November 2, 2023

Dean Phillips

U.S. congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota launched his long-shot challenge to President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination [last] Friday, seizing on Biden's lackluster approval ratings and voter wariness over his age.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left is critical of Phillips, arguing that his candidacy will weaken Biden and thus help Trump.

“His candidacy, magnified by conservative media, will guarantee that so long as it lasts, Biden’s age and alleged feebleness will never be out of the public eye for a moment, and it will be given greater credibility by his partisan and ideological identification with the incumbent. Phillips’s secondary message — that Democrats are a bunch of cowards who know Biden is a doddering relic but don’t have the guts to do anything about it — will also find an avid audience full of amplifying bullhorns…

“Even giving Phillips the ultimate benefit of the doubt, if he succeeds in pushing Biden to retire, the ‘new generation of leaders’ he claims to represent will be at one another’s throats almost instantly… [VP] Kamala Harris would almost certainly run for president in Biden’s absence and if Phillips, or the sort of ‘centrist governor’ he earlier implored to run, tried to deny her the nomination, there would be intraparty bloodletting for real, all benefiting the GOP. It is precisely the desire to avoid such a disaster, not cowardice, that has helped keep Democrats in Biden’s camp.”

Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine

“What, exactly, is the litmus test he wishes Biden to pass? Is it Biden’s age that’s in question? What must be done to demonstrate his vitality? Would more visits to active war zones like Kyiv and Tel Aviv prove it? If the president’s immutable age is the center of his campaign, then the Phillips effort will serve one purpose: to clumsily fuel the GOP false equivalency machine, giving Republicans ammunition for their unfair age-based attack, conveniently focusing on Biden, age 80 when Trump, age 77, could have been his high school classmate…

“A [recent] poll shows that among respondents who said both Trump and Biden were too old to serve, ‘61 percent said they planned to vote for Mr. Biden, compared with 13 percent who said the same about Mr. Trump.’ The rational verdict on whether Joe Biden is up to the job lies in the results: A 50-year low unemployment rate, the passage of infrastructure and CHIPS and Science Act bills and bipartisan approval of gun safety and veterans’ legislation. You know, all legislation that Phillips supported.”

Tim Hogan, The Hill

“Phillips would be a long shot in any presidential race. He’s a rank-and-file Democratic representative with limited national name recognition or political identity outside of his recent Biden criticism, as the boilerplate slogans adorning his (possible) [campaign] bus underscore: ‘Make America Affordable Again’ and ‘Everyone’s Invited!’ But a primary challenge against an incumbent who enjoys the full support of the party apparatus is even more quixotic.”

Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair

From the Right

The right argues that Phillips is right to challenge Biden, who is a weak candidate.

The right argues that Phillips is right to challenge Biden, who is a weak candidate.

“The whispering to the press by other Democrats is that Mr. Phillips’s campaign is a vanity project or midlife crisis, but look at the polls. Mr. Biden’s approval rating is 37%, his presidential low, Gallup said this week. A Morning Consult survey last week had him trailing Mr. Trump by one point in Pennsylvania, two in Wisconsin, four in Arizona, and five in Georgia…

“Mr. Phillips isn’t likely to win the nomination, but his candidacy will be a proxy for the Democratic desire for more choices. The White House is worried enough that the Democratic Party has tweaked its nominating schedule to give Mr. Biden an edge. Next year’s first official primary is scheduled to be in South Carolina. Because New Hampshire hasn’t complied with its demotion, Mr. Biden’s campaign said this week he won’t appear on the ballot there…

“If Mr. Phillips can build momentum in the Granite State, perhaps there’s still a chance of making the Democratic primary interesting in a way that could help the party in November 2024. Or if not, at least some Democrat had the guts to try, since many of them are equally worried about Mr. Biden’s health, polling and prospects against Mr. Trump, even if Mr. Phillips is the only one who will say so.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Lots of Americans, including many Democrats, don’t want the president to run again. A recent Yahoo-YouGov poll shows this clearly. Only 55 percent of Democratic primary voters said they wanted Biden to be the Democratic nominee in 2024… Phillips, therefore, need only present himself as a receptacle for unease about Biden. Most voters who cast their ballots for him probably won’t actually want him to win; instead, they will use him to send a clear message to the party: anyone but Biden.”

Henry Olsen, Washington Post

“The notable thing about the whole controversy is that much of what Phillips is saying is true. Of course it is time for a new generation of American leaders. Of course the public's standard of living has declined under Biden. Of course Biden's border policy has been a disaster. These things are self-evidently true. And most importantly, of course Biden is too old to be president, something Phillips can't bring himself to say in so many words…

“While all that is true, the Democratic establishment has dutifully fallen in line behind the elderly president, each operative and officeholder afraid his or her future in the party will be damaged if they admit the obvious. That makes it highly unlikely the Dean Phillips campaign will ever go anywhere. But it will still be revealing.

Byron York, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“What makes Phillips unique, and maybe deserving of his own sub-wing of the Incumbent Challengers’ Wing, is that he has no real policy or political bones to pick with Biden… Phillips has voted the Biden line in Congress roughly 100 percent of the time…

“It has always been something of a kamikaze mission to run against your party’s incumbent president. But most of these kamikaze candidates do so with the knowledge that while their candidacy might end their political careers, at least they’ll have the satisfaction of having moved their party to the left or right or having sunk their target… Beyond the few weeks of campaign glory and television interviews, what’s in it for Phillips?”
Jack Shafer, Politico

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