Julián Castro Says Trump Is 'The Biggest Identity Politician' In Recent History : The NPR Politics Podcast In an ongoing series, The NPR Politics Podcast is hitting the road and interviewing 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. This episode Scott Detrow and New Hampshire Public Radio's Lauren Chooljian sit down with former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro to ask why he's the best pick for president. This series is produced in collaboration with NHPR and Iowa Public Radio.
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Julián Castro Says Trump Is 'The Biggest Identity Politician' In Recent History

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Julián Castro Says Trump Is 'The Biggest Identity Politician' In Recent History

Julián Castro Says Trump Is 'The Biggest Identity Politician' In Recent History

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Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. All summer, we're taking you to New Hampshire and Iowa for interviews with many of the Democrats running for president. That's why, last week, New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian and I found ourselves in the state capital of Concord in a very stereotypical public radio environment.

First of all, we're in a bookstore. There's a coffee shop attached to the bookstore. But more importantly, we're standing next to the I Read It On NHPR section of the bookstore.

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN, BYLINE: Literally, if there was a book mentioned on NPR, on NHPR, anything that has to do with public radio, we're looking at it. And we're two public radio reporters. It's like we're like a moth to the flame. We couldn't avoid it. There's David Sedaris' book. You pointed out there's Linda Holmes' book. All the NPR family is - they're right here in front of us.

DETROW: But we're not here to ogle the books.

CHOOLJIAN: No, we're not.

DETROW: We're here to talk to Julian Castro.

CHOOLJIAN: Very serious business.

DETROW: Julian Castro first jumped onto the national scene in 2012 when, as the young mayor of San Antonio, Texas, he was picked to deliver the keynote speech of the Democratic National Convention.


JULIAN CASTRO: The American dream is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don't always cross the finish line in the span of one generation, but each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.

DETROW: Later on, President Obama tapped Castro to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was on the shortlist to be Hillary Clinton's running mate. And despite all of that, Castro struggled to gain attention and support in the first six months of his presidential campaign. That all changed after Castro's breakout performance in the first debate.

CHOOLJIAN: I will say every time I talk to someone about him, they bring up the same thing. They're like, oh, did you see him on the debates? He was excellent. And so it's kind of a similar way that I feel like the country is kind of looking at him right now, where they feel like he had a big moment in those debates, and now he's worth a second look.

DETROW: Suddenly, more people are showing up at Castro's events, more reporters too. When Castro arrived at Gibson's Bookstore, several TV producers were waiting ready to pin their microphones on his top.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Yeah. And then maybe thread all at once.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: And then do you want to put on your tie?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Yes, thank you so much.

CASTRO: Oh, for sure. Here you go. Oh, that one? I got one more. This is like every egomaniac's dream.


CASTRO: All these microphones right on you (laughter).

DETROW: Castro was campaigning after a week that revolved around President Trump's attack on four Democratic congresswoman - all women of color. For Castro, questions about immigration and who counts as an American citizen are really personal.

CASTRO: Just two generations after my grandmother got to the United States with almost nothing - which I bet a lot of folks in this room, you can relate to that in your own families. Just two generations after she got here, one of her grandsons, my brother Joaquin, is a member of the United States Congress, and the other one is here asking for your support for president of the United States. That is America. That is what I'm...


DETROW: After Castro was done speaking, answering questions and taking a whole lot of selfies, he came back to the young adult section of the bookstore where Lauren and I were waiting.

Secretary Castro, thanks for joining the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I should point out we are in the young adult section of the bookstore here.

CASTRO: (Laughter).

DETROW: I've got a "Super Mario Bros." encyclopedia that I've got the notes on.

CASTRO: There you go. There you - I could look for another "Harry Potter" book for my daughter. She's going through the series right now.

CHOOLJIAN: Oh, that's a great time.

DETROW: So we have a lot of serious news this week. But to start out the interview, Lauren has a very important question that she needs to talk to you about.

CHOOLJIAN: Yeah. You kind of played into my hand here with your iced tea, but I really just - we need to talk. Like, tea is not a food. You said it was your favorite comfort food.

CASTRO: Ah, yes, I know. I got pilloried for...

DETROW: (Laughter).

CASTRO: ...You know, saying that my comfort food was iced tea. I said, look, I'm addicted. This is my comfort food (laughter).

CHOOLJIAN: Food? That's a beverage.

CASTRO: I was using the food - the word food broadly...


CASTRO: ...Just broadly, you know (laughter)?

CHOOLJIAN: So are you just drinking this all day long? Is this like...

CASTRO: Yeah. I mean, I drink no soda anymore. I never got into coffee, but my weakness is this iced tea. And I also - I mix Equal and Sweet'N Low. I may be one of the only people you ever meet on earth that mixes Equal and Sweet'N Low, which probably means I'm going to die twice as fast.

CHOOLJIAN: What's up - why?

CASTRO: (Laughter) Well, if you use it in iced tea, it actually produces a much better and sweeter taste than if you just use Equal or Sweet'N Low alone or Splenda or anything else. So to all your listeners out there that are wondering what they might try, please try it. It works.

CHOOLJIAN: The more you know.

CASTRO: (Laughter).

DETROW: The story of this week - we're talking on a Friday. The story of the week has obviously been President Trump's racist tweet against several members of Congress and all of the fallout, up to and including people chanting send her back at one of President Trump's rallies.

You were saying at a campaign event last night - you were talking about how you think the president is trying to win re-election based on division, and you talked about how Democrats need to counterprogram. In your mind, the way that this week played out with Congress responding, voting to condemn the tweet, grinding to a halt, everything that followed, was that good counterprogramming by the Democratic candidates and members of Congress?

CASTRO: We absolutely need to make clear that we object and that we have a different vision for the future of our country because what he's trying to do is he's trying to split people along racial and ethnic and religious lines. His specialty, if you will, in politics is division, trying to just amp up a base. He's the biggest identity politician that we've had over the last 50 years.

So how do you combat that effectively? Well, you do that in part by building coalitions. And that coalition is going to be built of people of different backgrounds, different skin colors, different religions from throughout the country that actually believe that we're a nation that will be more prosperous, more successful if we appreciate our differences, so everybody has a place at the table. We don't send anyone away. We don't create the other. All of us have a stake in this country. And we can make it stronger in the future if we work together.

DETROW: I know you have said that a lot of reporters will ask you about the fact that you did not grow up learning to speak Spanish, but one of your answers to that recently stuck out to me. And you talked about how when your mom was younger, she was shamed for speaking Spanish, but the arc of progress that you see, that your daughter goes to a bilingual school and learns Spanish. How do you square that sort of progress with the fact that in 2016, the United States elected Donald Trump president, and the president of the United States make statements like he did this week?

CASTRO: Well, I believe that you and I live in the greatest nation in the world and that we have so much progress to be proud of. I said that at the close of the first debate. The fact that, you know, today, my daughter in many ways and other kids are celebrated for learning a second language, whether it's Spanish or another language, but that in my mom's time, my grandmother's time, they were punished for speaking Spanish. It's true that you do have some people like the president that want to take us backward. And the truth is that a certain amount of bigotry has never left this country or other countries.

But what's happened and what gives me hope is that over the generations, we've gotten better and better. And this youngest generation, their challenge is to get even better, you know, to throw away the bigotry, the hate, the division. What's saddest about what the president did this week is that he is trying to make them go backward.

I think about all of those little kids that look different in a classroom in schools across America - maybe they're wearing a hijab, maybe they're wearing a Star of David, maybe they're - the color of their skin is black - and because this president is inciting people to say you're the other, they're bullied more in school. They're shamed more in school.

I believe in an America where our leadership actually says we are better because of our differences. We appreciate those differences. That's what we have to do in this country - not even as Republicans and Democrats because I do believe that there are a lot of Republicans that agree with me even though their politicians won't stand up right now and say it.

DETROW: But there's a lot of voters who agree with the president, who support what he's doing, who chant send her back at a rally. How do - as a candidate, as a president, how do you engage with them?

CASTRO: Well, the percentage of people - of voters who agree with me, I believe, is bigger than the percentage of people who agree with him, and that if he keeps up with this, what he's betting on is that he's going to be able to get every little bit of base support out there and barely, narrowly win another electoral college victory, lose the popular vote again.

But I believe that people - enough people who bought into Donald Trump three years ago in 2016 have buyer's remorse. They see that he came in promising to be a disrupter and that he was going to drain the swamp. And he's been the dirtiest politician that we've had in a very long time. He promised to create a whole bunch of new jobs for folks and bring manufacturing back. And instead of that, we've had layoffs at places like GM and other companies.

The prosperity out there in the United States has been unevenly distributed, including in my home state of Texas. There was just a big report on how a lot of the jobs that have come in have been in the big cities of Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and their suburbs. They haven't gone to small-town Texas or rural Texas. I bet you can write the same story about Iowa, about Michigan, about Ohio, other places. So he's a politician with a record now.

CHOOLJIAN: I want to switch over to specifically your immigration plan. You talked last night in Nashua about how you'd want to enact a Marshall Plan, which is where you'd invest in countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. I mean, the original Marshall Plan was to rebuild Europe after we engaged in a world war where we obliterated much of that continent. So why is that kind of investment from U.S. taxpayers justified in Central America?

CASTRO: The 21st Century Marshall Plan makes sense for Central America because first of all, they're more and more important as our neighbors in this competition we're engaged in, for instance, with China around the world. China is going to Latin America and Africa and forging their own strong relationships. They're projected to eclipse the United States in terms of their economy becoming the biggest economy in the world in 2030. So it makes sense for us to strengthen alliances around the world.

The fact is that if we want to solve this immigration issue, we need to go to the root of the cause, the root of the challenge, and that's that people can't find safety and opportunity in Central America. So the investment is worth it because we're going to solve a problem and because that's cheaper to the taxpayer than building a wall and constantly matter what neighborhood you live in, you're treated the same way.

CHOOLJIAN: In New Hampshire, housing and affordable housing is a really, really big issue. And, you know, you mentioned that, you know, that there's a lot of sprawl from Boston. But it's even bigger than that. I mean, places like Portsmouth, where people love to visit on the seacoast, you know, it's a great tourist town, but if you live here and work here, you're increasingly unable to afford - even to rent.

And so I wanted to ask you - you said you wanted to expand the housing choice voucher program, and you say that every family that needs a voucher will receive one. So I'm wondering how do you define need, and how do you end up paying for that?

CASTRO: Yeah, thanks a lot for that question because here in New Hampshire, you all see a rental affordability crisis. And this has many dimensions to it - a lack of supply, obviously the fact that too many people are working for wages that don't support them being able to afford a two-bedroom or oftentimes even a one-bedroom apartment. The emergence of Airbnb and similar endeavors that in some communities - probably like Portsmouth - that are visited oftentimes can drive up the cost of rent in a community.

My proposal is to make the housing choice voucher program an entitlement program. And the way that it would be determined is if you make less than 50% of the area median income, you would be entitled to get a housing choice voucher.

DETROW: More with Julian Castro after this break.

And we're back with our interview with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. In the second half of our interview, we talked raw politics, his close relationship with his identical twin brother. And we talked a lot about new movie trailers.

One of the things I've appreciated about your campaign is I feel like you - you're pretty blunt about the political tactics that you need to become president. And right now, you're in a situation where you've got a lot more momentum than you did after that first debate. I mean, so many people at the last few events have said I came because I saw that debate, and I was interested in learning more about Secretary Castro. But you've got these frontrunners who are polling in double digits, who are raising, you know, tens of millions of dollars. And then there's a wide gap. How do you get across that gap over the next few months? Like, what specifically do you need to do?

CASTRO: Well, I need to continue to do well in these debates. I need to build on that. What we're doing is increasing our staffing here in New Hampshire, in Iowa, the other early states, need to make sure that the resources are there to fund a robust campaign. And so our fundraising has picked up.

There's no question that I'm behind where some of the other candidates are. But you know what? Number one, I have time. I've had a very clear vision for this campaign since the beginning of it. I've said that I don't want to be a flash-in-the-pan candidate. I want to grow stronger and stronger and stronger. And that's the path that we're on right now.

And secondly, the reality of today is that it's not always money that talks. I mean, look at Trump. I think he raised - what? - 60% of what Secretary Clinton raised in 2016. So yes, I'm going to probably be outspent, but nobody's going to work harder. And so far, we've executed on a good plan. And I don't think that we're going to need as much money as others do to be successful.

DETROW: A lot of our public radio listeners heard you preparing for that first debate on This American Life. What's your top goal for the second debate? I mean, you've established yourself in the way that you needed to the first time. What's goal number two?

CASTRO: Well, I have the same goal. The goal is to introduce myself to a lot of people who still may not know who I am because my name ID is still lower than some of the other candidates, and to articulate a strong, positive vision for how all Americans can prosper in the years ahead. I want to connect with voters about what they and their family need - good health care, good education, good job opportunities - and the kind of country that we want to become, a country where everybody has a place at the table, everybody counts. So no matter what the issue is, I'm going to speak directly to what the American people are looking for in the years ahead.

CHOOLJIAN: So when you're looking for those votes, a place that you have come, people have come, is here, New Hampshire, as well as Iowa. But I'm curious, you know, when you launched your campaign, you went to Puerto Rico. And you've said that that is a big theme of your campaign, that diversity is extremely important to you; it's important to this country. And so given that Iowa is not very diverse and neither is New Hampshire, I'd be curious to know - I mean, do you think that these two states should have such an outsized power in the way we pick presidents?

CASTRO: Well, I'm comfortable with them having a big role. I think ideally what you would have in the future is you would probably have a day where you have Iowa, New Hampshire and then those two other states that go on the same day. Or if you have a state that goes first, that you rotate that out so that you achieve - what's great about this process right now, which is that - you know, I'm a big fan of the voters here in New Hampshire and the ones in Iowa because they take their role so seriously. And these are small enough states - you know, compared to California or Texas - that you really can do a lot of retail politics. And I like that because it means that you don't have to have all the money in the world to make inroads, to make your case and to gain support. That's what's fantastic about Iowa and New Hampshire.

I think the downside is that, sure, there are states that are more reflective of America overall than Iowa and New Hampshire. And you know, that's just a fact. And that's not a knock on these two states. So the ideal system would be where you have these two states that are so great about how they vet candidates and then also add to that a couple of states - or at least another state - that is perhaps more reflective of the demography of America.

CHOOLJIAN: So in this podcast, we often talk about personal failures that candidates have, not political ones. And I've been thinking about how I wanted to ask you this because I've been fascinated by the relationship you have with your brother. It seems like the two of you don't just try to succeed individually but as a unit. And so I would be curious to know - when was a time that you feel like you failed Joaquin?

CASTRO: I thought you were going to say, do I think my brother is my personal failure? (Laughter) I'm kidding.

CHOOLJIAN: You wish (laughter). No, that wasn't it.


CASTRO: He and I have a neat relationship. We can rib each other. That I failed my brother - you know, I mean, we've been so close. We've gone through life completely together. I think that probably one of the weaknesses in our relationship has been that we have not been, like, outwardly overly emotionally supportive of each other. In fact, I was thinking that the first time I remember hugging my brother was in college - in fact, right after we won our election for the student senate. Like, we tied. And we found out we got this news that we had tied for first place. And we, like, kind of spontaneously hugged each other. But this wasn't something that we would, you know, do all the time.

CHOOLJIAN: Why do you think that is?

CASTRO: I think that men in general have issues with showing emotion and relating to each other that way. But also - I don't know. I think with Joaquin and me - and I'd be interested - I've never talked to other twins about this in this way. It's almost like the closeness is assumed somehow because you're moving through the world constantly together - we shared bunk beds for a long time; we went to college together, went to law school together, you know, started practicing law together, went into politics together - that in some ways, there's such a closeness and then in some ways, a distance. Yeah. I mean, that's the first thing I think about.

DETROW: As you keep going to new levels, does the closeness continue, or is there a strain sometimes when you're, like - hey, I'm running for president of the United States? I mean, that's - that would be a big difference between the two of you...


DETROW: ...After a very parallel path forward.

CASTRO: Oh, I mean, no. He's the chairman of my campaign. And in fact, he's going to be in Iowa in a couple of days campaigning for me. We're going to see each other probably at the debate, getting ready for it in Detroit. So yeah, I think this is one more way that I think we're staying close. And it's been wonderful having somebody that I'm so close to that also understands politics very well. I mean, he's not your run-of-the-mill brother, right? I mean, he's in exactly the same business, so to speak, that I am. And we're each other's strongest advisers - closest advisers and strongest supporters. I just think that, you know, if you are asking me at the end of my life, did I wish that we had expressed that more outwardly? First of all, hopefully that can change in the years ahead...

DETROW: Yeah, you have time.

CASTRO: ...But you know, yeah, I think my answer would be yeah.

DETROW: One of the other personal things about you that I was really curious about is every politician deals with the pros and cons of hype, media hype especially - right? But I feel like you've gotten the extreme ends. You come onto the national stage in 2012 - the next Barack Obama - all of this hype being written up. And you know, in the first few months of the presidential campaign, you were really struggling to get traction, struggling to get media attention. I feel like you've seen the peaks and valleys of the way that politicians are covered and treated. And I'm curious. How do you respond to that, and how do you make sense of that when it can so drastically change?

CASTRO: Well, in different ways. I mean, No. 1 - and I tell this to young people all the time when I speak to them - is that you have to fundamentally believe in yourself. There hasn't been a single moment of this campaign where I didn't know that I could step up against the other candidates on that stage and do better than them. And the media should have known that because we had candidate forums that were going on. However, they were not covering it. And I don't say that to be arrogant. I say that to mean that I believe that I'm good at what I'm doing, and that I have a confidence about it, and that I've seen the results of that with people when I speak to them. So how do you handle the highs and lows is that you never doubt yourself.

On top of that, I know that the media are what the media are. Media are always interested in timeliness. That's one of the core values of media today - whatever is hottest, whatever is new, whatever is fresh. So I knew that when I got into the presidential race, the response wouldn't be exactly the same as - if I had decided that I wanted to run in 2016 for some reason, I would have been the young, new, fresh candidate running that year after delivering the keynote address in 2012.

I knew this would be different. I accept that. That just means, like everything else in life, that you have to work hard. And that's what we've done. We've kept our head down. We've tried to connect with people. And I knew that I would have to get stronger in this campaign little by little.

Honestly, you know, after that first debate, you know, I believed that we might see a bigger bounce in the polls than we did. You know, we've seen some, especially in favorability and name ID, and in some of the polls have gone above 1% - had one that was at 4%, 3%, 2%. But again, that does not affect my confidence in myself or in my message for the voters or the fact that I still have over six months to win this election in Iowa and then New Hampshire.

CHOOLJIAN: So we do a thing here on this podcast called Can't Let It Go, where you tell us about something that you're just obsessed with and you just can't let go it. It could be politics. It could be otherwise. I mean, we'd prefer it be otherwise. But what is the thing right now that Secretary Castro just, like, cannot let go of?

CASTRO: I'd say that "Top Gun" trailer that we saw...

CHOOLJIAN: "Top Gun" trailer (laughter).

CASTRO: ...Yes, "Top Gun." Look; it came out in 1986. I was 12 years old basically. This is one of the few movies that I've been waiting for a long time for them to make a sequel to. Yeah, I'm not the hugest Tom Cruise fan, but I did think that that was a great movie back then. And I saw the trailer yesterday, and so I'm looking forward to seeing that movie.

DETROW: Wait, this has somehow completely past me by.

CHOOLJIAN: So - and me, too.

DETROW: Are they - is he in the remake?

CASTRO: Yeah, yeah.

DETROW: Is it a sequel? I had...

CASTRO: Yeah, he's in the remake. Tom Cruise is in the "Top Gun" - not - it's not a remake. It's a sequel.


CASTRO: "Top Gun 2," yeah.

CHOOLJIAN: Thanks for telling us.

CASTRO: Well, the other thing that got a lot of attention was the "Cats" trailer.

DETROW: That's...

CHOOLJIAN: That's what I was - that and "The Lion King" remake.

CASTRO: I think it got - it kind of got bigfooted by the "Cats" trailer, but - with some folks, maybe the NPR crowd for sure.


CASTRO: But there are some...

DETROW: It feels like it might have more promise.

CASTRO: ...That were looking forward to the "Top Gun" - yeah.

DETROW: There's less CGI I'm sure.

CASTRO: So this is, you know, I've thought about what the storylines would be, you know, whether it's with - because in the original one, they were going up against the old Soviet Union - you know, whether it's Russia now or it's China. I think that would make for an interesting storyline.

DETROW: But if you thought about it, what is, like, in your head, the "Top Gun 2" plot?

CASTRO: I have said for a number of years that I think it would be fascinating - and he is an instructor again at this - at the, you know, training academy where the first one was set - that he would be an instructor that gets called into duty basically in a showdown with China because China has risen in its military power. And the United States in the future is somehow in conflict with China, right?

CHOOLJIAN: I'm sorry, you have said for a number of years. Like, you've been thinking about this (laughter). Like, what?

CASTRO: (Laughter) I probably told that to somebody, like, three or four years ago, yeah.

CHOOLJIAN: Oh, my God.

CASTRO: I said, oh, it would be really - because they've had, like, fits and starts. They've started - where they've said there's going to be a sequel. So back then, I said, oh, there's going to be a sequel.

DETROW: This begs continued follow-up questions.

CASTRO: Yeah, yeah.

DETROW: Who's, like, the Goose-type character in this?

CASTRO: As I understand it, part of this plot is that his son, Goose's son, is at the academy. And he - I imagine he's being instructed by Tom Cruise. And if I had to guess, I would guess - I have not read anything about this - but I would guess that probably, you know, the son would be somewhat mad at Tom Cruise because as you remember, it was sort of partly his doing that Goose ended up being killed in the first play - or in the accident.

So yeah, I've spent a decent amount of time thinking about what the plot might be. And I'm looking forward to seeing it.

CHOOLJIAN: Wow, noted.

CASTRO: There you go, yeah. Can't let it go.

CHOOLJIAN: (Laughter).

DETROW: I'm going to - I'm just going to say based on this conversation here, I'm going to guess you have, like, a fanfic script on a hard drive somewhere. And if so, that's OK.

CASTRO: (Laughter).

CHOOLJIAN: If so, please send it (laughter).

DETROW: Secretary Julian Castro, thanks so much for coming on the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

CASTRO: Gracias. Thank you all.

DETROW: That was the ninth episode in our series of interviews with the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. You can find the previous interviews in your podcast feed. This series is a partnership between the NPR POLITICS PODCAST, New Hampshire Public Radio and Iowa Public Radio. Thanks to Lauren Chooljian for helping with today's episode.

We'll be back as soon as there is political news you need to know about. I'm Scott Detrow. Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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