Recently a spate of articles have unleashed the rumor that if crowned the Democratic party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton is likely to select as her running mate Julian Castro, the secretary of housing and urban development (HUD). Keep in mind that Castro has been HUD secretary only since July of 2014, and prior to that served as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, from 2009 to 2014.
This rumor raises two important questions with no clear answers, but both issues will have serious implications for our nation’s future. The first question is “How much experience is really needed to be president of the United States?” Keep in mind that the vice president’s main duty is to be ready to assume the presidency if the awful-awful were to happen.
Second: “Why is our nation so obsessed with the identity politics of candidates’ race, gender, age and heritage?”
Let’s start by attempting to answer the latter question as it applies to a potential Clinton-Castro ticket.
The unwritten rules of identity politics dictate that Hillary would need a male to “balance” her presidential ticket. Check for Castro. Then the invisible forces behind the rules would pressure Hillary — born in 1947 — to select a much younger running mate. Check for Castro, who was born in 1974. But it’s his Mexican-American heritage that earns Castro a check-check with an exclamation mark.
With the extra bonus of his being a native Texan, Castro’s presence on the ticket would bolster the Democrats’ fantasy of ”turning Texas blue.” However, his main job during the campaign would be galvanizing Hispanic voters in swing states such as Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio.
If you recall, President Obama won 71% of the Hispanic vote in 2012. So what could be better than a Clinton-Castro ticket meeting or exceeding that number with a voting block that comprised 10% of the 2012 electorate and is projected to be larger still in 2016?
Here is the simple answer to the question why our nation, and especially our candidates, are obsessed with identity politics: It’s the easiest — if most cynical — way to win votes. Think of identity politics as the equivalent of “democracy for dummies.”
Assume there is a candidate who shares your race, age, and gender, or has a life story with which you can identify. When that candidate appears on an entertainment talk show, you have the sense that he or she can relate to your struggles and understand your needs, and, thus, that he or she deserves your vote. This voting decision based on identity thinking negates the need to inform yourself about the candidate’s prior record, and to ask whether or not his or her policy positions would improve your life, and would be good for the nation and the world at large. There is no second-guessing such a voting decision because the candidate has already earned your trust.
Now, let’s circle back to the first question and ask how much experience is really needed to be president.
If you have never heard of Julian Castro and are potentially concerned that he could be one recurring blood clot in Hillary’s brain away from occupying the Oval Office — have no fear. Castro has more than enough presidential experience in the new-normal, Obama-induced era of thin résumés.
It all started back on October 22, 2006, when the newly minted Illinois senator Barack Obama had the following exchange with “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert. (Quoted directly from the NBC transcript.)
RUSSERT: You’ve been a United States senator less than two years, you don’t have any executive experience. Are you ready to be president?
OBAMA: Well, I’m not sure anybody is ready to be president before they’re president. You know, ultimately, I trust the judgment of the American people that, in, in any election, they sort it through. And that’s, you know, we have a long and rigorous process, and, you know, should I decide to run, if I ever did decide to run, I’m confident that I’d be run through the paces pretty good, including on MEET THE PRESS.
Unfortunately, Russert died a few weeks after Senator Obama won the Democratic nomination in June 2008 and never got a chance to run Obama “through the paces pretty good.”
In retrospect, Obama brilliantly justified his obvious lack of experience with the phrase “not sure anybody is ready to be president before they’re president.” (Surely, some presidents are more ready than others, is how Russert should have responded.)
And Obama, the political neophyte, might have been stopped back in 2008 if it had not been for the actions of Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee. McCain fell victim to the lure of identity politics and named Sarah Palin — a then-unknown young Alaska governor with less than two years in office — to be “one heartbeat away” from his 72-year-old heart. Shortly thereafter, an “experience” firestorm raged over McCain’s attractive running mate, causing the media to forget all about Obama’sown experience deficit and two-sentence political résumé.
In addition to Obama’s dangerously shaping our nation’s future in a world that has proven unforgiving to amateurs, part of his dubious legacy — through his election and subsequent reelection — is that the traditional requirement of extensive prior presidential-level experience has been severely degraded.
His legacy is now on display, as we can see by examining the official or soon-to-be-official crop of 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
Exhibit A is Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Rand Paul. Both elected in 2010, they are just in the midst of their first six-year term, but both are widely accepted as credible presidential candidates. Then there is Senator Ted Cruz; he was sworn into office on January 3, 2013, and now, just over two years later, is off and running for the White House.
And we must include retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Neither has ever held public office, but both seem to be gaining ground among Republicans.
In general, during this 2015 phrase of the 2016 election cycle, it appears that traditional presidential-prep experience has taken a back seat — replaced by the need for a compelling personal story rooted in identity politics. (Thank you, Barack Obama!)
This is why Democrats, anxious to keep the White House, will find it acceptable if Mexican-American HUD secretary Julian Castro, a 40-year-old Harvard Law graduate (and self-admitted affirmative action beneficiary), is named to complement (prop up?) their aging, rich, baggage-laden, female celebrity at the top of the ticket.
Let’s face it, in both parties, identity politics and celebrity candidates now trump traditional (and often boring) presidential experience in our social-media-driven, sound-bite, short-attention-span culture.
Trump? Did I just write “trump”? Yes, and get ready for “The Donald,” who is officially announcing his presidential ambitions next month at his own Trump Tower (of course.)
One can only imagine that to perfectly balance his old, white, male, and “proud to be a billionaire” identity with the proper amount of female youth and power, Trump will ask Taylor Swift to be his running mate.
Cross-posted at National Review Online