Will Hurd is exactly the kind of politician the Republican party’s establishment once dreamed about being their future. In March 2013, the Republican National Committee, reeling from defeat in the 2012 elections, published a postmortem report laying out an agenda for a new kind of party. The RNC wanted to promote a “welcoming conservatism” that would be “inclusive to all voters,” particularly Latinos and citizens “who do not agree with us on every issue.” Hurd, who was first elected as the congressman for Texas’s sprawling 23rd district in 2014, seemed almost laboratory-concocted to fulfill this prescription. He was young (three terms in, he’s still only 41), African-American, and brainy. He came across as broad-minded, refusing to fearmonger about border security and immigration, even as he remained an enthusiastic advocate for conservative policies. (The Koch Brothers have never stopped giving him money.) He won election three times in a majority Latino swing district on the border and objected loudly to Trumpism even as many of his colleagues enthusiastically embraced its most xenophobic planks.
When I wrote a cover story on Hurd in April, former Texas House speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican, told me that Hurd was “the best example of where the Republican party needs to be and needs to go to rebuild.” Then, last night, Hurd announced on Twitter that he would not be seeking reelection.
Many commentators saw the news of Hurd’s impending exit as a devastating blow to the GOP. Without Hurd’s uncanny ability to defy political gravity, the Democrats now stand a much better chance of finally flipping Hurd’s district. No Hurd in the 23rd means Republicans are even less likely to take back the House. And the GOP is now inarguably less diverse and less likely to push back on the president’s most extreme tendencies. The lingering, already moribund hopes of the 2013 GOP autopsy—that the party would someday soon usher in an era of “welcoming conservatism”—now seems truly, utterly dead.
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Hurd doesn’t see it that way. Speaking to Texas Monthly the morning after his announcement, the congressman insisted that he was still committed to making the Republican party “appeal to people of all stripes in the United States of America.” He’d announced his impending departure in part so he could focus his energy on campaigning for Republican primary candidates across the country who were in his mold. And he emphasized he wasn’t finished with his own political ambitions either.
“I’m about to turn 42 years old, I’m sure this is probably not the last time I run for elected office,” Hurd said. “Who knows?…If opportunities arise, we’ll evaluate them as they come.”
Texas Monthly: You’ve won three elections, and each one of them has been really close. How much of your decision to not run for reelection is you not wanting to go through that process again?
Will Hurd: Look, 2020 is going to be a tough election cycle, there’s no question about that. But we know how to win tough elections. Campaigns are not rocket science. ID your voters, turn them out. That’s what we’ve been able to do consistently, and we’ve done it in environments that nobody thought we could win in, we’ve done it when people at the top of the ticket were not popular. We’ve done it in the Blue Wave, right? So I wasn’t worried about my electoral success. What I want to do now is take that experience and help in other races and not just one.
TM: So is the plan to help Republican candidates you believe in and try to help them win in Republican primaries?
WH: Yeah, I want to take the tactics, techniques, and procedures that we have perfected over three campaigns and help export that to folks in other races. We’ve proven that we can talk to Latinos and minorities, that we can talk to young people. There is a skillset and lessons learned there that can be exported. We also have a political organization that can be used and leveraged to help other folks. So that’s what the plan is and what we’re trying to evolve into, to be able to help great candidates, like Wesley Hunt in Houston. He’s a fantastic guy, served his country, has a wonderful young family, worked in the private sector, and really wants to serve his country in a different way. That’s awesome. That’s the kind of guy that I want to see in Congress.
TM: So one thing you said in your letter announcing that you were retiring is you talked about how you wanted to solve problems at the “nexus between technology and national security.”
TM: And I read that and I said, “Well, it seems to me that being a U.S. congressman with a seat on the House Intelligence Committee would be a really, really good way to do that.” So why isn’t it anymore?
WH: I’m not saying that it isn’t anymore, all right? But it’s just being able to work on these issues in a different way. The most interesting things that are happening in artificial intelligence are happening outside the government. It’s in the private sector. The most interesting intelligence for cybersecurity is by private sector companies. I left a job that I was good at in the CIA to help the intelligence community in a different way. Leaving the halls of Congress in order to help the country in a different way on these issues that I care about.
TM: I think a lot of people would look at your announcement now somewhat in the light of some of the votes that you’ve taken where you’ve been one of literally a small handful of Republicans-
WH: One of four.
TM: Yeah, one of four to condemn President Trump’s recent comments about the Democratic congresswomen, and you’ve taken other votes against the wall and the shutdown. Do you feel like President Trump’s Republican party doesn’t have a place for you?
WH: I think the Republican party is a broad party that should appeal to people of all stripes in the United States of America. It’s bigger than just one individual. And the Republican party that I’m looking forward to continuing to grow is the party that realizes the way we solve problems is empowering people, not empowering the government. I think it’s interesting, people are saying I’m retiring. I’m not retiring. I’m 41 years old. I’m looking forward to continuing to serve, just in a different way.
TM: But you are leaving Congress-
TM: So talking about a Republican party that appeals to more people and more kinds of people, the day you leave Congress—unless other people are elected who have your same profile—the Republicans in the House will not have a single African American, the Republicans in the House will not have one of those four people who voted to condemn President Trump’s remarks, the Republicans in the House won’t have a person who goes on TV to talk about the border and-
WH: I’m going to interrupt you there. That’s why I’m working to get more people like me into running for office and elected. So that’s the plan. That’s the goal. And you don’t have to do those things as a member of Congress. So that’s what I’m excited about doing.
TM: Joe Straus told me you were probably the only Republican who could win the 23rd. Is he going to be right?
WH: I hope he’s not right, and I don’t want to be the only Republican that can hold the 23rd. I want to make sure that the Republican brand is a brand that resonates in a place like the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. I’m sure there’s going to be a number of conversations and people that are interested. I’ve already had a conversation with someone who’s really exciting, and like I said, my goal is to not be the only Republican to be able to hold that seat.
TM: So you’re also talking about essentially creating a broad national political movement centered around making the Republican party a little more like you and maybe a little less like—
WH: A little bit more like me. Yeah, a little bit more like me.
TM: So are you going to be forming some kind of political action committee?
WH: We are outlining and working through the details on the way we achieve these goals that I’ve outlined. I’ve said this before. If the Republican party in Texas doesn’t start looking like Texas, there won’t be a Republican party in Texas. And I can say the same thing about America. If the Republican party in America doesn’t start looking like America, we won’t have a Republican party in America. The two largest growing groups of voters are minorities and young people, and we need to be making sure we have a message that resonates with them, and we need to do a better job doing that.
TM: I know that you’re talking about going and trying to elect more primary candidates that are like you, but I feel like a lot of people are going to find what you just said to be a bit discordant with the fact that you’re leaving Congress. You’ve been an important part of the Republican party looking more like America and Texas and pressing issues-
WH: Just because I’m not part of Congress doesn’t mean I’m not part of the Republican party. I have found it interesting that people are taking that perspective because, guess what? There are people that have never been in government that have an influence in politics and party activities, right? You don’t have to be just a member of Congress in order to have an impact, you’ve got to have a willingness to work hard, you’ve got to have an ability to communicate ideas. Those things are not going to change, regardless of what my position may or may not be.
TM: You’ve been traveling and scheduling trips to New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina. Those are early presidential primary states. Are you laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential run? What you’ve said about trying to help out candidates nationwide feels like what someone exploring a presidential run would not.
WH: I am not going to run in 2020. My goal is to help other folks, other candidates in the 2020 election.
TM: Yeah, but 2024, you might run for some office?
WH: Look, I’m about to turn 42 years old, I’m sure this is probably not the last time I run for elected office. Who knows? I’m looking forward to helping great people, like I said, like Wesley Hunt, and staying involved in technology and national security. If opportunities arise, we’ll evaluate them as they come.
TM: You have said in the past that you’re planning to vote for President Trump. Is that still something you’re planning to do?
WH: I’ve always said my plan is to vote for the Republican nominee.
TM: But you didn’t vote for President Trump in 2016, is that correct?
WH: I did not.
TM: Since you’re planning to vote for him now, does that mean that he’s exceeded your expectations?
WH: Well, my plan is to vote for the Republican nominee because I believe our principles on empowering people not government and focus on supporting free markets and not socialism. I think these are the things that are going to make our country successful.
TM: But you didn’t do that in 2016. You didn’t vote for the Republican-
WH: Yeah, because I had the opportunity to vote for [ex-CIA operative Evan McMullin], someone who had my back when we were in the back alleys of Pakistan.
TM: So if Evan runs again, would you consider not voting for the President?
WH: Those elections are, what, fifteen months away?
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.