Voices: Kyrsten Sinema’s Democratic exodus is her latest attention-seeking stunt. It won’t save her

Liberals have long hated Senator Kyrsten Sinema ever since she voted against overriding the Senate Parliamentarian to add a minimum wage increase to the American Rescue Plan. She has further antagonized them through her support for the filibuster, even when it means protecting voting or abortion rights. She angered them even more this summer when she voted for an amendment that almost killed the Inflation Reduction Act.

It appears that no matter the occasion, Ms Sinema enjoys sticking out and making herself the topic of attention while simultaneously avoiding the press and, as a profile in the 19th News last year pointed out, feels little need to explain herself (one Latino activist I talked to last year said that in 2018, she interacted little with the grassroots). She wants people to talk about her without actually talking to the masses, whom she likely thinks as unsophisticated.

At the same time, even her biggest critics cannot deny that she’s passed plenty of legislation, namely the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the first major piece of gun legislation in almost three decades and the aforementioned same-sex marriage bill. That’s why her latest decision to defect from the Democratic Party to become an independent makes zero political sense except to bring attention to herself, but it will not save her politically.

This week should have been a sufficient week for Ms Sinema to feel like she had gotten her day in the sun. The House passed her legislation to codify same-sex marriage that she brokered with Republican and Democratic senators. Earlier this week, she floated a potential immigration deal with Senator Thom Tillis.

At the same time, Ms Sinema rarely speaks to the press, either in the halls of the Senate or back in Arizona, and feels little need to be held accountable by voters.

While many people compare her to conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, they differ in key ways: Mr Manchin, as much as he enrages Democrats, hails from a state where every county voted for Donald Trump. As a result, he feels the need to constantly explain himself in West Virginia’s local newspapers and to local news radio host Hoppy Kercheval.

Conversely, Ms Sinema’s move makes little-to-no sense. She correctly noted in her interview with Jake Tapper that a large number of voters in Arizona are unaffiliated - the state has more “other” voters than it does registered Democrats. But this comes right on the heels of Democrats running the table in Arizona, where they won the governorship, the secretary of state and Senator Mark Kelly won a full term.

Ms Sinema is leaving the Democratic Party right when people in her home state have shown they don’t like the noxious mix of xenophobia and election denying the GOP is selling them.

Similarly, Ms Sinema’s action may seem like her declaring her defiant contrarian streak in principle, but in practice, it actually changes very little. She reportedly intends to “intends to maintain her committee assignments through the Democratic majority.” In short: she will have all the benefits of being a Democrat in the Senate while not actually having to have that pesky label.

But it will likely hinder her ability to get things done. In the club of 100, legislation lives or dies depending as much on whether people like each other as well as on the merits. To borrow from Robin Williams, her decision to defect but stay on committees is like telling your parents you want to move out but you would still like to get their money.

And it’s not like she will be in a better position if she were to run in 2024. Her exit does pose a risk for Democrats in that if they recruit a challenger in the general election, she risks splitting the vote in a way that could benefit a Republican.

At the same time, an AARP poll from earlier this year conducted by Mr Biden’s pollsters at Impact Research and Mr Trump’s pollsters at Fabrizo Ward showed that every voting group across the board has an unfavorable opinion of her.

Despite the fact she’s passed multiple Democratic priority legislation throughout the past two years, they still see her as insufficiently progressive. Similarly, she can pal around with Senate Minority Whip John Thune and go to Mitch McConnell’s center in Louisville all she wants, but Republicans back home clearly still see her as a liberal. Meanwhile, Arizona Independents don’t see her as someone who is interested in working across the aisle but as someone who cares only about being a Washington insider.

All this makes Ms Sinema’s decision all the more baffling - unless, of course, it is seen through the lens of what gets Kyrsten Sinema the most attention for Kyrsten Sinema. Then it makes perfect sense. But most voters will likely still give it a thumbs down.