Consultant Alex Castellanos has been in the Republican thick of things for just about as long as he’s been a Republican. Which was probably when his family fled Castro’s Cuba. Elbow-deep in presidential campaigns for Bob Dole, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, Castellanos has seen more than he’s telling. But now, on The Carlos Watson Show, he’s telling. Specifically, who the winner in the 2024 presidential election will be. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.
Castellanos’ Cuban Crisis
Carlos Watson: Where in Cuba were your folks from, or did you … Were you born in Cuba as well?
Alex Castellanos: Yeah, I was born there in, gosh, a hundred years ago, in 1954 in Havana. And my parents left in January of ’61. They had 11 bucks, a suitcase and two kids to start over in the new world. And Dad had it set up so … a friend of his would send him a telegram: “Doctor, come quick.” He was an MD. And that’s how he got out.
My mom stayed with us because we were on her passport. They were looking for Dad. Che Guevara. He was the intelligence officer. He was the one who went around to the people to say you’re either for us or you’re against us. And Dad had one of those visits. So he had to get out quick. We stayed. But in the Spanish world, when you marry, you don’t lose your name. So we were on mom’s passports. And so we got out with Mom, and Dad got out a different way, and we had a chance to start over in a pretty remarkable country.
Watson: Wow. And did you come to Miami where I grew up, or did you go to New York? Where’d you guys head to?
Castellanos: Yeah. It’s funny. We stayed in Miami 11 days. Dad’s theory was burn the bridge behind you. We’re going to make it here. And so we became Americans. After that, we went to Detroit. Dad was a doctor, and a pharmaceutical firm there gave him a job, translating directions on pharmaceutical products from German to English because he’d had a year of English in high school and bought a dictionary: “Yeah, I can do that.”
They were very kind to us. And so we ended up in Detroit, first place we ever saw snow. I took some home in my pocket, which didn’t work out well. We actually called Dad at work to have him explain why people were throwing oatmeal off the roof. So … very different country.
But we stayed in Detroit about a year until Dad could become a doctor again, take the foreign medical entrance exam. Then there were two states that would let him start practicing medicine right away again, without a big long residency. One was Texas, and that was like another whole country inside of another whole country. Then the other was North Carolina. So we ended up in a little town in North Carolina, population 999.
Wow. Main Street was not paved. Our stoplight had two colors. And it was just terrific. At first, they said, “Doctor, your medicine is fine, but your English is horrible. And we’re afraid you’ll kill a lot of people. So this town, though, this little town really needs a doctor. If you don’t kill a lot of farmers in your first year, we’ll let you go statewide.” And he didn’t, but by the time the year was up, we were home.
From Country Boy to Conservative
Watson: I always find that those little towns end up having a couple of superstars come out of them. So besides you …
Castellanos: It’s a small town. So I don’t know that I’d even count myself coming out of there, but [it] was just good people who — you would think a Catholic family, and we were the only Catholics in town, very few in the whole county — everybody just opened their arms to us. It was just a lot to be grateful for in that little town. I think the great thing about a little town is you get to conquer your immediate world before you have to go out in the big one. So you learn a lot and it gives you a little confidence.
Watson: What did you end up seeing, because you got to be in North Carolina in the ’60s … lots of conversation around race, around the Vietnam War, around gender, all sorts of things are changing. What did a young Cuban American boy see in North Carolina in the ’60s and the ’70s? And how did that shape you, if at all?
Castellanos: I can’t say I saw a lot of discrimination in the small, small world in which I lived. We were fairly sheltered from that. Not that it wasn’t out there. I did see Jesse Helms on WRL, Channel 5, doing his editorials. And what I did read was a lot of William F. Buckley in National Review. When your parents give up everything so that you can live in freedom, that kind of makes your life focused on making their sacrifice worthwhile. That’s what it did for me.
So I was getting to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, just as the Vietnam War was winding down. But I’d seen a little bit of what was happening before. I’d seen it in Cuba. The one thing old Helms always says: Nobody gives their freedom away all at once. It’s like a slice of baloney. You give it away a little bit at a time.
And so that’s kind of how I got into politics really … when Ronald Reagan ran in 1976 in North Carolina, I was premed, a philosophy major at the University of North Carolina. But I didn’t want to be a doctor like my dad. I heard that’ll be really boring: 40 years from now, I’ll have a wife, two kids, station wagon and off on Wednesdays.
Who wants that? So I dropped out. Left a scholarship behind, and I was going to go around the world. With a semester to go, my parents weren’t exactly thrilled about that. A friend, Rick, sent me over to Raleigh to go talk to these people. And that turned out to be the congressional club.
I expected George Washington, guys in powdered wigs. I did not know what American politics was. And it was a big kid smoking a cigar at a card table. So I went there on a Wednesday and when I got. … They offered me a job. I could be a field man in the youth campaign and make 500 bucks a month. I have to think about this. I got a call the next day and found out I’d been promoted. I was now a field man in the regular campaign making a 1,000 bucks a month.
All this politics stuff is great. You get promoted before you even go to work. So, that’s how I fell into all of this. It was Reagan. It was that Helms organization. It was at a time when being or saying you’re a conservative was not a cool thing. And Reagan won that primary in North Carolina in ’76. That was the first one he won that propelled him four years later.
The 2024 Front-Runner
Watson: The 2024 Republican nominee, not who you want, who you think it’s going to be. Put all the Castellanos family money down on the table here. Who’s going to be the nominee in 2024?
Castellanos: Are we talking about the cigar money? That’s important. I think Nikki Haley is the front-runner, and it’s going to be very hard to stop. I think she’s underestimated.
Watson: Underestimated …
Castellanos: It is time for a woman as president. Yeah. I think a lot of the …
Watson: Underestimated or misunderestimated?
Castellanos: Misunderestimated, because I think a lot of the politicians in Washington say, “Nah, not really a heavyweight candidate.” Far from it. I think she’s the real deal, and she’s going to be, I think, the horse to beat.
Watson: And who’s going to be the runner-up? Who’s going to be the silver medalist for the Republican nomination in 2024?
Castellanos: I think you may see a Trump-ish type of candidate. I don’t think you’ll see the old generation of Ted Cruz’s, of folks like that. I could be wrong about Nikki Haley. She could be No. 2, and Tucker Carlson could be the nominee.
Watson: You say that jokingly, or you say that seriously?
Castellanos: No. The game has changed now. The model has broken. And who defends the defenseless working class? Who is that person in the United States? This country would be happy to have some Trumpism without Trump. Who is that?
Is there a positive face that says, “No, we believe these things to bring us together, not to tear us apart. And it’s not just for one race or another, it’s for us all.” Who says that, but still stands up for the … let’s get to work and roll up our sleeves and earn things the hard way types. I wouldn’t rule Tucker Carlson out.
Watson: Oh, my, that is all kinds of juicy and provocative. Tucker Carlson, wealthy son of a wealthy family wearing a bow tie, carrying the populist card against the daughter of immigrants.
Castellanos: Hey, you had a New York real estate developer who was a Democrat, the blue-collar billionaire. It’s who you fight for. Who you fight for defines who you are.