Steve Schmidt, Ex-Republican Operative, Is Advising Dean Phillips

Steve Schmidt Dean Phillips

Dean Phillips — liquor heir, gelato prince, step-grandson of the advice columnist Dear Abby, and Democratic congressman from Minnesota — is challenging Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination for president. Phillips filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday night.

Phillips will officially announce in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday, which is the deadline to appear on the primary ballot in the state. To call his candidacy a longshot is an understatement, but Phillips has a good shot of winning the Democratic primary in New Hampshire — because Biden will not appear on the ballot.

The Democratic National Committee stripped New Hampshire of its delegates for its refusal to abide by the party’s order to move its primary later in the year. (New Hampshire officials say their hands are tied by state law.) Biden, who led an effort to move South Carolina (his first victory in 2020) to the front of the Democratic primary calendar, opted out of the contest. It’s the first time that a sitting president will not appear on the ballot in New Hampshire.

But even if winning will mean absolutely nothing in terms of delegates needed to secure the nomination, it could mean quite a lot in terms of the attention lavished on Phillips’ campaign. It’s a gamble, and behind that gamble is a somewhat surprising figure: former Republican operative Steve Schmidt. 

Schmidt is probably best known as the campaign manager who advised John McCain to select Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 — a perilous bet Schmidt has said he believed was the only possibility of saving a floundering campaign. 

Schmidt has spent the last decade and a half trying to rehabilitate himself for that catastrophic misjudgement. He did stints at MSNBC and Showtime’s The Circus, was also a co-founder, with other disaffected Republicans, of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. (Before that, he also met with Trump about the possibility of working for his campaign.) 

Now, Schmidt is advising Phillips, Rolling Stone has confirmed. (Phillips’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment.) 

One of the most outspoken early critics of Phillips’ candidacy is Schmidt’s Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson, the former consultant to George H.W. Bush. Wilson has called Phillips a “suicide bomber” who has been pushed by “a couple of consultants of extraordinary venality” into announcing this “scampaign.” (Wilson, it should be noted, was also a former consultant to Evan McMullin, who launched a longshot third-party bid in 2016.)


Phillips’ decision to run against Biden doesn’t stem from some foundational policy disagreement; he has voted with the president 100 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. (And according to a report in the Daily Beast, he was a “no chill Biden fan boy” snapping selfies with the president on Air Force One in 2021.) Instead, Phillips’ challenge is motivated by his observation that the president, 80, is simply too old for the job. That is an opinion shared by roughly three quarters of voters, including 69 percent of Democrats. 

With a net worth of $123 million, according to disclosures filed in 2019, Phillips, age 54, is the fifth richest member of the House of Representatives, and among the 10 richest members in Congress. He joins author and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson in the Democratic primary. Vaccine skeptic and political scion Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced earlier this month he would run as an independent. 

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