He’s the first Democrat of any prominence to announce that he’s exploring a run, I should clarify. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland has been running for awhile now.
Although why should Delaney be thought of as less prominent than Castro? Castro’s never held federal elected office. He’s never held statewide elected office. He’s never run for federal or statewide office. The one elected office he did hold, mayor of San Antonio, isn’t a position of great power locally; it’s the city manager who makes the important decisions there, not the mayor. He’s not even the most accomplished member of his family. His twin brother, Joaquin, has been a member of Congress since 2013.
Yet despite his tender age and short resume, Castro was invited to deliver the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic convention and was later installed as director of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration. It’s his great good fortune to be a young well-credentialed (Stanford, Harvard Law) Latino Democratic politician at a moment when (a) the Latino vote is increasingly important, (b) Democrats are bending over backwards to try to monopolize that vote, with decent success, and (c) their bench of big-name Latino pols is shockingly thin. Somehow they haven’t managed to produce a recent Latino star of the stature of a Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. (Although that might now have changed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.) And Castro is keenly aware. He was pulling every lever available to him to land on the ticket in 2016 as Hillary Clinton’s VP, to the point that ClintonWorld had to nudge him to back off. But his scheme wasn’t crazy: The whole reason he was appointed to the HUD job was to pad his CV a bit in case Democrats decided that he had to be put on the ticket. That’s how critical the party thought Latino voters would be in 2016, and how eager they were to pander to them.
It didn’t pan out. He got passed over. Now, not only isn’t he the biggest Latino name in Democratic politics, he’s not even the most formidable prospective Democratic primary candidate from Texas. That would be Beto O’Rourke, of course, and Castro is keenly aware of him too:
Two Democrats familiar with Castro’s thinking tell CNN that the former HUD secretary’s decision to make his intentions clear this month stems from the attention O’Rourke is getting for his 2020 aspirations and a desire to lock in top Texas donors.
Castro is eager to be the primary Texas Democrat in the 2020 field and believes making his plans clear from the get-go could put him a step ahead of the failed 2018 Senate candidate in staffing and fundraising.
“He is trying to step ahead and lock in donors,” said one Democrat on O’Rourke’s impact on Castro’s decision. “He also needs a vehicle to fundraise and to be able to hire people.”
It makes me laugh to think of Castro hoping he can vacuum up big donors while the entire party is waiting to see what O’Rourke will do, never mind the 25 other potential candidates who are probably running. In fact, O’Rourke could spot him those donors and still probably lap him many times over in fundraising. The fuel for Betomania, remember, was small contributions from starry-eyed liberals, not big checks.
But all of this is a smokescreen. Castro has no shot at the nomination in a field this crowded. He’s less qualified than the myriad senators who are running, to say nothing of Joe Biden. He’s less qualified than the famously underqualified O’Rourke, who at least has a few terms in Congress. He’s less qualified than Andrew Gillum, another mayor who at least won a statewide primary in a key state and came within a few thousand votes of being governor. Castro’s running this time for the same reason he was given the keynote address and the same reason he was given the HUD job, to inflate his name recognition as much as possible on the off-chance that Democrats conclude they absolutely must have a Latino candidate as VP in 2020.
That’s unlikely this time, though, as the identity-politics math is unforgiving. After underperforming Obama’s performance with black voters in 2016, Dems will want a black candidate somewhere on the next ticket. (And don’t think Cory Booker doesn’t know it!) Yet because they’re eager to win back some of the white working-class voters whom Trump scooped up, they won’t want an all-minority ticket. The other half of the ticket will be white. For that calculus to change, something would need to happen before 2020 to make Democrats fear that their grip on Latino voters has slipped so much that emergency action must be taken to reverse the trend — and they’re unlikely to fear that, given that they’ll spend much of the campaign flogging Trump for his immigration record. If it happens, though, Castro’s “presidential” run isn’t for nothing. If it doesn’t, he’s old news without ever having actually become “new” news. Exit question: Why is Julian forever being touted for higher office instead of Joaquin? The latter’s more credentialed. And they’re twins! It’s not like there’s a huge difference between them on the stump.