On Wednesday night in Atlanta, Americans will be treated to the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate. It will, like the preceding debates, feature a former vice president, six sitting members of Congress, one billionaire, a millionaire tech mogul, and a small-town mayor. But there will be one new and notable absence: Julián Castro.
What’s most surprising about Castro’s absence is how unsurprised so many people are by it, despite the fact that he’s been, by many measures, the most progressive candidate in the field. Like Bernie Sanders, Castro is uncompromising when it comes to his push for single-payer health insurance. His detailed policy plans are on par with Elizabeth Warren’s, proposing a network of interlocking plans to elevate the downtrodden. He was mayor of San Antonio, the seventh most populous city in America; Pete Buttigieg is mayor of the 306th largest. And while Joe Biden gets enormous credit for being Obama’s second-in-command, Castro was Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017.
On issues of racial justice, Castro has often led the way, pushing progressive stances on issues like reparations and border decriminalization. He’s also deeply attuned to the intellectual and activist spheres on the left, listening and learning from their lived experiences and expertise.
Yet people don’t seem to care. After failing to reach the polling levels required to make it on stage for the November debate in Atlanta, Castro will be forced to sit out the televised showdown. Unless his polling numbers change, and do so in a hurry, he’ll probably be sitting out the December debate too — assuming he’s still in the race. (Castro should have at least some reason for optimism: His exclusion from the November debate seems to have sparked a sudden wave of media coverage and social media support from a broader swath of the left that seems afraid of losing his voice.)
Like any seasoned politician, Castro maintains a good poker face. In a phone interview this week, he insisted that he can keep contributing to the broader debate about the nature of the Democratic coalition and the best…