Ever since the bill formerly known as Build Back Better first sprang into existence about a year ago, a number of D.C. journalists, including at such august institutions as The New York Times, coined the term “Manchinema” (and, alternatively, “Sinemanchin”) to describe the disruptive Democratic duo of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in an almost Bennifer-esque sort of way, as they aligned in their shared desire to nuke Biden’s signature legislation. During that time, they were portrayed as members of a rom-comesque buddy comedy that paired a 74-year-old, boat-dwelling, Sunday-show-mugging coal millionaire with a 46-year-old political chameleon, bisexual oenophile from the Sun Belt who wore purple wigs and thigh-high boots and was obsessed with solidcore and Ironman competitions.
Not surprisingly, this was, of course, a massive oversimplification and an incorrect lumping together of two very different, and largely misunderstood characters. Personality-wise, the two are practically antithetical. While they both crave being the center of attention, they have vastly different approaches. Sinema takes herself seriously and is constantly endeavoring to be substantive, showing up to meetings prepared with spreadsheets, data points, and typically thoughtful questions. She ducks the Capitol Hill press in a manner that makes it appear that she is terrified of them, whereas Manchin will often hold court with his favorite reporters.
Indeed, Manchin often appears uncomfortable when he’s not leading the conversation with his straight-from-the-gut takes and old-school political instincts. He fidgets and shakes his leg while he waits his turn to talk, before overpowering the conversation with wild gestures. “When the attention turns off him and goes on to someone else, he gets agitated,” one observer told me. “There’s definitely competitive tension between them.” But Manchin also knows how to turn on his college jock charm. When he’s not serving pizza and cocktails on his double-wide houseboat, he’s often spotted at soirees hosted by the French ambassador with his good friend, Steve Clemons, the Semafor editor-at-large.