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May 20, 2014 12:01 PM HUD As a Stepping Stone

By Ed Kilgore

It’s probably a sign of the high expectations which have long been associated with Julian Castro that reaction to reports he is about to be nominated as HUD Secretary in a Cabinet shuffle have already run through the “rising star” stage into “not so fast” revisionism. We have two examples of the latter today.

First, at Vox Matt Yglesias wants us to understand that HUD has little or nothing to do with the most important set of federal housing policies, the tax subsidies for mortgage interest and imputed rental income. To the extent these “programs” are managed at all, it’s by the Treasury Department and the IRS, not HUD. While he doesn’t say “HUD Ain’t All That,” it’s clear he thinks Castro is assuming a position that’s not as important as it might sound.

Second, at WaPo, in response to buzz about HUD being a stepping stone for Castro in a possible ascent to the 2016 Democratic ticket under Hillary Clinton, Philip Bump runs the numbers on Cabinet officials who became Veep nominees. Turns out only five people have made that particular transition (the technical definition does leave out sub-cabinet member Franklin Roosevelt, who as Assistant Secretary of the Navy became Veep nominee in 1920 before moving along to a relatively important gig later on); there was a gap of over a century between Martin Van Buren and Henry Wallace, and then another sixty years before the most recent example, Dick Cheney (who previously served in the House). Bump notes that one HUD secretary, Jack Kemp (another former House member), made a losing national ticket, but then HUD wasn’t created until 1965, creating a fairly small sample of possibilities.

Truth is, Cabinet posts tend to serve as holding pens or resume-polishers for pols whose main reputations are made before or after Cabinet service. There was a big feature story in the Des Moines Register over the weekend suggesting that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is a natural to become HRC’s running-mate in 2016. Vilsack, of course, very nearly went on the 2004 ticket with John Kerry thanks to his performance as governor of Iowa. HRC herself would be the seventh former Cabinet official to ascend to the presidency if she runs and wins in 2016, but nobody thinks it is her tenure at State that would qualify her.

If you look at the long history of vice presidential nominations, relatively few have gone to people who had not previously served in Congress or as a governor. Republicans nominated Chet Arthur, Collector of the Port of New York, in 1880; Garret Hobart, a prominent state legislative leader in a swing state, in 1896; and Charles Dawes, a subcabinet official and post-World-War I diplomat, in 1924. Aside from FDR, Democrats nominated Arthur Sewell, a Maine banker and DNC member, in 1896; John Kern, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in Indiana, in 1908; and after the initial nominee Sen. Tom Eagleton withdrew, former ambassador and Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver in 1972.

Nowdays all sorts of things can make a politicians a national celebrity, so the historical record of how one becomes a Veep nominee may not be so relevant. Castro’s San Antonio has a significantly larger population than the State of Alaska that Sarah Palin briefly governed, or the Delaware that Joe Biden represented for decades in the Senate. But I figure he’ll need one more stop before going on the national ticket.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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