Joe Manchin, the controversial Democratic US senator from West Virginia who is stepping down from Congress, has warned that if Donald Trump is sent back to the White House in next year’s presidential election “he will destroy democracy in America”.
Related: Joe Manchin’s Senate resignation fuels speculation of third-party 2024 bid
Manchin delivered a withering attack on Trump a week after he announced that he will not seek re-election in 2024. He said that it would be “dangerous” if the American people gave Trump a second term as he would use the opportunity not merely to shake up the political establishment as he did first time round, but to break it.
“I guarantee if he comes back, he’ll break it now, because now he knows enough of what he needs to do to get everything he wants,” Manchin told reporters on Wednesday.
Manchin, 76, has couched his decision not to stand again next year as having been driven by frustration with the two-party system. There has been speculation that he might be tempted by a thirty-party bid for the presidency.
But he has also become an anachronism in West Virginia, a state which Trump won handily in both 2016 and 2020. Manchin is the only statewide Democratic officeholder left in the state.
Despite the rightward drift of his home state, Manchin had harsh words for Trump. “I think if Donald Trump is elected, he will destroy democracy in America,” he said.
The former president had made clear that if he gets back into the Oval Office he would go after his detractors.
“You can’t say that you’re going to take the most powerful office in the world and use it for vengeful purposes,” Manchin said.
“You can’t have this visceral hatred spewing out every time you give a speech, denigrating Americans: the only good American is the one that likes and supports you; the only fair election is the one you win; laws pertain to everybody but you; and January 6 was a walk-in-the-park visit to their favorite place, the United States Capitol. This is crazy stuff.”
The senator’s decision not to run in 2024 has fueled discussion that he might be contemplating a presidential bid of his own with the centrist No Labels group. A separate group has been angling for Manchin to team up with the retiring moderate Republican senator, Mitt Romney from Utah.
There is no love lost between Manchin and the leadership of the Democratic party which he has consistently defied, often in line with his own personal coal company interests. In such a narrowly divided Senate – nearly tied with 51 Democrats and 49 Republicans – he has wielded his vote as an axe to kill some of the signature efforts of the Biden administration, including a $2tn environment bill.
On Wednesday he reserved some of his criticism for Joe Biden and the Democratic party. He told Democrats: “Why are you upset with Donald Trump? You should be upset with yourself, to have the most flawed human being to be able to be accepted by how many millions of people to be president.”