Will Hurd wants to make one thing clear. “I’m not going to support Trump,” the former congressman for Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District (a massive district encompassing parts of both South and West Texas along the Mexican border) and onetime rising star in the Republican Party told me by phone. “My goal right now is to be the Republican nominee.”

Can he win? Probably not. Hurd entered the race after a dozen others had already declared and is quick to refer to himself as a “dark horse candidate.” One poll released earlier this month had him registering just 1 percent support; another found that only a paltry 8 percent of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of him.

It wasn’t destined to be this way, though. Back in 2012, Hurd was widely viewed as the shining example of the party’s future—a vision of big tent conservatism that would be inclusive of all voters, particularly voters of color. Even now, as most of the party has moved further and further to the right, the former congressman still sees value in that vision and thinks he checks the necessary boxes: he’s Black, brainy, and young (he turns 46 in August). He remains an advocate for conservative policies but refuses to fearmonger. A former clandestine CIA officer and cybersecurity consultant, Hurd was elected to represent a majority Hispanic, border-area swing district thrice (first in a tough match against incumbent Democrat Pete Gallego in 2014, then in reelections in 2016 and 2018) and has objected loudly to Trump and Trumpism even as many in the candidate pool—and in the Republican Party at large—enthusiastically embrace both. (Congressman Tony Gonzales, a Republican, now represents Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District).

But what made Hurd a cause célèbre years ago makes him a pariah now. After announcing his retirement from Congress in August 2019—less than a year after narrowly winning his race against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones—Hurd steered clear of running for elected office again. Until now. He likely won’t be on the August debate stage, since he hasn’t met the necessary polling and donor requirements, and he refuses to sign the Republican National Committee’s loyalty pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee because he says he won’t support Trump. Hurd also faces additional challenges. He’s pushing his way into an already crowded, narrow space, in an environment where a lot of people insist he’s a RINO—Republican in name only—and want him to fail. He has only a puncher’s chance of winning the nomination, let alone beating President Biden. Of course, Hurd doesn’t see all of it that way. Speaking to Texas Monthly just five weeks into his campaign, the former congressman insisted he’s still committed to making the GOP one in his image. And—if it’s not already clear—he’s ready for the rest of the party to move on from Trump, too: “We have to beat him in the primary—full stop.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Texas Monthly: You told Texas Monthly in 2019 that you were working to get more “people like [you] into running for office and elected.” So why stop to focus on getting yourself elected? Do you not support—or believe in—any of the other Republican presidential candidates who entered the race before you?

Will Hurd: The initiative I used to do was the Future Leaders Fund. And over multiple cycles, we helped—primarily—congressional candidates. But, yes, I also decided to throw my hat in the ring [for the presidency]. Look, I recognize I’m a dark horse candidate. I decided to throw my hat in the ring because I felt like generational-defining issues weren’t being addressed. We need someone who is, one, not afraid to criticize and tangle with Trump and, two, articulating a vision for the future. If the Republican Party is going to stop a twenty-year drought of losing the popular vote, then we’re going to have to grow the party to groups of voters that we haven’t been able to reach over the past twenty years.

TM: I guess what I’m trying to get at is . . . What makes your candidacy different from those of many of the other anti-Trump Republicans running?

WH: I have foreign policy and national security experience that nobody else has. I have been on the front lines in fighting terrorism. I served a border-area district, and border security is still a challenge to us now. I’m also the only person in the race who’s ever put forward a bipartisan solution to border security—I’m talking about the USA Act of 2018. [If passed, the bill would have protected beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and increased the federal government’s efforts to secure the border.] Everybody’s talking about nuclear fission because of the movie Oppenheimer, and artificial intelligence can have an impact equivalent to nuclear fission. Nuclear fission controls nuclear power and clean energy that can power the world. But, uncontrolled, it’s nuclear weapons that can destroy the world. AI, if uncontrolled, could have devastating effects and could lead to unemployment. We need someone with the experience that is needed for us to deal with these existential crises.

TM: So if not you, would you support any of your GOP colleagues for the nomination?

WH: I’ve made this clear: I’m not going to sign the RNC’s loyalty pledge to get on the debate stage. My issue is not with supporting the Republican nominee per se; my issue is that I’m not going to support Trump. But my goal right now is to be the Republican nominee. That said, talking about “who else” I would support is a hypothetical question that I’m not going to entertain, because I want to be the nominee. But I do know this: I’m not going to support Trump. And that’s not going to change.

TM: Is there a world in which President Joe Biden gets your vote?

WH: [Laughs] The answer is no. One of the other reasons I’m running is because Republicans have an opportunity to win in 2024. Biden’s numbers are so terrible. He’s the worst border-security president in our history. To be clear, these are problems that started under Trump, but Biden has continued some of the worst aspects of Trump’s foreign policy. So, yeah, I will not be supporting Biden under any circumstance.

TM: What does a Will Hurd voter look like? What do they believe?

WH: A Will Hurd voter is ideologically consistent, has an independent streak, understands that America has a unique role in the world, appreciates honesty, and understands that character actually matters. It’s somebody who is disappointed with the direction of the Republican Party—and also someone who’s disappointed with the direction of the Democratic Party. That’s who a Will Hurd voter is.

And—you may or may not include this—but if someone reading this article believes that, then go to hurdforamerica.com and help me reach the forty thousand donors to get on the debate stage.

TM: That’s not all you’ll need, though. To get on the debate stage, you’d also need to sign the loyalty pledge.

WH: That’s correct, but my goal is to hit all of the other requirements, too. Trump hasn’t even agreed to sign that pledge yet, so a lot can happen between now and August 23.

TM: To clarify, then, your goal is to get on the August debate stage?

WH: Yeah, one hundred percent.

TM: So how do you plan on coalescing support?

WH: I’ve been to New Hampshire many times. I’m only in the fifth week of the campaign and, out of that, I’ve probably been in New Hampshire for three or four of them. Look, campaigns are not complicated. They’re just hard work: you ID your voters and you turn them out. That’s how I won campaigns in Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District that nobody thought I could win.

TM: I want to quickly revisit something you said earlier. So you described to me what a Will Hurder—sorry, Will Hurd voter—

WH: “Will Hurder.” I like that!

TM: What makes a Will Hurd voter different from an Asa Hutchinson or Chris Christie voter? I called those two out primarily because they’re both also on record as being fiercely anti-Trump. So I’m curious what makes your voter base different from theirs?

WH: The key is that my voters understand that the U.S. built an international order that has benefited us since at least World War II. The voters that are looking at me are people who want a candidate with strong experience in foreign policy. They also understand the role that technology is going to play in our lives. And I also think, you know, a Will Hurd voter wants to see someone running who is of my age. I’m forty-five, by the way. About to be forty-six. We’re not in August yet, right?

TM: We’re not, but I’m counting down the days. I have a birthday in August, too.

WH: What’s the date?

TM: August 25.

WH: So you’re actually a Libra, right?

TM: No. I’m a Virgo.

WH: Right, so you’re on the Leo-Virgo cusp. See, I’m August 19. I’m right on the edge.

TM: Right on. Getting back to our more-serious Q&A . . . Why is it that you still consider yourself a Republican—especially given the direction of the party under Trump and the current hold he has over the GOP?

WH: Look, there are more people out there that identify with me versus Trump. When six out of ten voters don’t want to see Trump on the ballot—that’s a big sign. But I’m still a Republican for very simple reasons: I believe that our friends should love us—and they should fear us. I believe that we should empower the people—and not the government—when it comes to domestic policy. I believe we have the capability to take advantage of technology before it takes advantage of us. And I actually believe in small government. There’s a lot of people out there that would vote for a Republican who believes those things.

TM: But why not do this as an independent or third-party candidate?

WH: If we want to actually deal with Trump and be done with him, then we have to beat him in the primary—full stop. I also believe that the competition of ideas that has made this country great has traditionally been within two parties.

TM: I know you’re only five weeks into your campaign, but what has your fund-raising and travel schedule looked like so far?

WH: I’ve been in the north country of New Hampshire. I’m the only candidate so far to do that. I got to tour the northern border. You know, we’re starting to see increased troubles on the northern border. It’s nowhere near the problems that we’re seeing on the southern border, but it’s there. I’ve also been to Iowa a couple of times, and I’m going again in a few days. For me, this is about showing up to places that people haven’t shown up before—and don’t expect someone like me to be. So I’m on the road. I’m going to do what I did when I was running for Congress and hit as many places as possible. I’m a little disappointed because there’s not as many Dairy Queens around the country as there were in Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District, but, to be honest, that’s the fun part for me: going out, talking to people, hearing people’s stories, and hearing people’s solutions. I like that. But we still have twenty-five weeks ahead of us. As a line in one of my favorite songs says, “We have a long way to go and a short time to get there.”

TM: I want to revisit Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District in a second, but, regarding donors, are you seeing a good amount of support so far?

WH: We have. We’re on pace to hit what we need in order to operate. As we take our message elsewhere and more people hear it, the number of folks that will donate will grow. But, like I said, I feel good with the trajectory we’re on.

TM: Switching topics a bit now. In 2018, you won your former congressional seat by a couple hundred votes against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, and the thinking, at the time, was that you were the only type of Republican who could win a district like Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District. But after you resigned, Trump-backed Tony Gonzales ran in 2020 and won the seat handily—

WH: Well, guess what? We also helped Tony, especially during the primary. An endorsement and actual legwork are two very different things.

TM: What I was getting at is, Do you think that only a certain “type” of Republican can be successful in that district?

WH: Not at all. I’ve never thought that. The Republican Party should be the big tent party. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, we’ve only been preaching to the choir when what we need to be doing is growing the choir. Having a diverse set of voices is important. And when I say “diverse,” that includes ideological diversity—I mean it in the largest definition possible. I’ve always known there was more than one way to win an election.

TM: You mentioned being a border-area congressman earlier in our interview. So I’m curious what your reaction was to the latest news at the Texas-Mexico border? [Recent news reports say that medics were reportedly told to push migrants back into the water to go to Mexico and to deny them water.]

WH: The idea that a Texas law enforcement official would not share water with someone in 110- or 113-degree heat is hard for me to believe. DPS is doing their investigation, but if somebody did do that, heads need to roll because that’s completely inhumane. But the other thing we need to realize is that the human smugglers and cartels in Mexico are driving this inhumane activity. They’re the ones who are lying to migrants and illegally pushing them across the border and in between our ports of entry. So we should make stopping those entities a national intelligence priority. The broader issue, though, is that Biden’s inability to secure the border—and control the border—has led to this much larger humanitarian crisis. This current crisis started under Trump and got significantly worse under Biden. America needs a border reset.

TM: And, I have to ask, but if this doesn’t work out in the way you envision—e.g., you lose—what’s next?

WH: I said this in 2009 when I got asked this question, and, at the time, people didn’t think this was true—but it was then, and it is now. My focus and attention is on my current pursuit—period, full stop. Thinking about plan B is not in my DNA when I have a task in front of me. So my goal is in the next twenty-five weeks to shock people and put myself in a position to start winning some of these early states.