Q&A with Rep. Dean Phillips
The Dartmouth sat down with Phillips, who is challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, about his campaign.
On Nov. 13, the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Dartmouth Political Union co-hosted a discussion with Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, a Democrat, as part of their “Path to the Presidency” speaker series. Rep. Phillips has served in Congress since 2019 and, on Oct. 27, announced his bid for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, challenging President Joe Biden. The Dartmouth sat down with Rep. Phillips to discuss his long-shot campaign, President Biden and his policy positions.
You have said in previous interviews that the reason you’re running for president is because many Democrats want a different nominee than President Biden. Why are you the best alternative to Biden for the Democratic nomination?
DP: I’m running because Democrats are begging for alternatives — over half of Democrats, broadly, and over 83% of Democrats under 30 years old. I’m also running because if I don’t, and Joe Biden is the nominee, he’s almost certainly going to lose to Donald Trump.
In democracy, we need choices. Voters demand choices. And I’m afraid we’re seeing too often the two major parties trying to limit those very choices. I think that’s dangerous and destructive. George Washington warned us about that in his farewell address about factions. In his era, we didn’t have political parties, and I’m concerned about how they have supplanted the will of voters, and that’s a deeply consequential challenge we’re facing.
As for me, I would be the first president in recent history who has business experience, who has nonprofit experience and who has public sector experience. People who’ve been in Washington for decades, including President Biden, are good intentioned and are even people of principle, but have been consumed by a system that is really destroying the very democracy that we should be building and in which we should be investing.
You were quoted in a CNN article, saying, “I think in 2020, [Biden] was probably the only Democrat who could have beaten Donald Trump. I think in 2024, he may be among the only ones that will lose to him … and that’s why I’m doing this.” What did you mean by this? Were you referring to the Nov. 5 New York Times and Siena College poll, which found Biden trailing Trump in five of six key swing states?
DP: I believe politicians lie, but numbers and data don’t. And the data is very clear that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are increasingly likely to lose to Donald Trump. I’m not the one that caused these problems for the President. To the contrary, I’ve been the one who’s trying to support his policies by voting for them. As a member of House leadership, I actually helped market them. But Americans get to choose who they want for their leader, and they are saying right now that they prefer Donald Trump over President Biden. 75% or so are saying they want neither of these men.
The most important data point in one of those recent polls is that Donald Trump is beating President Biden 48 to 44 points among battleground voters. But when they asked the question, “if it was not President Biden, and a generic Democrat, who would you vote for?” The generic Democrat wins 48 to 40 points. So that’s a massive swing. I’ve never aspired to be generic, but what Americans are saying very loudly is that they do not want either of these candidates. And I think giving choice and freedom to make the choice is a responsibility of all of us.
What do you see as the path forward with the conflict in Israel and Gaza? What does U.S. involvement look like in this path forward, and what would you do as president?
DP: The path forward is mutual empathy. I feel deeply about the preservation and protection of Israel. I believe it has a right to exist. I believe there needs to be a singular Jewish nation in the world —, a majority Jewish nation.
I also believe Palestinians have the right to statehood, to safety, security and opportunity.
I want to see Hamas eliminated because they’re the enemy of Israel and of the Palestinians. They’'re sworn to Israel’'s destruction and the wiping off the face of the map of the Jewish people. Most Palestinians do not want Hamas, and they have not been able to vote in elections since 2006. I also want to see Palestinians afforded the right to vote for new leadership, both in the West Bank and Gaza, should they choose peace. Israelis also need to go back to the polls and replace Benjamin Netanyahu and his right wing government and the settlement policy.
I intend to be the first Jewish President in American history, who signs documents that help establish a Palestinian state. That to me is the solution. And that’s where the empathy begins.
It doesn’t appear that you have a campaign slogan. What do you want the overall message of your campaign to be, and why?
It’s time for change. The restoration of the American dream — we deserve better. These are all notions that are part of my personal ethos.
The reason you don’t see a singular slogan right now is that this is not a campaign that has been in the planning stages for many months or many years. Most aspirants to the presidency have been trying to do this for years. Most campaigns take years to set up many, many months at the very least. I began considering running about a month ago, after a year of telling the country that I thought it was time for the President to pass the torch. He had implied that he would do so, if not had been explicit about being a transitional president. He didn’t do that.
In an interview with CNN, you criticized “Bidenomics,” saying that it represents inflation and high prices. What is your economic plan? You say on your website that you are an advocate for “policies that grow the economy by reducing red tape, investing in people, rewarding innovation and sharing in success” — can you explain what this means for everyday Americans?
DP: People are screaming as loud as they can that they’re desperate. Life is not affordable. It’s true here in New Hampshire with heating oil, prices are so high for some that there are thousands waiting in line for subsidies, kids going to school hungry, housing out of reach for many people and becoming unaffordable for those who are even in their houses right now, grocery prices through the roof.
I voted for many of the President’s policies. My contention isn’t that what we did was bad. My contention is it’s not enough. And my contention is that Bidennomics has become an anchor weighing down the Democratic Party, as it represents to most Americans. I’m not saying that the policies were bad. All I’m saying is we have to do better. How do we do that? Affordability, affordability, affordability. Energy policy, our farm bill and food policy, our housing policy, our education policy and our health care policy, are all elements of how we raise the foundation for hard working Americans.
You have previously stated that campaign finance reform should be every American’s “number two” issue. What does campaign finance reform look like to you? When considering reform, how can you ensure that you’re not simply shutting out people who want to run for office but who do not have a net worth of nearly $70 million dollars like you do??
DP: The barriers to entry are way too high. Can you imagine being in your 20s wanting to run for Congress and then someone says you’ve got to raise $10 million, when you might not even have $8 or $10 in your bank account? That’s how we do this right now. For many years, we publicly financed presidential campaigns with public dollars. Former President Barack Obama decided that he wasn’t going to accept public dollars and instead raise as much as he possibly could, and ever since then, the system changed. My belief is that when you have a system in which members of Congress are collectively spending 10,000 hours per week, you have a system that is completely broken. I have a bill right now that would preclude raising money from breakfast to dinner time when you’re in Washington.
We’re the only developed nation in the world that conducts our campaign finance system like this one. It is ruining the country. It is disenfranchising people. It is why we have Trumpism; the anger that people feel that their voices don't matter. And if you don’t have money, you don’t have access. That’s a problem.
Why did you choose to come speak to a crowd of young people today? What do you want Dartmouth students to take away from your conversation?
DP: I intend to have a Cabinet position dedicated to young people, whose voices are not heard in the White House right now or in Washington. I just had the best debate I’ve ever had, in my five years in Congress, with the Dartmouth Political Union. And I’m telling you, it was profound not because of progressives, but because of a conservative who really opened my eyes to how we can do things together. It was amazing, and that’s why I’m here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.