Julian Castro Could've Been The President We Didn't Deserve
Julian Castro officially ended his presidential campaign today. I don't feel the same shock I did when Kamala Harris dropped out -- maybe I'm numb -- but I'm just as disappointed. Castro is energetic, dynamic, and sympathetic to the struggles of all Americans, not just the ones in the rust belt. He had Cabinet-level experience, serving as Barack Obama's secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up. He was on the short list for consideration as Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016 (hindsight is, er, 2020 but I think he'd have been a better choice than Tim Kaine). He was also statistically unlikely to die in office.
That's what hurts the most. Castro was invisible to white voters, especially to the predominately white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, which have an outsized influence in selecting the Democratic nominee. Castro wasn't a crystal-waving kook or a businessman with no political experience and an allergy to ties. He was a serious candidate who was never taken seriously. His polling numbers were roughly equal to Crystal Pepsi.
Democrats are desperate for a return to normalcy. They want to replace Donald Trump with Jed Bartlet, but even the West Wing's noble white president passed the torch to a liberal Hispanic politician from Texas. Castro was the Matt Santos of our dreams that never became a reality.
Before Obama, minority candidates ran campaigns without anyone imagining for a second that they'd become president or even the party's nominee. That's probably what kept them alive. But in 2020, Castro should not have been an "impossible dream" candidate. He was objectively more qualified than the younger, whiter former mayor running. He probably could've won Florida or even put Texas in contention.
Everything Julian Castro Said During the First Democratic Debate | NBC New York www.youtube.com
Let's "kick the ballistics" here with some quick electoral math. White voters have consistently given Democrats the back of their hands since 1968. Our most recent victories are the result of overwhelming support from people of color. Obama decisively lost white voters to both John McCain and Mitt Romney, but he won 95 percent of the black vote in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012. Hispanic voters were also key to his success. He carried 67 percent of their vote in 2008 and 71 percent in 2012. It is folly to suggest that the old rules still apply and a white candidate will deliver those numbers if they eat chicken and waffles (poorly) with Al Sharpton or speak a little Spanish at a campaign event. Donald Trump looks, talks, and thinks like most of the assholes who watch Fox News. He doesn't have to fake the funk at a rally. He is the Republican base. While Democrats chase the great white working class white, they willingly disadvantage themselves among the very voters they need to energize if they hope to win. Democrats prioritize beating Trump above anything else, but they ignore the facts and data that show how best to do this. I think it's because they don't want to accept what actual victory would mean for the party and, most importantly, who leads it. Castro is a leader. He wasn't auditioning for a gig on "Morning Joe" or building an audience for his upcoming book. He has a vision.
It's both shameful and incompetent that in 2016, Republicans had two candidates of Hispanic origin in their top four but in 2020, the Democrats have none. The media and political establishment elevated Marco Rubio in a way it never did Castro, and it's likely that minorities noticed. We're just as eager to get rid of Trump and we've been sold a bill of goods that only a white man can do it. The "thinking" is that it's white Trump supporters or "independent" suburban whites who'll decide the winner of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. Build the candidate who gives those voters what they want, and non-white voters will just have to come along for the ride. It's the kind of short-sighted thinking that'll land you on the "crappy end of Inauguration Day."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.