Julian’s Choice

You might have missed this with Iran boiling and all, but last week Julian Castro exited the 2020 Democratic nomination contest, and this week he endorsed Elizabeth Warren. Let’s face it. There’s not much interest in Mr. Castro. I debated picking a different headline to increase the odds of getting you to read this. He wasn’t a bad candidate, just not interesting enough.

Texans liked Beto O’Rourke better (he led Castro by a 3 or 4:1 margin in home state surveys while they were both running.) Latinos preferred Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Whatever ambitions he and his twin Joaquin had for leading a new generation of Latino Democrats while making their way through Harvard Law School are gone. That’s all AOC now. Much like Pete Buttigieg, Castro is a younger politician who doesn’t resonate with younger voters.

Castro shares another thing with Mayor Pete. Limited upward political mobility at the state level. Yes, Texas is getting more purple by the minute. But it’s still red. Beto ran a strong race against a controversial incumbent in a strong Democratic year and still lost. It wasn’t impossible to think Castro could win a statewide race by the end of the 2020s. But he wouldn’t be a favorite anytime soon. For an ambitious politician, that’s a while to wait.

His one real card to play was running for president, or even more so, VP. You can’t formally run for Veep. Castro was supposedly a finalist to run with Hillary Clinton in 2016, when she opted for Tim Kaine. While Castro would have provided more demographic balance, Kaine was considered more proven. We’ll never know if Castro would have made the crucial difference, but Kaine was one of the least impactful vice presidential nominees in recent memory.

Having acquitted himself decently well in early debates, Castro is now better positioned to wind up on the ticket. Which makes his quick endorsement of Warren interesting. Having accused Joe Biden of senility in a previous debate, Castro may figure he’s not an option if Uncle Joe gets the nomination. Perhaps he’s assuming Bernie Sanders would pick a female running mate, or perhaps someone even to Castro’s left.

It’s hard to see Buttigieg picking someone young who similarly lacks the experience of being a governor or senator. Amy Klobuchar’s nomination chances are in low single digits. So, by process of elimination, Warren is his horse. He frequently seemed like he was auditioning for this role when they were on the debate stage together.

Beyond the veepstakes, Castro is a member of the Warren wing of the Democratic Party. This is where he fits politically. It’s clear that he’s not the relative moderate that Klobuchar is and Buttigieg is running as (and might actually be.) Or that Cory Booker probably is, but didn’t run as. He’s not avoiding a lane like Kamala Harris did. Nor is he suggesting a return to the Obama Years a la Biden.

But he’s also not a Democratic Socialist, nor is there any space for him on that side. AOC has set herself up as the clear successor to Sanders. I’m not sure Warrenism is a thing. At the moment, it looks like most primary voters are either Team Bernie or Team Let’s Not Lose to Trump by Going Too Far Left.

A few months ago, Warren was seen by the betting markets as a 50/50 shot to win the nomination (currently she’s down to about 10%.) So there was something here relatively recently. We’ll find out soon whether that was an aberration, or if she’s just minutes from recovery. Her drop in the polls is steep enough that if she were to finish a strong second in Iowa, Warren could make like Bill Clinton and call herself the Comeback Kid.

If she falls short, but Trump wins in November, there’s always 2024. She’ll only be in her mid-70s, which is apparently young for a presidential contender these days. Warren can claim Democrats lost because they got scared (if it’s Biden, Buttigieg, etc.), or because they didn’t pick a serious Democrat (if it’s Bernie.) But Julian Castro’s career is riding on whether she can make a comeback in Iowa and get the nomination.

Otherwise, he’s just another ambitious guy with no path to anything important.

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