Dean Phillips softens “threat to democracy” criticism of Biden

Ten days ago, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., was asked on the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire if President Joe Biden is a threat to democracy.

“Yes,” Phillips answered, per NBC’s Emma Barnett. 

“Because if he wasn’t he would say something about what happened in Florida last week. And if he wasn’t, he would do something about what happened in New Hampshire,” Phillips added, appearing to refer to state parties’ efforts to keep him off the primary ballot against Biden. 

But during an appearance on “Meet the Press NOW” on Thursday, Phillips softened that criticism, trying to draw a distinction between Biden, the man, and Biden’s candidacy. 

“The president is not a threat to democracy, but running and suppressing other candidates is a threat when you are behind in the polls, like he is,” Phillips said. 

“I just want to make it clear he is not a threat,” Phillips later added. “He’s a good man and someone I respect. But this delusion that he can win is a threat to democracy.”

Phillips also called Biden “unelectable,” citing recent polling showing Biden trailing former President Donald Trump in a hypothetical rematch, and he did say that if Biden’s standing improves in May or June, “I’ll pack it up.” 

In other campaign news …  

Trump’s secret weapon: NBC’s Alex Tabet reports from Iowa that former President Donald Trump may have a secret weapon when it comes to bringing together GOP voters: fear. Some anti-Trump voters told Tabet that they are afraid they could be ostracized if they are vocal about their opposition. 

Trump’s Iowa expectations: Trump is looking for a big win in Iowa, telling his supporters at a recent rally there, “That margin of victory is so, so powerful,” per NBC’s Jake Traylor. 

Impeachment politics: A Biden campaign fundraising email from Vice President Kamala Harris focused on the House launching an impeachment inquiry “has already become the vice president’s top-performing pitch of the entire reelection,” writes CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger, citing a Biden campaign source. And Politico explores the“high-stakes balancing act” facing vulnerable New York GOP House members when it comes to supporting impeachment. 

Christie hits the airwaves: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is launching his first TV ad of the campaign in New Hampshire, per Axios, where a narrator says, “Chris Christie is the only one who can beat Trump because he’s the only one trying to beat Trump.” The spot knocks former U.N. Ambassador Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for attacking each other rather than the frontrunner. 

Speaking of Christie: Christie could get a boost from a top critic of college presidents’ approach to antisemitism, per NBC’s Jonathan Allen, who reports that billionaire Bill Ackman co-hosted a fundraiser for Christie. 

Trump trials: In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said it’s a “silly notion,” that she would pause her case against Trump just because he’s running for president. In New York, an appeals court upheld a gag order that prohibits Trump from speaking about court staff in his ongoing civil fraud trial. And in Michigan, a court rejected a challenge to the former president’s spot on the presidential primary ballot.

The pick is in: In New York’s 3rd District, Republicans on Thursday selected their candidate — Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip — as their choice to run in a special election to succeed ousted former GOP Rep. George Santos.

He’s running — again: In Nebraska, Democrat Tony Vargas draws on his Latino and working-class roots while he runs a second time to unseat Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

Turmoil in Florida GOP: Florida Republican Party Chair Christian Ziegler floated the idea of a buyout in exchange for his resignation after news broke that he was under a criminal investigation related to sexual battery, NBC News’ Matt Dixon reports.