Will Hurd, Unfiltered
The former congressman gets candid about the state of the Republican Party and the challenges the U.S. faces.
Good Tuesday morning from Washington, D.C., where the cherry blossoms are in peak bloom.
Will Hurd’s American Reboot
Former congressman and Central Intelligence Agency officer Will Hurd is acting like a man who wants to run for president.
When asked directly about running in 2024, he won’t rule it out. “If the opportunity is there, I’ll evaluate it and see if I can pull it off,” he tells me in a phone interview.
The Texas Republican’s slick website, explainer videos about current events, and speaking engagements have kept him in the political fray, despite wrapping up his time in Congress at the end of 2020. That’s why readers might be tempted to see Hurd’s new book, American Reboot, as part of a larger campaign strategy, neatly fitting into the conventional Here’s-Why-I-Should-Be-President genre.
Even as parts of American Reboot certainly meet that expectation, Hurd’s writing brims with personality, resisting the overly cautious and calculated approach that has led me (and I’m sure some of you) to largely avoid potential presidential candidates’ books. Throughout, Hurd is earnest and relatively unfiltered, giving readers both a clearer picture of who he is and how Congress works.
American Reboot’s subject matter is sweeping: Hurd examines the state of the Republican Party, ethics in government, health care, education, national competitiveness, emerging technologies, senior care, climate change, immigration, and foreign policy. Hurd wrote these chapters for a broad audience, leaning into the moderate credentials he built up during his time in the House. There’s something in it for everyone to get behind—and something for everyone to disagree with. Hurd is unapologetic about his place in the center: Lawmakers who appeal to the middle “are the ones who get shit done,” he writes. “Extremists do the most bitching and get the least accomplished.”
Hurd is a strong storyteller. He shares compelling memories of growing up in an interracial family in Texas, vivid accounts from his nine years as a CIA officer, and behind-the-scenes details of his attempts to overcome Congress’ top-down legislative process.
He’s also genuinely funny. I read an advance copy late last year, and I have repeatedly laughed to myself about a couple of his childhood stories in the time since—particularly one in which an indignant young Hurd, overwhelmed by the sheer injustice of the situation, defaced a car with the words “I want Gobot” after his dad flatly denied his request for a new toy. (“You ain’t getting a f—ing robot,” his dad had said.)
Readers who enjoy vignettes from Hurd’s life in this book may find themselves hoping he writes a more freewheeling memoir in the future. Each of the stories in American Reboot has a clear reason to be in the book, forming the basis for Hurd’s style of governance or a given policy stance.
Naturally, former President Donald Trump’s time in office is a backdrop to much of the book (Hurd served in Congress from 2015 through the end of Trump’s presidency). During Trump’s term, Hurd writes, “I advocated on behalf of my constituents and held on to my values, even when things got really screwy, which was pretty often over those four years.”
At one point, he details a 2017 call with Trump before House Republicans voted on their version of an Obamacare repeal bill. Hurd had already spoken with former Vice President Mike Pence, telling him he wouldn’t be supporting the legislation because of how it would affect his constituents. Pence, Hurd recalls, was understanding of his decision and said it was right for his district.
Trump was less amenable. “That’s what’s wrong with you Republicans,” the former president said, according to Hurd. “You’ve been talking about this for four years, and we have a chance to do it and you’re not going to do it.”
“Plus,” Trump added, “I won your district.”
Hurd corrected Trump: He had actually lost Texas’ 23rd District—stretching from San Antonio to El Paso—by three points.
“Well, I did better than anybody thought I was gonna do in your district,” Trump shot back, per Hurd. That wasn’t the only part of the phone call that stands out to Hurd, years later.
“We ended the call with a strange detour into his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping,” Hurd writes. “‘He loves me,’ Trump said, ‘and I love him.’”
Hurd is unassuming but direct when he addresses the former president’s behavior in American Reboot, rejecting it and challenging Republican leaders and voters to embrace pragmatism and common ground over confrontational, red meat rhetoric.
Early in the book, he lays out what he thinks is needed for a healthier, more diverse Republican Party. (One of his chapters is frankly titled “Don’t Be an Asshole, Racist, Misogynist, or Homophobe.”) He calls for Republicans to accept the fact that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and for the GOP to stop peddling conspiracy theories like those that led to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, which Hurd writes Trump fomented.
In our phone interview, Hurd is confident there is room in the party for his approach, despite Republicans remaining overwhelmingly consolidated behind Trump.
“The lesson of 2020 was don't be a jerk and don't be a socialist,” Hurd says. “That’s why the public voted for one party for president, and President Biden had no coattails. Democrats had significant losses. And then we know in 2022, the House is going to flip back to Republicans, and it’s because the views of the far left are so unappealing that even communities of color, Latinos along the border, are going to be voting for Republicans in what's probably going to be record numbers.”
“My point is, imagine this: Imagine that we’re not just attracting these voters because the other side is so terrible, but it’s because they actually like us,” Hurd adds.
American Reboot goes beyond broad goals about being more inclusive as a party, though. It also offers personal glimpses at what it means for a Republican to resist the fringe elements of the electorate. Hurd writes about a 2014 town hall that has quietly haunted him: “Why don’t we round up all the Muslims and put them in internment camps?” one woman in Fort Stockton, Texas, asked him shortly after he was elected for the first time. Hurd remembers he took “a few too many seconds to respond and started worrying that I was giving away that I thought her question was terrible, and I was afraid of upsetting her with my answer.”
He ended up “rambling on about ISIS and Syria,” instead of answering directly.
On the drive to his next event, Hurd discussed with a friend how he should have responded: first, with a clear statement against violating freedom with forced internment. The interaction was an early turning point for how he would interact with people in his district during his time in office.
“From then on, I didn’t hesitate to admonish constituents for offensive comments and push back when they got the facts wrong,” Hurd writes.
When I tagged along for part of Hurd’s annual trip around the district in 2018, stopping at Dairy Queens and barbecue joints, the former congressman was skilled in these face-to-face debates with constituents. He often leaned on his national security expertise when discussing controversial topics—a way to steer discussions away from standard partisan talking points. That tendency is evident in American Reboot, too, particularly where it relates to climate change and immigration.
Climate change, he says, is one of the “most urgent issues confronting us,” an “existential crisis that threatens to cause the sixth mass extinction, extreme weather events (which we’re seeing already), widespread hunger, and mass migration.”
“We need to reframe the conversation around climate change. It’s not a matter of ‘protecting the Earth,’” Hurd writes. “Mother Nature is not going to lose a fight.”
Hurd similarly describes education as a national security issue, arguing for expanded access to computers and broadband for students.
Other topics he focuses on are more personal: One chapter, which he tells me was his favorite to write, takes a look at elder care and protecting seniors from scams. But it also paints a loving portrait of Hurd’s mother, who has been diagnosed with dementia and suffers from chronic knee pain, and his father’s attempts to help her.
“I’m so lucky to have parents like that,” he says. “That part, to me, is one of the emotional cores of this. And I’m glad I got to tell a little bit of that story.”
American Reboot, published by Simon & Schuster, comes out on March 29.
On the Floor
The House is out this week. The Senate is in. Senators are expected to vote to proceed to a conference committee with the House to rectify the differences in their two versions of a sweeping China competitiveness package. (We recently covered the details of the House’s competitiveness legislation here and here.) The conference committee will attempt to hammer out a version that could pass both chambers.
The Senate will also consider a slate of judicial nominees this week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will be meeting several times this week for the confirmation hearings of President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson. Today’s hearing can be viewed here. Wednesday and Thursday’s hearings will be available here and here. (Folks on Twitter should also follow my colleague Harvest, who is covering the hearings for us.)
Senators on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are meeting this morning to examine the cost of childcare and preschool for working families. Information and livestream here.
The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee is holding a hearing this morning on building a resilient economy and shoring up supply chains. Information and livestream here.
Senators will meet Wednesday morning for an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on investing in American energy security. Information and livestream here.
Two senior military officials will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning on the postures of U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command. Information and livestream here.