On Saturday, Julián Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under Obama and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, announced he was running for president in 2020. A relative unknown, Castro seems to be trying to ride the coattails of newly minted socialist golden girl Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). This is arguably a smart strategy in a crowded field, but progressives may doubt his commitment, and Ocasio-Cortez may turn on him when she learns about his history.
During his announcement speech, the former HUD secretary called for a nationwide universal pre-kindergarten program, heavy government subsidies for the first two years of college or an apprenticeship, and “universal health care for every American,” the Bernie Sanders proposal known as “Medicare-for-all,” Rolling Stone reported.
This platform echoes Ocasio-Cortez’s democratic socialist goals, but Castro went even further. Calling climate change the “biggest threat to our prosperity,” the candidate supported Ocasio-Cortez’s central pet project, the “Green New Deal.”
“We’re gonna say no to subsidizing big oil and say yes to passing a Green New Deal,” he declared.
Responding to Ocasio-Cortez’s infamous remarks about a 60-70 percent income tax on top earners, Castro told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that America had higher income tax rates in the past, even as high as 90 percent. According to The New York Times, Ocasio-Cortez was “glowing” when she heard about Castro’s support for her positions.
“It’s so incredible to see,” the congresswoman said. “First we had Elizabeth Warren come out and talk about a Green New Deal. Next we have Julián Castro defending marginal tax rates and he basically is saying we’ve had 90 percent-plus in the past. It’s totally changing the conversation.”
Many liberals have praised the upstart congresswoman for pushing Democrats to the Left, but Democrats themselves are frustrated with her activism. She has already gained a reputation for not “playing well with others.”
Democrats have often looked at Castro as a likely champion for their party, given his roots in Texas, his service in the Obama administration, and his Latino background. He also has a few liberal bona fides, since he became the first San Antonio mayor to lead the annual gay pride parade and supports abortion. “We disagree on this, the pope and I,” he told The New York Times.
Castro has positioned himself as an “antidote to Trump” because his grandmother was a Mexican immigrant.
Julián Castro: "I see myself as the antidote to Trump. My story is an immigrant story. It's a testament to what immigrants have contributed to this country." https://t.co/eHhqD5Tqy2 pic.twitter.com/sjbNpZxjAZ
— The Hill (@thehill) January 13, 2019
All the same, the former HUD secretary has yet to break through. In 2016, Democrats considered him a potential presidential candidate, and then a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton. Clinton did not pick him, however, and perhaps for good reason.
In 2016, Vox’s Dylan Matthews wrote that “Castro simply is not qualified to be one heartbeat away from the presidency.” The office of mayor in San Antonio is a “glorified council member,” a part-time job paying $3,000 per year. Under Castro, HUD issued new fair housing rules and a ban on smoking in public housing, “but it’s not clear how much Castro was behind them.”
Ultimately, Matthews concluded that Castro would be a “Dan Quayle-like lightweight, who lacks the requisite policy knowledge and experience to assume the presidency.” Ouch.
In a similar story on Castro as a potential Clinton running mate, Politico‘s Edward-Isaac Dovere noted that the HUD secretary would “freeze up” when “detailed policy questions about housing and mortgage financing came up.”
“People like Julián Castro and he’s not stopping them from doing their work,” a source familiar with the department told Politico. “He’s also not driving it. He’s not interested and engaged like that. But it’s hard not to like him.”
Castro may be positioning himself as the Ocasio-Cortez of 2020, but progressive activists seem likely to distrust him. In 2015, liberals attacked Obama’s HUD for letting Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase off the hook and selling bad mortgages to Wall Street.
Furthermore, the former San Antonio mayor’s credibility on climate may take a hit when progressives learn that he championed the shale oil boom in his home state. “This is the kind of moment that only comes once a century,” Castro said in 2011, as the shale boom created 10,000 jobs in San Antonio.
In a fascinating 2010 article, The New York Times‘s Zev Chafets dubbed Castro the “post-Hispanic Hispanic politician.” Chafets mentioned Obama’s praise for the then-San Antonio mayor, and even cited University of Arizona political science professor John A. Garcia, who said, “If I were betting on the next national Hispanic political leader, I’d bet on Julián.”
Yet Castro lacks the “Chicano” activism of his mother Rosie Castro, the 1970s Hispanic activist who helped lead La Raza Unida, a radical movement in Texas, Chafets argued.
“One of Castro’s first acts as mayor was to hang a 1971 La Raza Unida City Council campaign poster, featuring his mother, in his private office. But this was a gesture of filial loyalty, not of ideological solidarity,” the Times writer reported. “A Democrat, Castro is a pragmatist, sometimes unpredictably so. He supports free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, advocates an energy policy that includes fossil fuels, believes in balanced budgets and refers to David Souter as his ideal Supreme Court justice.”
The Ocasio-Cortez brand seems new for Castro, but it utterly fits Chafetz’s description of the former HUD secretary as an “unpredictable pragmatist.”
Knowing he started with a disadvantage in the crowded 2020 Democratic primary, the former San Antonio mayor seems to have played a desperate gambit to attract the far-Left’s attention. This may prove a massive mistake, however.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become known for ideological purity. Should the democratic socialist golden girl learn about Castro’s history, in addition to his recent statements, she might come out swinging against him.
After all, AOC does not play well with others, and she loves the spotlight. If she sees Julián Castro as a threat, she won’t think twice about crossing him.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.