Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Will Hurd’s Dangerous Wishcasting

His shiny dreams depend on a GOP that doesn’t exist.
March 30, 2022
Will Hurd’s Dangerous Wishcasting
(Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

I admire someone with a sweet and sunny outlook on life. Hoping for the best sure beats manifesting the worst.

But as with any sweet treat, you can overindulge on hopium. Having Ho Hos for breakfast every day is not going to yield a positive outcome. Neither is wishcasting your way through a shitstorm.

And after reading Tim Alberta’s latest Atlantic profile of former Rep. Will Hurd, it appears as if Hurd is mainlining so much saccharine that he requires a shot of adrenaline right though the breastplate in order to come to.

So I feel obligated to give it to him.

Let’s start here: 2024 will not be, as the Atlantic’s headline puts it, “the revenge of the normal Republicans.” At least not in the sense that Hurd and Alberta mean it.

There is not a reservoir of support out there for “Republican” candidates like Hurd who don’t care about trans athletes or CRT, feel anguished over George Floyd’s death, think Donald Trump should have been impeached, and believe “the letter next to my name should matter less than my message.”

Hurd laments the fact that many of his boobish former congressional colleagues didn’t do the homework and couldn’t be bothered to learn the difference between Sunni and Shia. He says we need leaders who instead contemplate the complex moral quandaries and competitive challenges arising from such fields as quantum computing and artificial intelligence and biomedicine. Hard agree! Many congresscritters are stupid. And the questions raised by scientific and technological advances are profoundly important and we don’t pay enough attention to them. (A focus on this was, for all his faults, part of the value of the Andrew Yang boomlet.)

But there are some practical problems with Hurd’s argument here.

For starters, how can we trust the judgment of a leader on those weighty matters when he was “still deciding” whether to vote for Trump as late as July 2020?

And also, shouldn’t the same kind of rigor that Hurd wants us to apply to our technological and economic challenges also be applied to the political barriers that need to be overcome to get where he wants us to go? Don’t we require seriousness in determining the likeliest path for success?

I can tell you from firsthand experience, that path isn’t the Republican presidential primary. How can I be so sure? Well, we ran this campaign already!

Everything Hurd says now is the same exact shit I peddled as the spokesman for Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign eleven years ago. Comity! Normalcy! Taking on the hard challenges! Ignoring the extremists! Getting off the crazy train! Blah blah blah blah blah.

How’d that race turn out? We skipped Iowa, finished a distant third in New Hampshire, and called it a day. Womp, womp.

Back then, before I joined the campaign, I knew a Huntsman victory was probably chimerical, but I was young, ambitious, and idealistic and figured it was worth a shot. I have no regrets about it.

But it’s not 2011 anymore. A lot has gone down since then.

In the intervening decade, many of the people who made Huntsman’s one bronze medal possible have left the party because they have two eyes and noticed the political organization they were a part of decided to make a depraved, deranged imbecile the most powerful person in the world. Even now, a clear majority of the party wants that man to be president again—despite the fact that his first term ended with his instigation of a Capitol riot that he hoped would help overthrow a free and fair election.

So if Huntsman couldn’t even sniff a single primary win in 2012, how is Hurd going to do it with the same message now that today’s GOP is even less disposed to care?

Hurd says he’s going to bring some new “normal” to “not politically neurotic” people into the political process, while acknowledging that “the cost per acquisition [CPA] of those voters is higher than it is for the traditional Republican primary voter.”

Hurd betrays some contact with reality there. But it doesn’t seem to occur to him why the CPA would be higher. The answer? Because there aren’t very fucking many of these voters to acquire!  It is a supply and demand issue. It doesn’t take a quantum computer engineer to figure that out.

A big part of the reason there aren’t enough of these voters? There is already a politician for the “normal” people he is trying to reach. It’s just not the one Hurd wants it to be.

Take a look at Hurd’s critique of the GOP in his new book (as relayed by Alberta):

Republicans have become comfortable “saying or doing anything to win an election,” Hurd writes. The party of family values champions cruel policies and hateful politicians while lecturing the left on morality. The party of fiscal discipline and personal responsibility blows holes in the budget, then blames Democrats for their recklessness. The party of empowerment and opportunity systematically attempts to disenfranchise voters who are poor and nonwhite. The party of freedom and liberty keeps flirting with authoritarianism.

You know who agrees with Hurd on all of that? Democrats! Supporters of the current president of the United States, Joe Biden.

But Hurd doesn’t even consider that it might be Democrats who are more open to his message. He looks at the “progressive left” and determines the whole party is unsuitable because Democrats pander too much to the extreme on issues like defunding the police and opposing domestic fossil fuel production.

There is some truth to that. But the thing is, plenty of Democratic voters agree with him! Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York won his primary last summer making the very same argument as Hurd, when it comes to public safety. Meanwhile, frightfully few Republican voters share Hurd’s view that the GOP is a bunch of lying, hateful, cruel, profligate, antidemocratic hucksters who flirt with authoritarianism.

And if parties are defined by the voters then, what does Hurd’s issue matrix mean for where he fits and where he doesn’t?

I wouldn’t presume to tell a man how to identify. Or how to tell the difference between Sunni and Shia.

But maybe an advanced AI can help him figure it out.

Despite my acerbity, I want to be clear, I like Will Hurd. I have disagreed with his tactical moves in relation to Trump over the past few years. But it seems to me that if you strip away all the political positioning and the BS, we probably agree on nine out of ten issues. We are completely simpatico on his view that most people in Congress are buffoons and that we’d be better off with guys like him who care more about the microchip supply chain than anti-racist babygate. And I also wish we’d judge politicians on results rather than their party ID (#NoLabels).

In fact, we agree on so much that if a magic lamp turns up on my doorstep tomorrow and an improv comic genie gives me the chance to make Republican voters do a face turn on Trump and anoint Will Hurd their nominee in 2024, I swear on my life that I will eschew my desire to speak every language, get a six pack, and reverse my cells’ aging process in order to make Hurd happen.

But a genie ain’t coming to my door.

And there’s no acquisition cost that is going to make Republicans choose Will Hurd in 2024.

Pretending the party has the potential to be something that it has no chance to be is not actually how we get the “solutions” that Hurd claims to care so much about.

If anything, it risks distracting people from confronting the sobering, real-life political choices that are in front of us.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.