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Will Hurd, a moderate Texas Republican and Trump critic, announces run for president

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Will Hurd, a moderate Texas Republican and Trump critic, announces run for president” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, announced Thursday he is running for president, becoming the first Texan with experience in elective office to enter the Republican primary.

Hurd, who represented Texas in Congress from 2015-21, begins his campaign as a major underdog. He is an unabashed moderate and a Donald Trump critic in a party where many remain loyal to the former president and frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

Hurd revealed his decision in a Thursday morning interview on CBS and followed it up online with an announcement video that began with Hurd listing illegal immigration, inflation and other problems before addressing the current and former presidents.

“President [Joe] Biden can’t solve these problems — or won’t,” Hurd said. “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.”

In the CBS interview, Hurd said he was running because he was “pissed” that elected officials are focusing on issues of the past rather than the future, like the rise of China and artificial intelligence. Hurd acknowledged he is a “dark-horse candidate” but sought to distinguish himself with his electoral record and willingness to criticize Trump.

Hurd is poised to be the highest-profile Texan running for president this election cycle, which began with speculation that bigger names, like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, could vie for the White House. Both now appear unlikely to do so.

Trump allies responded harshly to Hurd’s entrance. A pro-Trump super PAC issued statements calling Hurd a “RINO” — Republican in Name Only — and saying it “means nothing for President Trump’s standing.”

A former CIA officer, Hurd represented the 23rd Congressional District, a massive district in South and West Texas that includes hundreds of miles of Mexican border. It was a national battleground district while Hurd held the seat, with both parties pouring millions of dollars into the November elections.

Hurd first won the seat in 2014 and prevailed in hard-fought reelection battles in 2016 and 2018, even as district voters supported Democrats at the top of their tickets those years. Hurd opted against running for a fourth term in 2020, though the seat remained in the GOP column with the election of Hurd’s endorsed candidate, Tony Gonzales.

Hurd’s time in Congress was marked by his willingness to buck his party. He voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, and he supported universal background checks for gun purchases and protections against LGBTQ discrimination.

Hurd also worked across the aisle within the Texas delegation, going on a road trip with then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, in 2017 that they broadcast live online.

Hurd split with Trump in some highly visible ways. Hurd was among the Republicans who called on Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race after the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that depicted Trump boasting about groping women. And as Trump pushed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Hurd repeatedly called it the “most expensive and least effective way” to secure the border.

Democrats persistently criticized Hurd as being less independent than he appeared. They pointed out that, for example, he joined most House Republicans in voting against Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.

The Democratic National Committee swiftly responded to Hurd’s announcement Thursday, saying issuing a statement that said he “spent his career in Congress in lockstep with Donald Trump’s extreme MAGA agenda.”

Hurd can also expect scrutiny from his right. The pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., reacted to his announcement by emailing reporters a bullet-point list titled, “Will Hurd’s RINO Record.” The first point called Hurd “weak on immigration.”

In another statement, the group used Hurd’s entrance to knock Trump’s closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Let’s be honest, Never-Trumper Will Hurd wouldn’t even consider getting in this race if Ron DeSantis’ campaign wasn’t in total free fall,” super PAC spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said.

Hurd was the only Black Republican in the House when he announced his retirement in August 2019.

Even before he revealed he would not run for reelection, Hurd had made trips to early-voting states, raising the prospect he could seek the presidency. He has spent the past few years continuing to try to raise his national profile, visiting states like New Hampshire, releasing a book and making regular appearances on cable TV.

Hurd has emphasized that the GOP needs a nominee who can not only defeat Biden but also grow the party. He has called Trump a “proven loser,” noting Republicans have lost congressional majorities — not to mention the White House — since Trump came to power in 2016.

It remains to be seen how much Hurd’s message will resonate with GOP voters. He is seldom included in primary polling and is much less well-known than Trump’s other competitors, such as DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence. To the extent primary voters are looking for a clean break from Trump, other contenders, such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are already vying for their support.

Hurd still sees an opening.

“Too many of these candidates in this race are afraid of Donald Trump,” Hurd told CBS.

Hurd may end up as the highest-profile Texan in the primary. Cruz had considered running for president again this election cycle but has said in recent months that he is focused on his reelection to the Senate. Abbott has not ruled out a White House bid, but the possibility seems less likely as he oversees an anticipated series of special legislative sessions this summer.

Hurd is not the only Texan in the primary. Ryan Binkley, a Dallas-area businessman and pastor, announced a long-shot campaign in April.

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