Those of you who watched last night’s Democratic debate probably couldn’t help but notice that the tensest few minutes of the debate came when Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke argued over a provision in immigration laws that criminalize crossing the border. Julian Castro — and most of the rest of the field — wants to eliminate that provision, while Beto O’Rourke does not support it, suggesting that some criminals do cross the border (and in that case, Julian and others would say, there are plenty of other laws to deal with that situation).
I’m not going to get into that particular debate (I support Castro and Warren on that issue), but I certainly had a sense that there was something personal about the exchange between Castro and O’Rourke, in which Castro — for all intents and purposes — ended O’Rourke’s campaign by making him look foolish in front of all his friends. In fact, even on Fox and Friends this morning, they criticized O’Rourke (“He just shrunk. He had nothing to say!”)
The exchange between the two candidates from Texas felt personal, and I wasn’t the only person to think so. From the NYTimes this morning: “[Castro] won the brief sparring match with former Representative Beto O’Rourke — an old family rival — and delivered the night’s lone winning canned applause line: “And on January 20, 2021, we’ll say ‘adiós’ to Donald Trump.”
An old family rival?
So, is there bad blood? Others seemed to think so, like this editor from The National Review:
Bad blood between Castro and Beto in the Texas delegation?— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) June 27, 2019
And CNN’s political director:
That Castro/O'Rourke tension moment has a couple of years of history underneath it.— David Chalian (@DavidChalian) June 27, 2019
So what is the history? That is harder to pin down specifically, and it’s mostly implied. There was some controversy back in 2013, for instance, in which there were reports that Beto O’Rourke wanted to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which at the time included Julian Castro’s brother, Joaquin (pictured above), but O’Rourke wasn’t eligible because he’s Anglo. There’s actually no truth to that rumor — O’Rourke had no interest in changing the bylaws in order to join the caucus, though 80 percent of his El Paso constituency was Hispanic. However, there was some friction between some people who didn’t believe that a white guy should be in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some O’Rourke supporters who believed the Hispanic Caucus discriminated against non-Latinos.
That in and of itself likely is not a sore spot between O’Rourke and Castro, but it may highlight the issue bubbling beneath: Robert O’Rourke is a white dude who goes by “Beto” because of its appeal to his Hispanic constituency. In fact, Beto’s father — who was also a politician — gave him that nickname. From USA Today:
Patrick O’Rourke — Robert Francis’ father — once explained that he was the one who gave his son the nickname in the first place and the reason had a lot to do with politics, as well as geography. According to The Dallas Morning News, the patriarch reasoned that if his son ever ran for office in El Paso, the odds of being elected in that largely Mexican-American city were far greater with a name like Beto.
Rafael “Ted” Cruz, who is of Latino descent, actually made this something of an issue during their campaign, and there was some irony in the fact that the way many saw it, Ted was trying to hide his heritage while Beto was trying to play up a heritage he did not have.
And maybe, if you’re Julian or his twin, Joaquin Castro, you might feel some resentment toward O’Rourke. In 2018, Julian Castro was mulling a Senate run against Ted Cruz but ultimately decided against it. It seems obvious that O’Rourke’s rise factored into that decision. Meanwhile, Julian’s decision to enter the 2020 Presidential race was overshadowed by the existence of O’Rourke in the race, and that’s probably a sensitive topic since that dynamic has probably been presented to him in nearly every interview since he announced. In fact, he alluded to it in one of his first campaign speeches with a subtle dig at Beto:
“I’m the one from the other side of the tracks,” Castro said, according to the Associated Press. “I’m the one that didn’t grow up as a front runner.”
Yikes. That’s a loaded statement, one that seems to allude to O’Rourke’s privilege — he’s a white guy with a spotty past, but he comes from money and a politician father, which is to say: Maybe he was born into this front-runner status.
In another interview, when asked if he felt that his campaign was being pushed aside by O’Rourke’s, he demurred, saying, that “people are looking for someone with a strong track record of getting things done and with a strong vision for the future of the country.” Is he suggesting that O’Rourke — who accomplished virtually nothing in his three terms as a Congressional Rep and lost to Ted Cruz — doesn’t have a “strong track record of getting things done,” or that O’Rourke — whose policies seem to depend on what audience he is speaking to — does not have a “strong vision” for the future of the country?
Meanwhile, as of a few months ago, only one person from the Hispanic caucus had endorsed a Democratic candidate, and that was Joaquin’s endorsement of Julian. Everyone else was holding back, including those from the Texas delegation, in case they needed to save that endorsement for O’Rourke. If you’re Julian Castro, don’t tell me that it wouldn’t anger you if no one from the Hispanic caucus had endorsed the lone Latino candidate because a guy named Beto might need it.
I mean, who knows? There is otherwise no record of outright animosity between O’Rourke and the Castro brothers (both of whom supported his 2018 Senate campaign), but after O’Rourke slid in to a Senate race where Julian was expected to be the Dem nominee, and after he initially overshadowed Julian in the Presidential race, I can see why Julian might feel some bitterness, even if he doesn’t otherwise say so. That animosity may have spilled out on the stage in the exchange between him and O’Rourke during the debate.
Header Image Source: Getty Images