To spend time around Dean Phillips, as I have since his first campaign for Congress in 2018, is to encounter someone so earnest as to be utterly suspicious. He speaks constantly of joy and beauty and inspiration, beaming at the prospect of entertaining some new perspective. He allows himself to be interrupted often—by friends, family, staffers—but rarely interrupts them, listening patiently with a politeness that almost feels aggravating. With the practiced manners of one raised with great privilege—boasting a net worth he estimates at $50 million—the gentleman from Minnesota is exactly that.
But that courtly disposition cracks, I’ve noticed, when he’s convinced that someone is lying. Maybe it’s because at six months old he lost his father in a helicopter crash that his family believes the military covered up, in a war in Vietnam that was sold to the public with tricks and subterfuge. I can hear the anger in his voice as he talks about the treachery that led to January 6, recalling his frantic search for some sort of weapon—he found only a sharpened pencil—with which to defend himself against the violent masses who were sacking the U.S. Capitol. I can see it in his eyes when Phillips, who is Jewish, remarks that some of his Democratic colleagues have recently spread falsehoods about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and others in the party have refused to condemn blatant anti-Semitism.
Deception is a part of politics. Phillips acknowledges that. But some deceptions are more insidious than others. On the third Saturday of October, as we sat inside the small, sun-drenched living room of his rural-Virginia farmhouse, Phillips told me he was about to do something out of character: He was going to upset some people. He was going to upset some people because he was going to run for president. And he was going to run for president, Phillips explained, because there is one deception he can no longer perpetuate.
“My grave concern,” the congressman said, “is I just don’t think President Biden will beat Donald Trump next November.”
This isn’t some fringe viewpoint within the Democratic Party. In a year’s worth of conversations with other party leaders, Phillips told me, “everybody, without exception,” shares his fear about Joe Biden’s fragility—political and otherwise—as he seeks a second term. This might be hyperbole, but not by much: In my own recent conversations with party officials, it was hard to find anyone who wasn’t jittery about Biden. Phillips’s problem is that they refuse to say so on the record. Democrats claim to view Trump as a singular threat to the republic, the congressman complains, but for reasons of protocol and self-preservation they have been unwilling to go public with their concerns about Biden, making it all the more likely, in Phillips’s view, that the former president will return to office. [Continue reading…]