Let’s get this out of the way early: Hillary Clinton’s rumored No. 1 choice for vice president would be the least-qualified nominee for the job in decades.
Sure, it’s a little early to play Hillary “veepstakes,” but when you don’t really have a primary to worry about, you get speculation like this: During a Spanish-language interview with Univision’s Al Punto the other day, Henry Cisneros, Bill Clinton’s former HUD secretary, predicted current HUD Secretary Julián Castro would be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.
Castro’s “the first person on their list,” Cisneros averred. “They don’t have a second option,” he added, “because he is the superior candidate considering his record, personality, demeanor, and Latin heritage.” This, of course, isn’t a novel idea. Just months ago, my Daily Beast colleague Eleanor Clift speculated Castro is in “VP Training Camp.”
In many ways, picking Castro makes perfect sense. It would potentially excite Democrats who might be growing tired of the Clintons. It’s not like Hillary has an obvious running mate (and it’s hard to imagine that selecting, say, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley would generate a ton of enthusiasm, or bring that much to the table). It would also balance the ticket in terms of age (Castro is just 40). And if it went well, it could also solve a long-term problem for the Democrats, which is that they don’t have a bench of young rising stars with the experience to lead, and have fewer big-name statewide Hispanic candidates than Republicans do.
This was likely part of President Obama’s calculus in offering Castro a chance to serve in his cabinet. It was unlikely that Castro could rise to the U.S. Senate or governor in deep-red Texas any time soon, and so there had to be a Plan B for giving him a resume that would be deemed minimally acceptable.
That Castro is Hispanic is no small detail. His addition to the ticket would a) make the 2016 Democratic ticket historic in two ways, and b) potentially blunt the possibility that Marco Rubio might be the GOP nominee, which would give Republicans the chance to also make history.
So picking Castro makes a great deal of political sense. Democrats are eager to nail down the rapidly-growing Hispanic voting constituency, and this—coupled with Hillary’s recent decision to go “all in” on immigration reform—could pose a serious threat to Republicans who might eventually find it mathematically impossible to win the White House. Yes, Castro (unlike Rubio or Jeb Bush) might not speak Spanish fluently. But, unlike any of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls, he’s Mexican-American, which matters for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that that’s easily the largest Latino group in the U.S.
Now, based on everything above, you might think this is a slam-dunk, right? Wrong. This is still a high-risk move.
First, let’s begin with the fact that Castro’s most important elected experience was as San Antonio’s mayor, which is a largely symbolic position. “San Antonio’s city government is a council-manager system,” explains the Atlantic’s City Lab : “Unlike the strong-mayor governments of Chicago or New York, San Antonio’s government is led by a city manager, which is appointed by the City Council. The city charter invests in the city manager the authority to execute the laws and administer the government of the city.”
Elected in 2009, Castro was basically a glorified ribbon-cutter. He had “no executive authority,” as the Washington Examiner’s Byron York noted last year when Castro was tapped for the HUD job. As mayor, he made around $4,000 a year, while the city manager made $355,000 to actually run the city. To make ends meet, Castro gave paid speeches and wrote a memoir, which together got him roughly $200,000 in 2013. Before that, he made a small fortune as a lawyer in a career that attracted a fair amount of scrutiny.
By the time November 2016 rolls around, Castro will have run HUD—one of our less-efficient federal bureaucracies—for a couple years and change. The last guy to try to use that office as a launching pad, for what it’s worth, was Andrew Cuomo, who ran for New York governor in 2002 after leaving the agency and got clobbered in the Democratic primary.
So the experience of the supposed front-runner for the Democratic nomination boils down to five years in a ceremonial position and a couple years at HUD. Is this a worthy qualification of someone to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? Seriously, isn’t the city manager actually more qualified to be vice president? And lastly, isn’t the selection of a potential vice president especially important when the top of the ticket is of a certain age? I seem to remember that being bandied about when McCain was running.
What we have here is a transparent attempt to pick someone inexperienced for political—not governing— reasons. What we have here is an obvious attempt to pick someone young and attractive and charismatic to cover up the fact that the top of the ticket is none of those things. What we have here is an attempt to play identity politics by picking someone in the hopes that their identity will woo potential voters.
We’ve seen this before, and it hasn’t worked out well. Representative Geraldine Ferraro, Senator Dan Quayle, and Governor Sarah Palin all got heat for their lack of experience, but at least they had all been elected to real jobs with actual responsibilities.
Julián Castro has everything you need to be the perfect running mate—except, of course, the experience and resume to actually lead the country should, God forbid, something happen to the president. If Hillary selects him as her running mate, it will be an indication that she’s willing to be reckless with the country’s future in order to win. Clinton-Castro is a real possibility, but it should be noted that this one is high-risk for the country, even if it’s high-reward for the Democrats.