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Primary Elections and the Fight for the Heart of Democracy

A Conversation with Presidential Candidate Dean Phillips

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Richard Helppie  

Hello, welcome to The Common Bridge. It's the fiercely nonpartisan discussion about issues of the day, opportunities of the moment and of course, some political analysis. Well, it's on, the primary season is going! Remember when we used to have that and voters got to pick who the candidates are? Of course, we've covered that the major parties are doing everything they can to subvert democracy and thwart the will of the people. But we have one outspoken candidate on the Democratic side of the house, three term congressman from Minnesota Mr. Dean Phillips back to tell us what life's like now that the primaries have started. Dean, welcome back to The Common Bridge. It's nice to see you.

Dean Phillips  

It's great to be back and what a joyful journey. Let me tell everybody, I wish you could all come along for just one day on the campaign trail. It'll restore and reinvigorate your faith in American democracy, but we've got a lot to protect.

Richard Helppie  

Indeed we do. Well, look, New Hampshire primary just came off, you picked up 20% of the vote coming from a place with little media support, they just don't want to cover you. With all the rules stacked against you from the DNC, in fact, they're not going to give out delegates for New Hampshire. Joe Biden got 50,000 write-in votes, is that right, or write-in votes to get 50%? How did New Hampshire turn out?

Dean Phillips  

Well, first of all, a lot better than I think anybody could have imagined, Rich, we started at zero percent in the polls, zero percent` name recognition. We had ten weeks from scratch to introduce myself against the incumbent president with the full force of the Democratic National Committee, a big write-in campaign, a super PAC, every single elected official, cabinet members, the mayor of Boston, the governor of Massachusetts, and I'll tell you what, to develop 20% market share in ten weeks with what we had to work with I am really proud of my team, really grateful to voters. And it's exactly what I intended, to get a start there. Now I'm in South Carolina, and I'm coming to Michigan soon and I cannot wait.

Richard Helppie  

The Michigan primary is February 27th and we do have an open primary here, voters can ask for either a Democratic primary ballot or a Republican primary ballot and vote in one primary or the other. South Carolina has a curious choice; in the general election it's going to be a Republican win by a large margin. But four years ago, Representative Clyburn backed Joe Biden, that kind of put him over the top and since that time, the Democratic National Committee has changed their rules so that South Carolina goes first. It makes no sense to me why a state that is going to vote for the Republican gets to pick the Democratic nominee. What's going on in South Carolina?

Dean Phillips  

Well, according to the Democratic National Committee and President Biden, South Carolina is a more diverse state. And that's absolutely true and I respect that. I do think diversity early in the elections in the primaries is a good thing, for obvious reasons. I think we'd all agree on that. But the truth is, and what they're not telling you, is even Mr. Clyburn himself said that Joe Biden did this because he didn't want to be embarrassed in New Hampshire, where he came in fifth place and got only 8% of the vote in 2020. So I think you can tell what's really going on, but that's why I'm here right now, in South Carolina, meeting voters; listening, learning. I'll be making my way to Michigan shortly. But I'm learning quickly, Rich, that you can barely trust what any political organization says, and sometimes even those in the highest positions of power, because they're just not telling you the truth.

Richard Helppie  

Well, here in Michigan - and I am in Michigan, I will be voting in Michigan - there is a lot of discussion, basically saying Donald Trump is going to beat Joe Biden and beat him badly. The President now is trying to rally, he appeared with the UAW leadership, but I don't know that he understands that the UAW leadership is not the rank and file. The rank and file does not fall in behind the UAW, United Auto Workers, leadership. In fact it's been the union leadership that's gone Democratic and the rank and file - the hourly workers - have pivoted sharply to the Republican side and were some of the first people to go for Donald Trump. What's it looking like for you in Michigan going against the headwinds of the governor of the state of Michigan, the mayor of Detroit, all big power brokers here?

Dean Phillips  

Well look, I love being the underdog and in America, there's no better person to be and that's what our whole campaign is about. The truth is Joe Biden is a good man but he's going to be 82 with the next election. He'll be 86 by the end of his next term if he were to win. I think I'm just saying the quiet part out loud, I think that's really difficult to foresee. A good man but it's time to pass the torch; his approval numbers are at historic lows, he's losing, as you just mentioned, Rich, in the battleground states and ultimately, in the business of politics, it is about winning. And if my Democratic colleagues, if my Democratic friends in the party and voters around the country really want to win, they're going to have to start waking up from this delusion and look at some other options. My whole contention from day one is let's have a competition, let's not do a coronation. Our founders would be appalled by the notion of coordinating an incumbent just because he or she is the incumbent and that's my case. I'll tell you, Michigan - as you probably know, Rich, better than most - it is very ripe for an upset, I think we're going to perform well. We're about to make some great investments. And President Biden, he's got some trouble in Michigan, as you well know. So we're going to show up, we're going to compete, and best of all, I listen to voters, I take their questions I show up in front of the press, I will do debates, I do town halls and I don't see the President doing that. I think that's part of the problem, people are growing concerned about why not. I'm going to try to encourage him to show up because if you're not willing to and you seek the most important powerful position in the free world, I think there's a real disconnect. I'm afraid Donald Trump...I understand why some love him, I understand why his policies, to some, are quite appealing, but he's not a good man. I'm going to extend invitations to Trump supporters the same way I did in New Hampshire, when I showed up at a Trump rally, introduced myself to a good 50 people in line and was treated with kindness, friendliness, respect, and decency. I've got to tell you, that's the mission of this campaign; everyone's invited, no matter your politics, I do care about your principal, and I'm going to demonstrate that in Michigan.

Richard Helppie  

As you said the first time we spoke, you bear no animus to the Trump voters and you understand why they were looking for something other than business as usual. You also spoke directly, you said you have animus toward Donald Trump because you've seen him up close and personal. But to get that competition against Donald Trump, who's also hiding from the voters, hiding from the debates, you've got to get past Joe Biden. Look, there's a discussion out there right now saying Biden is going to step aside after the primary and there's going to be another person put forward. Will the Democrats ultimately nominate Biden or will they pick someone else and ignore the will the voters?

Dean Phillips  

Well, Rich, if voters had access to the information, I think they would make the right choice and the right choice is the candidate best positioned to win. I do not foresee that being Joe Biden. Back to your earlier point, by the way, Donald Trump to his credit, does big rallies, he shows up in a lot of parts of this country. But he doesn't do what I think is the fundamental role of a United States chief executive, which is to answer people's questions. And Joe Biden is not doing that either. I think it's a grave concern, it should be a grave concern for everyone in this country. Why would someone who aspires to this position be afraid to appear in front of voters and simply answer their questions? As for the convention - I just want to answer that one too - my belief is it's hard to beat the machine. It would be hard to win a lot of states in this contest, because the Democratic National Committee is insulating the President and has the mechanisms in place to almost assure victories. But at the end of the day, I do believe I will earn name recognition - as hard as that is right now - in a number of months, and head-to-head polls will almost surely show me better positioned to beat Donald Trump as a Democrat than Joe Biden. In that case, it's up to the President; will he continue on knowing he's likely to lose to what I consider a dangerous man? Or will he deny the nomination, even if he earned it, and ensure that a candidate - me or if someone else appears who is better positioned - win in democracy? I believe that's how it starts and that's how it should end. I do believe the President will ultimately make the right decision for the country. If he doesn't, we're in big trouble.

Richard Helppie  

Well, we are in big trouble because in a democracy, our constitutional republic, it's supposed to be the will the people. The will the people, according to polls, are seven out of ten voters don't want Joe Biden or Donald Trump, yet the machine and the system and the people that are invested there are going to give us that again and they steer away from the issues of the day. Look, we've got wars breaking out all over - Iran, the Hutus, Hamas, Israel, Ukraine - and now a war brewing American against American military force on the Texas border. The Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety are deployed and they're at odds with our own customs and border patrol. Now, how did we get into this situation? How do we get out of this and what could a president do and what should a president be doing about the border today?

Dean Phillips  

Well, let me start with your first comment about the 70% of the country that just doesn't want either these guys. I'm going to make this really easy for everyone watching and listening. If you vote in the primary, you can change the course of this election. Michiganders can do this if you show up and vote, but if only the ten percent on the left, ten percent on the right - the usual customers, if you will, do the usual thing and just basically re-nominate the coronated candidate - we're going to get the same thing. So if you really care about this, if you're really pissed off, if you're really frustrated, and you really want change, if you're an independent, even if you're a moderate Republican, if you're a Democrat and you don't want this anymore and you're afraid of what happens if Biden is going to lose to Trump, give me a shot. You can change the course of this entire campaign; I'm going to make a big play in Michigan and it starts with that. As for what you just said about the border, my goodness, Rich, I've been there twice. It's a human disaster, it's a national security disaster and now it is becoming a potential constitutional crisis. That starts with leadership. We have not had a president - I would argue in many years - that has adequately addressed not just border security, but also the root cause, which is a an asylum law that actually creates the very crisis in which we find ourselves. This is not that hard to change, especially with someone like me, who's the second most bipartisan member of Congress, who has the relationships, and I think, has the capacity and competency to understand the basics of how to fix a problem. I'm afraid Donald Trump and Joe Biden are just not at stages of their respective lives, to accomplish the hard work necessary to actually lead with competency, with integrity, and solve these problems. I can and I'll do it in a thoughtful bipartisan common sense fashion.

Richard Helppie  

Well, look, I think the major party that gets a sane candidate first, wins. The backlash against any reasonable person such as yourself is astonishing, even to someone like me. I have a hard time understanding...we brought the cultural wars into law with DEI, and people are now realizing the rabbit hole that has become and they're trying to back out - I think you may have something to say about that, perhaps another day - but also, if you look over at the other major party, Nikki Haley - who I happened to meet before she was governor for the first time - she was a capable governor, made some really tough decisions, went and got her ticket punched at the United Nations on international relationships, has always been her own person; she's getting shredded from the Right and from the Left. I'm just curious, when you look over at Nikki Haley, any common ground between the two of you?

Dean Phillips  

Sure, well, there is some common ground and a lot more common ground between Nikki Haley and me than Donald Trump and me. The truth is I know this country would much rather see an Nikki Haley/Dean Phillips match-up this November. I think most of the country would recognize democracy wouldn't be at risk and most of the country would recognize that you'd have two candidates in their 50s, hopefully in a stage of life where we have the energy and the competency and the ability to look at the problems that we're facing and actually solve them. The sad truth is this is what we're getting from both parties right now. The sadder truth is it's actually not the parties who ultimately control this because no matter how hard they try to set rules to favor their interests, if people voted, Rich, if people voted, man, this would be entirely different. I'm kind of getting a little bit upset at the fact that a lot of people...I used to be like that, I used to take it for granted. I used to complain about the people at the top of the ticket every November and I realized - I had an epiphany - you can't complain if you don't participate. This is the most important election, if you really care. Because if you don't think your vote matters, let me tell you, it matters big time, and never more than right now.

Richard Helppie  

I recently wrote a column about that, make your vote count. Look, I understand people are busy; they're going to work, they're raising their families, they're trying to make ends meet, they're going to school, they're trying to enjoy their lives and they get a narrative. And that narrative says it's Biden and Trump. I actually talked to people in Michigan, staunch Democrats, so, first of all, I asked who is Dean Phillips? They go, we don't know. And then others, I [mention] Dean Phillips, they go, we like him better but we think that Biden is the only one that can beat Donald Trump. You're obviously not looking at the polls. Look, if the two major parties can't get there...I recently had the former governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory on The Common Bridge, he's with No Labels. They're saying that should Super Tuesday come and go and it still looks like Biden/Trump, they're going to announce a ticket. If No Labels approached you have you thought about how you might react to that overture?

Dean Phillips  

Well, Rich, my values are pushing Democrats and Republicans together and I think finding a place to do so is very important and that's what No Labels endeavors to do. In this case, I've made it very clear to them and publicly that I need to see data. If the data demonstrates a No Labels ticket somehow can actually defeat Donald Trump in some way, who wouldn't want to look at that? Do I think I at the top of that ticket, or on that ticket, could be helpful to that cause? I really don't imagine that and I'm not going to do anything that would make it easier to have Donald Trump re-elected. Now, if they were to place someone like Vivek Ramaswamy or Ron DeSantis at the top of the ticket that might draw votes from the candidate that I do not want to see win, I think Democrats and Independents and Never-Trumpers should probably take a good look at that. But as for me, Rich, I do not see any scenario where the data would show that I at the top of that ticket, on that ticket, frankly, would be helpful to that cause. And frankly, this is one of those years where I wish more would run in the primary like I'm doing, rather than as independent candidates, because I'm afraid that's actually going to result in the very outcome I'm trying so hard to prevent.

Richard Helppie  

So when we think ahead to January of next year, a year from now, a new president will be inaugurated. We saw in 2016 riots and burning and property destruction when Donald Trump was elected. In 2020, of course, we saw more riots and destruction and an invasion of the Capitol after Joe Biden was elected. Just imagine if you will, Dean, that you win the election and you're standing in front, raising your hand for the oath of office, what's the mood in the country should something like that occur?

Dean Phillips  

Well, I'll tell you Rich, I think it's something we have to be prepared for. I'm afraid that if either of these men who are currently leading these tickets win, we're going to have real problems. I can tell you, my personality and my positioning is to always be respectful of people and I believe that can only happen when you meet someone face to face. Should I become the next president of the United States, which is my intention, I'm going to lead with repair, respect and decency. And that means people who are angry right now, who feel their voices aren't going to be heard - and that's why they are showing up with vigor - I will want to meet with them. I'm going to have common ground dinners, Rich, in the White House - Democrats and Republicans from all around the country, red and blue - in a casual setting with their president, listening to one another, getting to know one another and the president having the opportunity to learn about people's challenges and their reasons for being upset. So if I'm president, you're going to see someone lead in a very different manner. I know how to take down the temperature, I know how to listen to people and I know how to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. I understand why people who support Donald Trump are really angry - I get it - I'm angry for a lot of the same reasons but I don't pursue the path to resolve those issues in the way that Donald Trump does, which I think is really dangerous for our country. So that's my contention. If I'm the president, you're going to see a country that I will focus on repair by listening to people, including people; not demeaning them, not calling them insurrectionists, or socialists, or communists, or fascists. Even if a handful of people in this country are not good people, the overwhelming majority, in my mind, are decent, hard working, reasonable Americans that are just fed up with a system that is not serving their interests. I'm going to do it differently and that's my whole pitch to the country. The sad truth is, there are a lot of major networks on television and platforms that don't want to hear that message. Frankly, it's a little bit of a strategy to de-platform people who speak common sense and elevate people who ultimately are not going to be helping this country in the way I know we all need.

Richard Helppie  

Well, you couldn't be more right about that. I was driving home yesterday and listening to the various cable networks and if it wasn't so serious, it'd be funny. We've been talking today with Dean Phillips, he's the Democratic candidate for the nomination to the presidency of the United States, three term congressman from the state of Minnesota, very successful business person in his own right, a centrist looking for a way to bring us to a better day. As we sign off today on The Common Bridge, Mr. Phillips, any closing comments for the listeners, readers and viewers of The Common Bridge?

Dean Phillips  

First, Rich, thank you. Thanks for doing what you do. I wish we had more of you all around the country. I know we're out there. I know there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people feeling exactly the same way all of us do right now - frustrated in what has happened in Washington, frustrated, and kind of afraid even, about the fear now that is populating our politics. But I just want to remind you all, we can be hopeful again, we can be joyful, we can be optimistic again, we can be the country that goes to the moon, we can be the country that beat the Russians in 1980 in that men's Olympic hockey game, in which we all celebrate it together. That's the kind of country I want to return to, where we repair the wounds of the past, where we raise the foundation for everybody, where we address the costs that are out of control and making it so hard for people to live because life is unaffordable, and reduce the chaos in so many parts of this world, our southern border, in many of our cities and around the world. If you care about change and you think what you see right in front of you is kind of troublesome, there is an option. I really am grateful to you Rich, and everybody listening and watching right now. If each of you just tell ten people about me in the next month, we can affect some pretty remarkable change. You will know that you created a legacy for which the rest of this country can celebrate, along with your children and grandchildren. That's why I'm doing this. So thanks for the time, Rich, thanks for what you do. Keep the faith and I can't wait to see in Michigan.

Richard Helppie  

I look forward to seeing you when you get into the great state of Michigan. We've been talking today with Dean Phillips from the great state of Minnesota, who has found great people in the United States, again reinforcing my contention that the United States is populated by generous and compassionate people. We're being done in by two major parties that are focused on their own power and an established media ecosystem that wants to fan the flames of division. Let's not let them do it; the power is in our hands. And with that, this is your host, Rich Helppie, signing off on The Common Bridge.

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