Can a former CIA agent become president of the United States? Will Hurd is seeking to find out. He worked as a covert operative for the CIA for nearly a decade before leaving the Agency to enter politics. He was eventually elected three times to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’s twenty-third congressional district, which at the time spanned more than eight hundred miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. He opted not to run for reelection in 2020. After a brief stint in the private sector, he has set his sights on the biggest prize in American politics. If he succeeds, he will become the fourth Texan in the past sixty years to be elected president, and just the second Black president. He also would tie Abraham Lincoln as the tallest president in U.S. history. Like the sixteenth president, Hurd stands six foot, four inches tall.
Name: William Ballard Hurd
Date of Birth: August 19, 1977
Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas
Religion: Southern Baptist
Political Party: Republican
Marital Status: Lynlie Wallace Hurd (December 31, 2022)
Alma Mater: Texas A&M University
Career: Case Officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (2000-09); Partner at Crumpton Group (2009-13); Senior Advisor at FusionX, LLC (2009-14); Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (2015-21); Resident Fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics (2021); Board Member for OpenAI (2021-23); Managing Director at Allen & Company, LLC (2021-23)
Campaign Website: WillBHhurd.com
Twitter Handle: @WillHurd
Instagram Handle: WillHurd
Threads Handle: @WillHurd
Hurd first announced his bid for the White House by releasing a two-minute campaign video. It begins with Hurd talking directly to the camera.
He gets immediately to the rationale for this campaign. “President Biden can’t solve” the problems facing the United States—"or won’t. And if we nominate a lawless, selfish, failed politician like Donald Trump—who lost the House, the Senate and the White House—we all know Joe Biden will win again.” He vowed that as president he will put “American security and prosperity first, and I’ll give us the common sense leadership America so desperately needs.”
Hurd then appeared on the set of CBS Mornings to discuss his announcement. He said he is “pissed” that we aren’t discussing the real problems facing America and “that our elected officials are telling us to hate our neighbors.”
Hurd was born in San Antonio, the youngest of three children. His father is Black; his mother is white. They met in California and moved to South Texas in the early 1970s. They were the only biracial family when Hurd was growing up in their working-class neighborhood.
Hurd had a lisp as a child. Other kids teased him for being “Hurd the Nerd.” He did well in school and graduated from John Marshall Valley High School in 1995. He had planned to go to Stanford, but a visit to College Station, Texas, changed his mind. He enrolled at Texas A&M University as a Terry Scholar, which provides a four-year scholarship for students with financial need, a strong academic record, and demonstrated leadership ability. Hurd showed just how much leadership ability he had when he was elected president of the Texas A&M student body. He was unexpectedly thrown into the national spotlight when a tragedy struck the school. A log bonfire built as part of the campus’s celebration of the then-annual football game against A&M’s archrival, the University of Texas at Austin, collapsed. A dozen people died. Hurd spoke at the school’s memorial service and did numerous media interviews.
Hurd made the most of his time in College Station. As one journalist summarized his college years:
Hurd, who is majoring in computer science and minoring in international studies, talks about having studied in Mexico City, interned for a microchip manufacturing company in Manila, and served as a counselor at an A&M leadership program in Italy for thirty incoming freshmen. Because A&M gives students so much responsibility, he says, he had the opportunity to manage a $5.6 million budget as head of the Memorial Student Center and, in his current office, to be what he calls “the mayor of a moderate-sized town.”
When Hurd graduated from A&M in 2000, he didn’t head to law school or the private sector. Instead, he joined the CIA. He had taken a course on Cold War intelligence at A&M taught by a former CIA operative and became interested in joining the Agency. He was helped along by Robert Gates, the former CIA director and later secretary of defense, who at the time was the interim dean of A&M’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service. Gates had been impressed by the leadership that Hurd displayed in the wake of the bonfire tragedy.
It was a good time to join the Agency. The day after the September 11 attacks, Hurd was assigned to the CIA’s new counterterrorism unit. He worked at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, but he also served as a covert operative in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. During that time, he learned to speak Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. He says of his time in South Asia: “My job was to recruit spies and steal secrets.”
Hurd seemed destined to rise to the senior ranks of the CIA. But in 2009, he left the Agency to run for office. He says he decided to change careers in part because of his experience briefing members of Congress. He found that many of them were ignorant of even basic facts about the issues that counterterrorism operatives were dealing with, including the distinction between Sunni and Shia Muslims. He thought he could do a better job.
His first run for office in 2010 didn’t go as planned. He hoped to represent Texas’s twenty-third congressional district, which is overwhelmingly Hispanic and had been represented by a Democrat. He won the most votes in the initial Republican primary but fell short of the majority needed to win the nomination. He then lost in the run-off election to a Latino candidate.
Hurd tried again in 2014. This time things went his way. He defeated the incumbent Democratic congressman by just 2,400 votes, making him just one of two Black Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats wrote his victory off as a fluke. As the spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the time put it: “Will Hurd is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country, so he shouldn’t get too comfortable in Washington.” But Hurd defied the odds. He won reelection in 2016 and 2018. Both races were close.
Hurd surprised everyone once again when he announced in August 2019 that he would not run for a fourth term, even though by that time he was the only Black Republican in the House. He explained his decision as follows:
I'm leaving the House of Representatives to help our country in a different way. I want to use my knowledge and experience to focus on these generational challenges in new ways. It was never my intention to stay in Congress forever, but I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America.
After leaving Congress, became a managing director at Allen & Company, a boutique investment bank. Hurd also became a trustee of the German Marshall Fund and a board member of OpenAI. He also got married. On December 31, 2022, he wed Lynlie Wallace, a fifth generation Texan. She is chief of staff to a Texas state representative.
Hurd’s campaign slogan is “common sense for complicated times.” His approach to politics is best described as pragmatic. He believes that people of goodwill can come together across party lines to find workable solutions to the problems the country confronts. He believes that politicians need to stop playing to the extremes in American political life:
My hypothesis is that 80 percent of Americans are around the center—40 percent left of center, 40 percent right of center—and they’re all persuadable…. I just don’t accept the premise that to win a primary you have to be the person furthest to the right.
Hurd’s conviction about the need to build bridges rather than deepen divides was reflected in the 1,600-mile road trip he took from Texas to Washington, DC, in 2017 in a Chevy Impala with Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who represented the neighboring congressional district. The two tweeted the trip and took questions on Facebook Live. Unfortunately, Hurd and O’Rourke’s trip sparked more talk about bipartisanship than actual bipartisanship.
Hurd and Trump
Hurd has never been a fan of Donald Trump. When Trump first ran for the president in 2016, Hurd repeatedly criticized his disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants and his fanciful plan for building a wall along the U.S. southern border that Mexico would pay for. When one journalist pointed out to Hurd in 2017 that Trump was the leader of the Republican Party, Hurd responded: “Well, he’s a member of the party.” He then added: “Just because somebody is in my party doesn’t mean I can’t be critical—I’ve been pretty clear about that. Yes, he’s the titular head of the party. But he’s just one person. And I completely disagree with people who say he’s the standard-bearer. There’s a lot of people that represent the Republican brand and conservatism.”
In 2018, Hurd wrote an op-ed for the New York Times after Trump’s heavily criticized joint press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Hurd was blunt that Trump had been duped by the Kremlin:
Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.
The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.
In 2019, Hurd joined with just four other House Republicans to vote for a resolution condemning Trump for tweeting racist comments attacking four Democratic congresswomen of color. He did not, however, vote to impeach Trump for pressuring Ukraine to help him with his reelection bid. He called Trump’s phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky “inappropriate” and criticized what he called “this sort of bungling foreign policy.” He argued, however, that he had “not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion."
Hurd’s assessment of Trump has not improved in the intervening years. He was asked on CBS Mornings whether he would pardon Trump if the forty-fifth president is convicted by a federal court of mishandling top-secret documents. Hurd answered emphatically, “No, I would not pardon him.” He went on to say that what Trump did “spits in the face of the thousands of men and women who every single day and every single night put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep us safe.” He also took a shot at Republican presidential rivals who said they would pardon Trump if he is convicted, saying that such statements are “insane.”
Hurd has been emphatic that he will not support Trump if he wins the Republican nomination, even if refusing to do so costs him a place in the 2024 GOP presidential debates. He says, “I can’t lie to get access to a microphone.” Hurd has also said that a rerun of the 2020 election between Trump and Biden would be a “rematch from hell.”
Hurd hasn’t been afraid to share his dim view of Trump with Republican voters. Last week, he told attendees at the Iowa Republican Party’s 2023 Lincoln Dinner in in Des Moines that "Donald Trump is not running for president to represent people that voted for him in 2016 and 2020." Rather, “Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison.” The audience booed his remarks.
Hurd’s Foreign Policy Views
Hurd sees foreign policy as one of his strengths as a candidate:
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.
The bill, which did not pass, would have protected beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and provided for more border security.
In stressing his foreign policy credentials, Hurd favors a traditional Republican approach to foreign policy. He believes that the United States is strongest when it works with its allies. He wrote in 2020:
Many debate when the U.S. became a global power. I believe we became a true global superpower when America helped the Allies win World War II, then helped rebuild Europe from the ashes. We stood up to despots and tyrants and helped our friends stand on their own. We didn’t take spoils after that war, but instead gave Europe a hand. If the next administration embraces the understanding that America has become an exceptional nation not because of what we have taken, but because of what we have given, then this century will continue to be the American Century.
Put differently, Hurd doesn’t see America’s friends, partners, and allies as free riders who have raided the U.S. treasury but rather as a force multiplier.
Unlike some of his Republican rivals, Hurd backs supporting Ukraine. He agrees that it is too soon for NATO to invite Ukraine to be a member but argues that “Ukraine should be admitted to NATO the day fighting stops. It's common sense. They will continue to be an incredibly experienced and tough fighting force that all of NATO will benefit from.” He isn’t shy about criticizing Republicans who oppose supporting Ukraine. He thinks "it's unfortunate the two leading Republican nominees for president, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, [their] policy on Ukraine is wrong," adding that "I wish they would stop fighting with American companies like Disney and be more interested in supporting our allies against attacks against democracy."
These criticisms don’t mean that Hurd applauds Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine. He thinks the administration should be doing more. He wants the United States to work with the Ukrainians to establish a “no-fly zone” over the country, a goal that would be hard to achieve without actively involving U.S. troops. He also thinks that the Biden administration should have done more to exploit the divisions exposed by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s aborted march on Moscow.
Hurd is solidly in the “get-tough-with-China” camp. Last year he argued that the United States is in a new Cold War with China. He thinks that the United States has “in essence 10 years to get our act together.” Back in 2019, he argued that cutting economic ties with China was a losing strategy: “Decoupling from China in the global economy is simply unrealistic and would be in neither country’s interest.” He instead argued that the United States can win its “new war” by building a coalition to counter the Chinese government’s growing global influence” and taking steps to “streamline legal immigration so that America continues to be the beneficiary of the decades long ‘brain drain’ of the rest of the world.”
More on Hurd
Hurd is the author of American Reboot: An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Big Things Done. In it, he examines “five seismic problems facing a country in crisis: the Republican Party’s failure to present a principled vision for the future; the lack of honest leadership in Washington, DC; income inequality that threatens the livelihood of millions of Americans; U.S. economic and military dominance that is no longer guaranteed; and how technological change in the next thirty years will make the advancements of the last thirty years look trivial.”
Tim Alberta profiled Hurd back in 2017 for Politico Magazine. The article was titled: “Will Hurd Is the future of the GOP. If He Can Hold Onto the Toughest Seat in Texas.” Albert concluded that “Hurd is too young, too talented, too ambitious not to push the limits and enter the arena with bigger and better competition.”
Five years later, Alberta wrote about Hurd for The Atlantic. This time the title was, “The Revenge of the Normal Republicans.” Alberta concluded that “Hurd is the definition of a boom-or-bust candidate. He could go all the way to the White House; he could also go nowhere fast. Everything we know about politics in the Trump era suggests that the second outcome is far likelier than the first. But Hurd says he’s not worried about that. Because the only thing worse than being defeated is being desperate.”
In 2020, the New York Times Magazine published an interview with Hurd with the title: “Will Hurd Wants to Improve the Republican Brand.” In it, he argued that “winning elections is not some complicated thing. Show up. Listen. Solve problems. Most people probably think, Doesn’t every politician do that? The answer is no.”
Last year, the Washington Post Magazine conducted its own interview with Hurd after the release of his book American Reboot. When asked if he thought a reboot is possible, he answered: “I think things might get worse before they get better. But I do think they get better. I do think our best days are actually ahead of us. People want to be inspired; they want to believe in something better than themselves.”
Last week, Texas Monthly published an interview with Hurd under the title of “Why Is Will Hurd Running for President?”
Other posts in this series:
Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.