Will Joe Manchin leave the Democratic Party? Ever since the Democratic Senator from West Virginia blew up negotiations on the Build Back Better Act, pundits have been speculating that Manchin will leave the party to become an independent. While Manchin has bluntly thrown cold water on the idea of leaving the party in the past, such a move wouldn’t be without precedent. Here are some examples of the dozen or so legislators who have made the uncommon decision to switch party affiliations in the last two decades.
- Arlen Specter (Republican to Democrat). First elected to the Senate in 1980 as a Republican, Specter was a staunch centrist. The Pennsylvania Senator switched over to the Democratic Party in 2009 due to what he viewed as the Republican Party moving “farther and farther to the right.” Specter ultimately lost the 2010 Democratic primary race to Joe Sestak, who went on to lose the general election to current Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Specter died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012.
- Joe Lieberman (Democrat to Independent). Lieberman was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in the 2000 general election, but then he ran under the independent “Connecticut for Lieberman” party in his 2006 Senate reelection bid after losing the Democratic primary to current Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. After winning reelection, Lieberman was officially listed as an independent but continued to caucus with the Democratic Party in the Senate.
- Jim Jeffords (Republican to Independent). Elected to the Senate in 1989 as a Republican, Jeffords became an independent and caucused with the Democrats in 2001 due to disagreements over the Bush tax cuts. Jeffords’ switch was particularly consequential because it changed control of the senate from a Republican majority to a Democrat majority. This was the first time such a switch had changed party control. After his retirement in 2007, Jeffords was succeeded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), an independent who also caucuses with the Democrats.
- Jeff Van Drew (Democrat to Republican). The New Jersey State Senator was elected to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections that saw Democrats flip nearly 40 seats in the House. However, in late 2019, Van Drew became a Republican due to his opposition to then-President Trump’s impeachment. Van Drew won reelection in 2022 and continues to represent his purple district in southern New Jersey as a Republican.
- Justin Amash (Republican to Independent to Libertarian). First elected in 2011, Amash announced in a 2019 op-ed his decision to leave the GOP and become an independent after becoming “disenchanted” and “frightened” by party politics and saying that he did not feel “well represented” by either major party. The Michigan Congressman later joined the Libertarian Party in April 2020, becoming the first Libertarian to serve in Congress. However, Amash declined to seek reelection in 2020.
- Paul Mitchell (Republican to Independent). Mitchell took office in 2017 to represent a solid Republican district near Detroit, Michigan. However, in July 2019, Mitchell announced he would not seek reelection in 2019, namely due to the “rhetoric and vitriol” in the federal government and a desire to spend more time with family. Just a year later, Mitchell formally became an independent out of disagreement with then-President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Mitchell died in August 2021 after a long battle with cancer.