Until this week, Joe Manchin tended to side with his fellow Democrats on major questions of economic policy.

During the Trump administration, Manchin voted against both the attempts to repeal Obamacare and a tax cut skewed toward the rich. Earlier this year, he insisted on changes to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus rescue bill, but still provided a deciding vote for it.

Manchin’s breaches with his party have tended to come on issues other than economic legislation, like abortion, voting rights and Supreme Court confirmations. This pattern makes sense, too: Manchin’s West Virginia constituents, like most Americans, largely agree with the Democratic Party on economic policy, while being to the right of the party on many social issues.

Biden’s Build Back Better program looked like the kind of bill that Manchin would support. Its provisions are generally popular, polls show, and Manchin has said that he wants Biden to be a successful president. Manchin could have shored up his image as a moderate by demanding a few high-profile changes to the bill — and then voting for it.

a public spat between Manchin and the White House and has left many Democrats feeling despondent about Biden’s agenda.

What happened? There is no simple answer, but I’ll walk through five main possibilities in today’s newsletter. As is often the case, the full answer probably involves more than one explanation.

Agreeing with other Democrats on economic policy most of the time isn’t the same thing as agreeing all of the time. And Manchin made specific,

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