Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro discussed the future of the progressive movement in the Democratic Party Thursday evening at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum moderated by Maya Rupert, Castro’s former campaign manager and an IOP spring resident fellow.
Castro, who served as mayor of San Antonio for five years, ran an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2020. He announced that he intends to return to politics and said he believes U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) could lose if he runs for reelection in 2024.
“I think I’ll jump back into public service at some point,” Castro said. “I haven't made a decision about ’24 or beyond that, but I do think that Cruz is very vulnerable.”
Castro will join the faculty of Harvard Law School for the fall semester where he will teach a course about post-pandemic city leadership, according to a press release Monday.
He also said he believes Texas can become a Democratic state over the next few years, pointing to California as an example of a state that moved from red to blue.
“California was a reliably Republican state for the longest time,” he said. “This is the state that produced Nixon, produced Reagan, produced governors like Deukmejian, Pete Wilson in the 1990s.”
Texas shifted towards the Democratic party under former President Donald J. Trump and is continuing to trend in that direction as suburbs that were Republican strongholds become increasingly competitive, according to Castro.
“It was that Trump offended the sensibilities of a lot of the people in those suburbs,” Castro said. “These Republicans were saying ‘I didn’t change. I don’t see a place for myself in this party with all this craziness that the MAGA movement is all about.’”
Castro said he thinks Beto O’Rourke’s 2022 campaign for governor against Republican incumbent Greg Abbott is going to push Texas closer to the Democratic Party, even if O’Rourke fails to win in November.
“I think Beto’s race this year is going to help because he’s an indefatigable campaigner,” Castro said. “And even if people don’t agree with him, he’s a much more likable character than Greg Abbott, and I think he is going to help move the ball forward.”
“He could win too because Abbott has messed up so much,” Castro added.
Castro also explained what he believes the Democratic Party must do if it wants to energize its progressive members.
“I think the Democratic Party needs to produce results on some of these issues that strike at the heart of a lot of what progressives want,” he said. “Everybody wants better investment in education, better results on Covid, more job creation.”
But he argued Democrats need to go further by canceling student loans and raising the minimum wage.
Castro warned Democrats can impede their own agenda by worrying whether their policies might cost the party the support of independent voters.
“I think we get into this quandary of thinking ‘Oh, well, if we do this, this is going to submarine us with the general population or the swing voters' and Democrats don’t end up being as bold in their pursuit of their policy goals as Republicans sometimes are,” he said.
Castro added, however, that the current Republican Party does not currently have an articulated agenda and has become “a cult of Trump.”
“I think that the Republican Party is totally unanchored now to real policy goals,” he said. “If Ronald Reagan came alive right now and he saw the way that Tucker Carlson and others are talking about Russia, it would be completely unrecognizable.”
“I don’t think they stand for much anymore,” Castro said.
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.