Have you ever heard of a national organization endorsing someone for vice president? Let alone doing so before voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other early states cast a single ballot for the top job?
Me neither. We’re in uncharted territory now that the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce – which has, at this point, not endorsed anyone for president – is backing U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket.
Hey folks, aren’t we getting a bit ahead of ourselves?
Castro has endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Clearly, this rising star is not “feeling the Bern.”
But even if Clinton survives what has turned out to be a strong challenge by Bernie Sanders and emerges as the nominee, whom she chooses as a running mate is an open question.
The choice will come down to three things: politics, politics and politics. It won’t be about who is more “qualified,” since that phrase is totally subjective. The only qualification that matters in this instance is whether having a certain person on the ticket will help Clinton get elected.
If Republicans snap out of their Trump trance and nominate Marco Rubio, it would be smart for Democrats to recruit their own telegenic, well-spoken, 40-something Hispanic lawyer to act as a counterweight. Otherwise, we can expect many Hispanics to vote for Rubio.
Castro, who raised his national profile significantly when he delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is a longtime friend of mine. Candidly, I don’t think he’s ready to be a heartbeat from the presidency.
But then again, watching Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama deal with their most challenging moments in the White House has taught me that this is a job that one is never ready for. As scary as it sounds, serving as president – or vice president – calls for on-the-job training.
Still, I’m delighted that Castro is in the mix and that he is being talked about as a possible running mate for Clinton. He has a lot to offer the candidate and the country.
But this story isn’t really about Castro. It’s about whether it was a good idea for a national Hispanic organization to so blatantly advertise its ethnic allegiance by forcing his name into the conversation – especially this early.
It wasn’t. The move was presumptuous, arrogant and improper. It trivialized the idea of the Hispanic vote, and the viability of Hispanic officials such as Castro. It hurt the cause of trying to get more respect for Hispanic voters, and their eagerness to be counted in the political process. Lastly, it makes clear that at least one Hispanic organization has lost its focus, dabbling in politics and making itself the center of attention.
So why would the USHCC, which claims to advocate for nearly 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses that contribute more than $661 billion annually to the U.S. economy, do such a thing?
Javier Palomarez, the organization’s president and CEO, told Politico that it’s because “millions of people living in this country look to Julian as the gatekeeper of the American Dream.”
That’s silly. It’s the USHCC and its leader who want to be the gatekeepers to Hispanic voters. America’s largest minority doesn’t have a nationally recognized spokesperson. It seems the organization is eager to fill the void.
Be that as it may, Palomarez insisted that his organization is “happily endorsing Castro for the vice presidency.”
What I’m happy about is that this maneuver – which, I’m absolutely sure, Castro knew nothing about and would have discouraged if he could have – puts Clinton in a tough spot. Up to now, Clinton has only said that she thinks Castro would have to be considered for any number of positions in her administration. This could force her to be clearer about her intentions.
Some Democrats think Clinton should pick Tim Kaine as her running mate. Some of them even had the gall to suggest that the senator from Virginia would have greater appeal to Hispanics than Castro because his Spanish is better. How insulting.
In the end, Clinton wants to make her own choice but also keep Hispanics on the line by teasing them with the possibility that she’ll choose Castro – even if she doesn’t intend to do so.
We’ve seen this game before, and it gets tiresome. Whether it intended to or not, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce might have just changed the rules.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.