Former Republican U.S. Representative Will Hurd
Will Hurd, who represented San Antonio's 23rd Congressional District until 2021, walks in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in 2019. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Is Will Hurd, the former congressman and CIA operative, laying the groundwork to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024? All signs indicate the answer is yes.

I base that on two recent experiences: serving as a conversation moderator with Hurd at a recent World Affairs Council of San Antonio dinner and reading “The Revenge of the Normal Republicans” in Atlantic magazine.

I’ve also read Hurd’s new book, American Reboot: An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Big Things Done (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2022). It’s a clarion call for a major political pivot by the Republican Party and the extreme left in the Democratic Party, with both needing to commit to a “return to normal.” For Hurd, that means abandoning the divisive social and political issues paralyzing the national and state political conversation, such as criminalizing immigrants on the right and calls to “defund the police” on the left.

When the former Republican congressional representative decided in 2019 to not seek reelection in one of the nation’s most bipartisan districts, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso along the Texas-Mexico border, he largely disappeared from public view. Since then, he has become a trustee of the German Marshall Fund, a board member of OpenAI and managing director of Allen & Co., the famously private New York investment bank that doesn’t even have a website.

American Reboot puts Hurd back on the political stage.

<I>American Reboot</I>, Will Hurd
American Reboot, Will Hurd Credit: Courtesy / Simon & Schuster

I had the opportunity to put the question of his political aspirations directly to Hurd on Friday.

“If I have an opportunity to serve my country again, I will evaluate it, and the best way for me to serve my country now is to put forward some ideas of how we get away from the moment we are caught in now,” Hurd replied.

Issues that have dominated the political agenda of Republican elected leaders in Texas and other red states in recent years — passing voter suppression legislation, blocking legal abortion, demonizing immigrants and refugees, placing politics in front of sensible public health practices in the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting pro-LGBTQ initiatives and supporting former President Donald Trump’s manufactured claims of a stolen presidential election — have served to further divide the nation and distract from more urgent realities at home and abroad.

Yet Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — to name three Republican officeholders with 2024 aspirations — have been veering to the hard right and governing on the very issues that divide rather than unite people.

Hurd’s advice to political extremists in his own party is summed up in an eight-page chapter in his book provocatively titled “Don’t be an Asshole, Racist, Misogynist, or Homophobe.”

Moderate voters have increasingly found themselves gerrymandered out of the conversation. Could Hurd attract enough mainstream Republicans, moderate newcomers to the party and independent voters to back him in early primaries?

Most would rate his common sense appeal and “getting things done” agenda a long shot, but Hurd is a risk-taker. He’s not going to miss his shot.

Hurd’s book is a field guide for moderate-leaning voters from center-left to center-right. I’ve known Hurd for more than a decade and I was not surprised to read his articulate and informed takes on global affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

Hurd is especially strong on the threat from China, the slow and inadequate U.S. response under Democratic and Republican administrations to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the opportunities if the U.S.government better understood the threats and promises that ever-advancing technologies present.

I heard a frustrated Hurd speak a decade ago about the inevitable reality of cyberthreats and how senior political leaders in Congress were failing to grasp that reality, operating much like Grandpa with his first smartphone.

As president, Hurd would act very differently toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and when I say differently, I mean differently than Trump’s undisguised admiration for Putin and his territorial aggressions and President Joe Biden’s measured response of economic sanctions and military aid. Hurd called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine during our World Affairs Council conversation, knowing full well that would mean NATO pilots (read U.S. pilots) in the most advanced U.S. fighter aircraft directly challenging Russian MiG pilots.

Would a badly miscalculating Putin be stymied by such a challenge in an air war that NATO undoubtedly would dominate? Or would such an outcome escalate into a Russian-NATO ground war or even a nuclear confrontation? The stakes are high at this moment in time and history, higher perhaps than most people realize. Long before the next presidential primary, the world could very well find itself on a more dangerous precipice.

“I believe that still,” Hurd told me Friday when I asked about his views on a no-fly zone. “My answer to critics is this: If you think we are going to influence Vladimir Putin [on] whether he is going to escalate the war, you are misinformed. The question should be this: Are we doing everything in our power to prevent and stop the slaughter of innocent people? Trying to anticipate second-, third- and fourth-order effects is impossible.”

What surprised me most about Hurd’s book is how equally detailed he is on domestic issues, from the need to address climate change, immigration reform and care for seniors to increasing access to health care and addressing the overpolicing of citizens of color.

Hurd wants to restore America’s place on the world stage by first restoring the founding ideals and values at home that made the nation a respected and influential superpower.

Will he decide to run? American Reboot, published March 29, suggests he is already lining up for the race.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.