Time Runs Out on the Perpetual Candidate of Tomorrow

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Julian Castro gestures during a televised townhall on CNN dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 10, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Julian Castro departs the 2020 Democratic presidential race as yet another candidate whose media-hype-to-voter-appeal ratio was all out of whack.

Roughly a year ago, I wrote, “the 2020 cycle begins with Castro in a much worse position than seemed imaginable [when he addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2012], as the candidate of tomorrow suddenly finds himself the candidate of yesterday without ever having been the candidate of today.” Castro began last year as merely the second-most buzz-generating Democratic presidential candidate out of Texas, after Beto O’Rourke.

To the extent Castro had a shot, it was because he was “the only Latino on that crowded debate stage, in a party that appears to be growing more focused on identity politics.” But there’s never a guarantee that voters of a particular ethnic group will prefer a candidate from their ethnic group, and most Latino Democrats just weren’t interested in nominating Castro.

In an autumn Fox News poll of likely Nevada caucus-goers, among Hispanics, the order of preference was Bernie Sanders 31 percent, Joe Biden 24 percent, Elizabeth Warren 10 percent, Andrew Yang 5 percent. Castro came in at 3 percent in that demographic. Back in November, the Latino Community Foundation survey of registered Latino voters who plan to participate in the Democratic primary in California, found Sanders at 31 percent, Biden at 22 percent, Warren at 11, and Castro at 9 percent.

In the Siena poll of those likely to vote in the Florida Democratic presidential primary, the split among Latinos was Sanders 24 percent, Biden 21 percent, Warren 17 percent, Buttigieg 5 percent. Castro scored a zero.

With effort, you can feel a molecule or two of sympathy for Castro, as he did everything Democratic presidential candidates are told to do, but it never worked for him. He focused on immigration, an issue that undoubtedly galvanizes and motivates many grassroots Democrats. But he tried to squeeze into a progressive lane that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren already occupied, and those bigger names wouldn’t budge. He rolled out a lot of white papers and proposals, but Warren ended up with the reputation as the candidate with the most detailed plans. Most of his debate performances were strong, other than his ill-considered direct attack on Joe Biden’s memory and mental acuity. In the end, Castro came across as hungrily ambitious, and demonstrated a ridiculous willingness to pander, including a declaration that “trans women” — meaning those born biologically male — needed access to abortions. It appears you can’t win over Latinos and the Twitter Left simultaneously.

A lot of people are surprised that most of the leading candidates in the Democratic primary are septuagenarians who have been on the national political scene for a long time — Biden, Sanders, Warren, with Michael Bloomberg rising. Maybe the Democratic electorate is shedding its habit of swooning for the newest fresh face with the right slogans and optimistic rhetoric, or perhaps Pete Buttigieg cornered that market almost entirely. Castro joins a bunch of younger candidates who were supposed to be the hot new fresh face and who simply failed to launch: O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, Eric Swalwell, Seth Moulton. Cory Booker could well be joining them soon. Remember this the next time you’re reading some glossy profiles of “the Democratic presidential candidate of tomorrow”. . . tomorrow doesn’t always arrive.

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