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This week, we run back the tape on a Dean Phillips town hall that went so sideways you can’t even find it on YouTube anymore. Plus, Donald Trump’s new version of the “let them fight” strategy, and a look at Vivek Ramaswamy’s new digs in Iowa.
Lights, camera, Dean
MANCHESTER, N.H.—Dean Phillips, the newly minted 2024 primary challenger to President Joe Biden, made a lofty promise to hold 119 town halls in New Hampshire in 13 weeks.
But if the other 118 town halls are anything like the first, the Minnesota congressman—and New Hampshire voters—may be in for a painful ride.
By the end of Phillips’ three hour event in Manchester on Wednesday night, two voters had been thrown out after a tense exchange with the candidate over Israel, one voter stormed out when trying to defend the person who had been thrown out, and the candidate’s team had apparently scrubbed the recording of the event from the internet.
Indeed, less than an hour after the doors closed, the Phillips campaign appeared to unlist the livestream of the event from YouTube—meaning no one can watch the video unless they already watched the stream and have the original link.
The Phillips campaign did not respond to a request for comment about why the video was unlisted and whether it had anything to do with an exchange Phillips initially said he was glad to hash out “in front of the cameras.” Notably, the livestream of Phillips’ campaign launch event is still available on his YouTube page.
What transpired at the Rex Theatre on Wednesday night is only known to the handful of reporters who were there, and a crowd that consisted of many of the candidate’s personal contacts. Phillips’ mother, DeeDee, was in the crowd; his wife, Annalise, sang with the opening band.
At first, the 54-year old presidential hopeful was seemingly off to an auspicious start. The Phillips advance team kitted out the venue with extra lighting, at least five camera rigs—including an intricate setup with a retail value of over $12,000 for a jib and digital camera alone—and an open-air control room, where an event staffer could be heard loudly whispering commands for the camera men.
With such high production value, it’s unlikely the event was meant to only be watched live and not archived for curious voters to watch later.
But expensive equipment could not save Phillips from some self-inflicted wounds.
“I was a hockey goalie in Minnesota, so I’m used to taking shots,” Phillips said of criticism leveled at him in recent weeks from a Democratic Party that is uniformly uninterested in his primary challenge. “In fact, my mother is here, and she never went to my hockey games because it was very difficult. But now, she has to watch this! But those shots inspire me.”
But the candidate could seemingly not handle a shot from Atong Chan, a 23-year-old Black woman from Manchester who said she was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. Chan grilled Phillips on why he hasn’t yet called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
“I have to tell ya,” Phillips said after a four-minute buildup to the thrust of the question about a ceasefire, “I took note of it, you didn’t mention—how do you feel about the Israeli babies? And moms, and dads, and grandmas, and hostages in Gaza who were brutally murdered. Before I answer your question, I want to understand if that empathy is across humanity, or only for Palestinians?”
The congressman’s immediate response did not land well.
“For you to say that makes me feel like you—” Chan said, before Phillips cut her off.
Heavy crosstalk ensued. Chan accused Phillips of gaslighting her, and when the congressman tried to respond, another man in the crowd came to Chan’s defense. Toward the end of the nearly 15-minute exchange, Chan and a friend were escorted out of the building as she began yelling at Phillips.
The optics were more than ironic for Phillips, whose long-running slogan—which adorns the side of his campaign bus—is “Everyone’s Invited!”
“This is so embarrassing for you,” Chan told the candidate, “and you want to make it seem like it was embarrassing for me.”
While Phillips was supposed to take questions from voters that night, he wasn’t supposed to take them from the press. The initial word from the campaign was that the candidate was on a “media blackout” until his Friday night appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher—but the candidate eventually succumbed to a swarm of reporters.
In a press gaggle, Phillips accused The Daily Beast of being part of the problem—what he earlier characterized as the “rage industrial complex” in the media—for wanting to ask him about the heated exchange with Chan.
“What you’re doing right now is what you do, which is to focus on one thing—this is exactly what I’m talking about, I’m so glad you asked that—this is what attracts the eyeballs,” he said.
“It’s the fights. It’s the division,” Phillips continued. “And you’re not going to ask a single question about the 99 percent of other people in the room who were thoughtful, respectful, had just as much interest in coming here to have their questions issued and answered.”
Chan, who said she voted for Biden both in the 2020 New Hampshire primary and in the general election, told The Daily Beast she’s considering sitting out 2024 altogether after the interaction with Phillips.
“It’s like he’s cosplaying something he’s not,” she said of the congressman.
Although Phillips has made the case that Biden’s polling numbers are bad—which is correct—his message that Democratic voters should elect a third-term House member in order to avoid a second Donald Trump term seems to have a limited constituency.
Phillips’ campaign launch in New Hampshire last week was more memorable for its awkward moments and a non-answer the candidate gave to The Daily Beast about a past donation from conservative billionaire Harlan Crow, whose ties to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have come under immense scrutiny following investigations from ProPublica.
But the town hall wasn’t all rough patches. At one point, Phillips opened up about a deeper motivation behind his run. He described traveling to Vietnam to visit the site where his father died during the war, collecting a jar of dirt to commemorate him. At just six months old when his father died in that helicopter crash, Phillips has lived his entire life under the trauma of a tragedy ultimately stemming from a president’s decision to send troops into war.
Falling back into his happy warrior brand, Phillips cast the Israel blowup as a case study in the political divisions he says he is trying to mend.
“In a way,” Phillips said as fading screaming could be heard from the lobby, “I’m glad this occurred in front of you and in front of the cameras.”
Trump says “let them fight”
If Donald J. Trump loves anything—aside from his seeing his name on a building or on TV—it’s a good old fashioned scrap.
Yet as the 2024 primary ostensibly heats up, the former president is increasingly egging on two of his biggest rivals to attack each other as much as he’s throwing punches himself.
Despite his busy court schedule, Trump has managed to find fleeting moments of joy in watching his rivals fight it out for a distant second place, particularly former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—his two highest-polling challengers.
“With all the lying Ron DeSanctimonious has done on the campaign trail, it’s no wonder Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley has called him out,” the Trump campaign wrote in a press release on Wednesday. “In a new ad, Birdbrain correctly points out that DeSanctus gave millions to Chinese companies and voted to fast-track Barack Obama’s Chinese trade deals.”
There was nothing more in the email blast from the Trump team, amounting to something between piggybacking and pure aggregation.
On Monday, the Trump team framed the race as a battle for second between Haley and DeSantis, citing a Des Moines Register poll showing Trump with 43 percent support among likely caucus voters, “while Ron DeSanctus continues to nosedive, now tied with Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley for a distant second place.”
“I honestly think Trump is just enjoying the demise of Ron, and he feels a little slighted by Nikki,” a source close to the Trump campaign told The Daily Beast, referencing Haley’s public vow to not run in 2024 if Trump were running.
The source close to the Trump campaign said the new iteration of the former president’s longer-running strategy to let a crowded field smooth his path to securing the nomination is rather simple: let Haley and DeSantis deplete as much of their resources as possible on attacking each other before voting begins in Iowa on Jan. 15.
The DeSantis campaign pushed back on the notion that they’ll be spending themselves into the ground going after Haley.
“Public polling in October hasn’t historically been indicative of who will win the Iowa Caucus and it won’t be this time either,” DeSantis spokesperson Andrew Romeo told The Daily Beast in a statement.
“We are seeing Ron DeSantis continue to build momentum in the Hawkeye State, and Team Trump is, too—which is exactly why they are once again using the entirety of their media buy in Iowa attacking the governor with false negative ads,” he continued. “Ron DeSantis has the former president on defense in Iowa because he is out-working him, out-organizing him, and has a message to revive this nation that continues to resonate with the Iowa electorate.”
Now that the Trump campaign’s kiss of death countdown has expired—a long running troll referring to DeSantis strategist Jeff Roe’s self-imposed deadline for the governor to catch Trump—they’ve moved on to effectively aggregating attacks between Haley and DeSantis.
Take Haley’s recent appearance on “The Daily Show,” where she mocked DeSantis over his cowboy boots.
When asked if she thought she wore higher heels than DeSantis—whom bespoke boots experts suspect is using a combination of inserts and heel modifications to boost his height, which he claims is 5 foot 11—Haley said she didn’t know.
“I can tell you I’ve always talked about my high heels. I’ve never hid that from anybody,” Haley said. “I’ve always said, ‘Don’t wear ’em if you can’t run in ’em,’ so we’ll see if he can run in ’em.”
For everyone else, the Trump team may well let them fight, but they aren’t openly encouraging it among some more favored rivals.
“With some of these other folks, they’re not really hitting us,” the source close to the Trump campaign said. “What is one attack Tim Scott has had on Trump?”
Given Trump’s steady polling lead hovering around 40 to 50 points ahead of the rest of the field, Trumpworld operatives have begun to grow restless with little else to do besides watching the former president’s 2024 rivals torch what’s left of their limited resources.
“It’s honestly getting kind of boring. If it weren’t for Bootgate,” the Trumpworld source said, “I wouldn’t be paying attention to the primary anymore.”
Field of dreams
Vivek Ramaswamy has continued a time-honored tradition for presidential candidates banking it all on the Iowa caucus: he packed up and moved there.
The self-described “anti-woke” activist is betting that Iowa’s socially conservative voters will buy his hardline message and send him to a surprise showing in the Jan. 16 caucus.
To boost his odds, Ramaswamy has rented an apartment in Des Moines.
According to the Ramaswamy campaign, the new digs don’t feel like home quite yet, but the young father made sure to toddler-proof the place first—plus some other essentials.
“Equipped with lots of baby/toddler gear for Vivek’s 3 and 1-year-olds,” Ramaswamy campaign spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin told The Daily Beast in a text message. “As well as a tennis racket or two.”
The candidate isn’t exactly sleeping on the floor, but it’s not what the multi-multi-millionaire is used to.
“There is very much a couch, bed and other essentials,” McLaughlin assured. “Definitely baby friendly. It’s a comfortable place with a stocked fridge to reheat enchiladas at the ready.”
With his frozen enchiladas at the ready, Ramaswamy joins an illustrious list of recent candidates who have made the same all-in bet on Iowa, from the intrepid John Delaney in the 2020 Democratic primary to perhaps the most memorable example: Kamala Harris, who infamously told a colleague “I’m fucking moving to Iowa” as her 2020 campaign faltered.
More Dean. In this week’s “Pay Dirt,” Roger Sollenberger found Phillips has been using a secret LLC to buy real estate.
The double shadow primary. Sure, 2028 has plenty of potential Democratic candidates. But they’re popping up in conspicuous places in the event President Biden doesn’t stay on the ticket, Alex Thompson and Sophia Cai report for Axios.
Dougmentum. John Hendrickson profiled North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum in The Atlantic to find out how he keeps qualifying for the debates and why he isn’t dropping out anytime soon, even if he’s doomed.
Tim Scott’s optimism problem. The New Yorker’s Robert Samuels takes a deep dive into the candidate’s views on race, which Scott often understates and oversimplifies.