Gov. John Hickenlooper (D., Colo.) refused to call himself a capitalist during a Friday appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, despite repeated questioning from host Joe Scarborough.
The 2020 presidential hopeful's comments came during a conversation about how many of his fellow Democratic candidates have lurched leftward in their campaign messaging, with many embracing socialist ideas, such as "Medicare for all" and the Green New Deal. Hickenlooper said the Democratic party was a "big tent" that could house those socialist policies.
"Well, would you call yourself a proud capitalist?" Scarborough asked.
Hickenlooper laughed before responding.
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "You know, again, the labels. I'm not sure any of them fit."
The Colorado Democrat is fond of telling his biography, which includes capitalistic successes.
Originally a geologist by education, he was laid off in a market bust in the 1980s and created one of the nation’s first brew pubs in a slumping district in Denver. The neighborhood has since been revitalized over the last two decades.
It’s a central theme of the announcement video he released earlier in the week.
"One day, I got a book on how to write a business plan," he says in the video. An abandoned warehouse in a forgotten corner of Denver – became a successful brewpub."
"In the end, we didn’t just build a restaurant," he continues. "We created a whole neighborhood and never looked back."
On Friday, Hickenlooper shifted to praise Democrats for creating "a sense of urgency" on climate change, but Scarborough asked again if he considered himself a capitalist. The governor suggested being a "small business person," as he considers himself, is different than being a "capitalist."
"Well, again, the labels," he said. "You know, I'm a small business person, so that part of the system that you would call capitalist, I get it. I understand it."
Hickenlooper explained his experiences with small businesses in Denver taught him the importance of hard work in building a business, but he wouldn't consider it strictly capitalist.
"Is that capitalism?" he said. "I guess. So in that sense of building community, that's one way to do it, one aspect of it. It's not all that it is."
But Scarborough asked him again, "Do you consider yourself a capitalist and does capitalism work?"
"Well, I think, I don't look at myself with a label," Hickenlooper said. "And I certainly think that small business is part of the solution. I think right now the way capitalism is working in the United States, it's not doing what it once did."
Hickenlooper added that he doesn't think capitalism is providing opportunities for middle class and poor people.
"And I think as a country we need to step back and look at that and say, how do we get America back to place it was where if you worked hard enough no matter where you started on the economic ladder, you would have a chance to go ahead and create your own version of the American dream?" he said.
Despite Hickenlooper's reluctance to embrace the label as a presidential candidate, his former wife, Helen Thorpe, recounted in her 2009 book how he introduced himself to a self-described socialist by saying, ‘I'm John Hickenlooper, and I'm a capitalist."
Hickenlooper's candidacy falls in a crowded field of Democrats running for president, with fellow contenders such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Kamala Harris (D., Calif), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) either identifying as socialists or endorsing socialist policies.
Update 12:50 p.m.: This story was updated with information from Helen Thorpe's book about John Hickenlooper once describing himself as a capitalist.