Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is stepping up his criticism of President Biden’s leadership, stirring speculation that the maverick Democrat may challenge Biden as a third-party candidate in 2024.

Manchin notes he has had a 12-year relationship with No Labels, the centrist political group that is trying to gain access to the ballot in all 50 states to open a path for a third-party candidate to run for president.  

He praises the group as just about the only one in Washington trying to get Republicans and Democrats to cooperate and says voters are “starving” for less partisanship in politics.  

“I’ve been part of No Labels since December of 2010. It’s the only game in town that wants to bring people together and get Democrats and Republicans working together,” he said. 

Asked about talk that he could run nationwide on the No Labels ticket, Manchin said “people are starving, starving to work together.” 

He said voters are sick of “this constant, daily routine of everyone’s against everybody and everybody’s fighting and arguing.”  

“Let’s be for the country and get something done,” he said.  

He has repeatedly declined to knock down chatter that he may run for president as a third-party candidate and told reporters last week he won’t make a decision about his political future until the end of the year.  

He didn’t announce his decision to run for a third Senate term until Jan. 23, 2018 — a few weeks into the election year.  

Manchin is up for reelection next year, and Senate Republicans think they scored a big win by recruiting popular Republican Gov. Jim Justice to run against him.

Speculation around a Manchin bid for president is grounded on the conventional wisdom that Justice would be a formidable general election candidate and that Manchin may want to skip a bruising battle against him in a Republican-leaning state to run against a weak incumbent president.  

An NBC poll published last week found that 70 percent of Americans don’t want Biden to run for a second term, and 60 percent don’t want former President Trump to run for president.  

Manchin’s reaction to those numbers is that “people are looking for something,” implying that’s something other than a rematch of the 2020 election.  

Asked about Biden’s weak numbers with Democratic voters, Manchin told NBC’s Chuck Todd last month, “I know we can do better,” referring to Biden’s implementation of the law Congress passed last year to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the energy sector.   

Whether he runs for reelection to the Senate may depend on how well his toughest opponent, likely Justice, is polling in the Senate Republican primary in November and December.

Manchin’s harsh criticisms of Biden are further fueling talk of a third-party challenge.  

The West Virginia senator dropped a bombshell last week when he said he would now vote to repeal the landmark climate and prescription drug reform law he authored last year because Biden broke his word in its implementation.  

The week before, he slammed Biden for a “deficiency of leadership” in addressing the federal debt and applauded Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for unveiling a proposal to raise the debt limit and cut spending.  

Some Democratic strategists are skeptical of Manchin waging a third-party presidential bid, given how difficult his path to victory would be with the dominance of the two-party system. 

“It’s a very difficult undertaking,” said a centrist Democratic strategist. “Mike Bloomberg had a billion dollars, and he didn’t think it was possible,” referring to the former New York City mayor and financial media billionaire who in 2019 mulled a third-party White House bid. 

Bloomberg warned against other prominent tycoons waging a third-party candidacy in 2020 by predicting it would likely “split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting” Trump. 

Manchin, who raised concerns about federal spending and its impact on inflation throughout last year, says the Biden administration has dramatically increased the spending in the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-related programs by stretching its authorities as far as possible.  

“The main issue is the price. When you look at just the energy content only, just the energy part that we put together, should have had a $270 billion cost for 10 years. [The Congressional Budget Office] came out yesterday; it’s $570 [billion] now because of how they liberalized it and expanded it,” he said, explaining the Biden administration expanded the law through “interpretation and implementation.”  

The updated cost estimates for the green energy provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act were buried in the budget score for the Limit, Save, Grow Act, which House Republicans passed last week to raise the debt limit by roughly $1.5 trillion and cut spending by $4.5 trillion.  

Manchin voiced his concerns about inflation throughout 2021 and 2022, when Democrats were scrambling to lock down his vote for a bill to close corporate tax loopholes, lower prescription drug prices and invest hundreds of billions of dollars. 

The bill he finally agreed to was projected by the Congressional Budget Office to reduce the deficit by $90 billion over 10 years, and Democrats said it would really cut the deficit by $300 billion by empowering the IRS to crack down on tax cheats.  

But now, it looks like those savings will be consumed by the Biden administration’s aggressive interpretation of who qualifies for clean-energy tax breaks.  

Manchin’s frustration with the president is further fueled by Biden’s blunt refusal to negotiate with McCarthy on linking fiscal reforms to the debt ceiling. 

“It has been more than 78 days since President Biden last met with Speaker McCarthy. This signals a deficiency of leadership, and it must change,” he said in an April 20 statement.   

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who played a leading role in pushing the green-energy tax provisions in the last Congress, disputed Manchin’s claim that the White House broke its promise to the senator. 

“I understand Joe’s frustration, but these were always estimates based on what CBO thought would be the participation rate” of using green-energy tax credits “and the participation rate was higher than projected and if you ask me that’s excellent news for the climate. If you ask Joe, it’s bad news but one thing it’s not is a double-cross,” he said, referring to the evolving Congressional Budget Office’s projections.  

Democratic strategists who are more familiar with the nuances of West Virginia’s political scene think Justice will have a tough road to winning the Senate Republican nomination against Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), who is also running for Manchin’s seat.  

“I don’t know if Jim Justice is as formidable as people make him out to be. Point one is he’s never had a tough race,” said Jonathan Kott, a Democratic strategist and former Manchin aide, who noted that Justice won election as governor in 2016 as a Democrat and then switched to the GOP while in office.  

“I think he is very much underestimating how hard winning a Republican primary is going to be, and what you have to do to win that Republican Primary is going to make a lot of what [Republican strategists] think his appeal in the general election a lot weaker,” Kott added. 

Manchin says he’s not too worried about his opponent.  

“Let the games begin. It’s going to be a very entertaining primary on their side,” he said.