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Will Hurd and the Hollowing Out of the Republican Party

August 2, 2019
Will Hurd and the Hollowing Out of the Republican Party

On Thursday evening, Rep. Will Hurd, three-time Republican congressman from Texas’s most hotly contested district, former undercover CIA agent, and the only African-American member of the House GOP, made a shocking announcement: He will not seek reelection in 2020, opting instead to work to address America’s security and technology problems “outside the halls of Congress.”

In a statement announcing his departure, Hurd laid out many of what he sees as the most pressing challenges facing America today, including geopolitical tension with China, the race for AI, growing cyberattacks, and instability in Central America.

“While Congress has a role in these issues, so does the private sector and civil society,” Hurd wrote.

I call the move “shocking,” because for years Hurd has been considered a politician with a near-limitless future, the kind of politician Republicans have long sought: a Republican from a 71 percent Hispanic district on the southern border with a preternatural ability to connect with constituents on both sides of our widening partisan divide. A less capable Republican would almost certainly have been swept out of Texas’s 23 district in 2016—the district went for Hillary Clinton by four points—or if not then, than in the blue wave election of 2018. Rumors have swirled for years that when John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas and one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, finally retires, Hurd would be a likely candidate for his preferred successor.

But in another sense, Hurd’s decision not to seek reelection is entirely predictable: It’s what all the other Trump-skeptical Republicans are doing. Hurd is no dyed-in-the-wool Never-Trumper: He’s already pledged to vote for the president if he’s the Republican nominee in 2020. But the Texas lawmaker has opposed some of Trump’s signature policies, most notably the coast-to-coast wall on the Southern border that was one of the president’s signature issues during the 2016 campaign. But as Trump has made clear time and again, he considers loyalty to himself and his agenda to be an all-or-nothing prospect. There’s no room for the Will Hurds of the world in today’s GOP.

The impact this shift is having on the Republican party isn’t just ideological. It’s generational. The Obama years weren’t great for conservatives, but they did launch the careers of a whole swath of young GOP leaders: lawmakers like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Hurd. Trump has diminished or destroyed them all, trading away decades worth of the party’s future prospects to go on a mammoth bender today.

This is the primary strategic problem with the take-what-you-can-get-from-Trump most Republicans have taken. The GOP has reasoned that if it can just weather the Trump storm, bank a bunch of judges, roll back regulations, and grow the economy, then things can more or less return to normal in 2024. The problem is that these gains come at a price. And the cost isn’t just the spiritual drag of having to pretend that they don’t mind “send her back” and “very fine people” and the love affairs with Putin and Kim Jong-un. There is actual, ongoing damage being done to the future of the party that’s happening below the surface, at the electoral and leadership levels. And every day the rot grows worse. Trump will leave eventually and maybe the SCOTUS majority stays in place and maybe it doesn’t. But what will the GOP have left to build on?

Here’s something else that happened Thursday: Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager, told Politico that he’s “seriously considering” a Senate run in New Hampshire. Lewandowski doesn’t have the personal appeal and impressive record of public service of a guy like Hurd, true, but he did shove that female reporter to the ground once. Other politicians only talk about destroying the Fake News media. Corey actually walks the walk. Vote Lewandowski 2020.

This is the other side of the coin: Under Trump, the GOP isn’t just losing people like Hurd. And Mia Love. And Susana Martinez. And Scott Walker. And Paul Ryan. It’s replacing them with people like Matt Gaetz. And Devin Nunes. And Steve King.

And Corey Lewandowski.

Good luck with that.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger was a senior writer at The Bulwark.