“Having someone who’s 54 years old, like Dean Phillips, trying to address the challenges of AI would actually help me sleep more soundly at night,” Yang said. “As opposed to the folks that are currently in office who, frankly, think they’re going to be there whether they solve our problems or not.”
But it’s unclear what links Phillips actually has to AI, and, until recently, he has not spoken at length about technology at all. Phillips isn’t on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, nor is he a member of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus (he is, however, on the House Committee on Small Business and cofounded the Stakeholder Capitalism Caucus). When deepfake robocalls circulated in New Hampshire over the weekend, Phillips said that the incident was an example of “why you need regulation now,” though the congressman has not appeared to be actively involved in or cosponsored AI regulation efforts in Congress. The Deanbot experiment was a prominent AI misfire. Indeed, Phillips has called for unstifled AI innovation, and his campaign website is populated with plans to create a Department of Artificial Intelligence.
To Silicon Valley, Phillips, a multimillionaire-heir to a family liquor business, appears to be malleable in other ways. After Pershing Square CEO and anti-DEI crusader Bill Ackman pledged $1 million to the PAC supporting Phillips, his website was edited to remove the term “DEI.” Phillips made the move after being criticized by Ackman during an X Space with the billionaire and Elon Musk. (Ackman said Phillips was being “educated” on the issue. Phillips’ campaign has said that he isn’t influenced by outside contributions.) Earlier this week, Phillips floated the idea of running on the third-party “no labels” ticket, and then quickly walked it back following outrage.
When asked why Atlman and Ackman are supporting his campaign, Phillips demurred, saying, “I hold both in high esteem.”
Major Democratic donors, Phillips claims, have been told not to attend Phillips’ events and associate with his campaign. Democratic primaries in Florida and North Carolina have been canceled. The New Hampshire Attorney General sent a cease and desist to the Democratic National Committee, saying it was violating voter suppression laws by telling voters the primary in the state is “meaningless.”
All of this, Phillips says, is part of the Democratic Party’s efforts to suppress his campaign. “People who adored me as recently as just three months ago now consider me the devil,” Phillips tells WIRED. “Because I have the audacity to practice democracy … I anticipated that the Democratic Party would practice what it preaches, which is competition, participation, and debate. I’ve seen nothing but the suppression of all three.”
This suppression led to Phillips hiring someone who has experienced battle with the DNC as a senior adviser: Jeff Weaver, who ran Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and was a senior aide to the senator for decades.
“Trump wields it like a club, right? Like, ‘I’m gonna get you and you’re gonna pay and I’m gonna punish you,’” Weaver said, speaking about how he thinks the two parties approach challengers. “We don’t do that on Democratic Party side. They come up from behind you and slit your throat, as opposed to beating you over the forehead with a club like Trump does.”
Weaver laid out the Phillips campaign strategy: Do well in the New Hampshire primary to increase Phillips’ name recognition, and then make a run for the Michigan primary a month later, where Biden flipped a state that went for Trump in 2016. The Phillips’ campaign thinks it can highlight Biden’s vulnerability by performing well in a battleground state.
Krisiloff and other Phillips supporters point to Biden’s unfavorability ratings as evidence that Democrats are sleepwalking toward defeat in November. In December, the president’s approval ratings was near the lowest level of his presidency, according to Reuters.
So far, Phillips’ backers are satisfied with his results. “I think he did pretty well considering it seems like almost no independents voted in the Democratic primary,” Krisiloff said. “I think if Haley drops out, future states could still get a lot closer, since independents will then take Democratic Party ballots.”