biden health scare or a Donald Trump conviction could give him an opening to run as an independent this year. No Labels, a bipartisan group, has set a mid-March deadline to decide whether to back a presidential "unity ticket." However, top No Labels leaders say they remain in the dark about the path forward. Meanwhile, three years of exhaustion at Manchin upending Biden's agenda has left the president and top aides trying to sound out what he is up to without riling him up by going to him directly.

Some around Biden agree Manchin may have a point in how to make the pitch. Nervously, though, they wish he would say it more quietly and further from the campaign trail. As Biden tries to assert the success of his presidency, Manchin says he shaped "everything" in the president's agenda. In an interview with CNN, Manchin said the country would have been worse off if he hadn't used the 50-50 Senate to force Biden to do things his way. When asked whether he would include any staff or other material from No Labels if he launches a campaign, Manchin demurred. Instead, he sees the group as just his latest target to bend to his way. The group is already at odds over whether a Democrat or Republican should be at the top of a No Labels unity ticket. With about a month and a half left, No Labels officials insist their plans will spike in popularity as more Americans wrap their heads around a likely Trump-Biden rematch.

All of this is rooted in polling about Americans being generally dissatisfied with their existing 2024 options compiled by Mark Penn, the husband of No Labels founder and CEO Nancy Jacobson, who is seen as perhaps the one who could decide the answers to the outstanding questions. In an interview, No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy said the group is preserving its options to be flexible. No Labels officials insist their plans will spike in popularity as more Americans wrap their heads around a likely Trump-Biden rematch. In a speech at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, Manchin covered most of what the hot sauce salesman forgot. His address was typically affable, low on specifics, and full of conviction about his centrality to shaping pretty much everything out of Washington in the two years of a 50-50 Senate. Several anti-Trump Republicans who listened to Manchin's speech told CNN they were happy to hear him. However, they said they wanted less standard-issue pablum about centrism and more on whether he was running for president and what all the No Labels talk was going to amount to. As Manchin worked the room at Saint Anselm, shaking hands and taking selfies, local police swarmed around him, on edge over a group of climate protesters outside. Unfazed, Manchin seemed