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An Idealist's Guide to Getting Big Things Done
Table of Contents
About The Book
From former US Congressman and CIA Officer Will Hurd, a “how-to guide with a prescription for getting the nation on the right footing” (Politico) and “a clarion call for a major political pivot” (San Antonio Report) rooted in the timeless ideals of bipartisanship, inclusivity, and democratic values.
“Hurd has the biography and the charisma and the God-given political chops to put the Republican Party—and the rest of the country—on notice.” —THE ATLANTIC
It’s getting harder to get big things done in America. The gears of our democracy have been mucked up by political nonsense. To meet the era-defining challenges of the 21st century, our country needs a reboot.
In American Reboot, Hurd, called “the future of the GOP” by Politico, provides a “detailed blueprint” (Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense, 2006–2011) for America grounded by what Hurd calls pragmatic idealism—a concept forged from enduring American values to achieve what is actually achievable.
Hurd takes on 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; US 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.
Hurd has seen these challenges up close. A child of interracial parents in South Texas, Hurd survived the back alleys of dangerous places as a CIA officer. He carried that experience into three terms in Congress, where he was, for a time, the House’s only Black Republican, representing a seventy-one percent Latino swing district in Texas that runs along 820 miles of the US-Mexico border. As a cyber security executive and innovation crusader, Hurd has worked with entrepreneurs on the cutting edge of technology to anticipate the shockwaves of the future.
Hurd, who the Houston Chronicles calls “a refreshing contract to the panderers, petty demagogues, and political provocateurs who reign these days,” draws on his remarkable experience to present “a call to Americans to consider the most contentious issues of our times more holistically” (The Atlantic). He outlines how the Republican party can look like America by appealing to the middle, not the edges. He maps out how leaders should inspire rather than fearmonger. He forges a domestic policy based on the idea that prosperity should be a product of empowering people, not the government. He articulates a foreign policy where our enemies fear us and our friends love us. And lastly, he charts a forceful path forward for America’s technological future.
We all know we can do better. It’s time to hit “ctrl alt del” and start the American Reboot.
With help from a paper map and directions from cowboys on horseback, I found El Rancho Escupe Sangre No Raja down a long dirt road. It was 2009 and I was in the middle of my first campaign for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. I’d been invited to a tardeada a la Mexicana in the Democratic stronghold of Eagle Pass, Texas, located on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Quick Spanish lesson: tardeada is an afternoon party. The translation for the party’s location is a little trickier. El rancho means “ranch.” Escupe sangre means “spit blood,” and no raja is Mexican slang for “don’t give up” or “don’t quit.”
So, this party was at the “Don’t Quit, Spit Blood Ranch” in the biggest city of Maverick County, a place that was largely Latino and hadn’t held a Republican primary consistently until 2010. When it did, only fifty-nine people voted. The professional Republican political consultant types had warned me against spending time in Maverick County. They said it was futile for a Republican candidate to earn votes there.
But I thought it was an opportunity. And since my name was the one on the ballot, I got the final say.
I learned in the CIA that when you can, always have backup, so I asked a good friend of mine, Mel, to go with me to the tardeada. She is smart, always up for adventure, and had helped me with Spanish translation services when I was in the private sector. Most candidates would have been joined by a campaign staffer who had campaign experience, but those kinds of folks didn’t think I had a chance in hell. So I had to rely on my friends.
Even though I had taken Spanish in middle school and high school, studied in Mexico City while in college, and had grown up in San Antonio, my español still wasn’t great. I used to say I knew “dance floor Spanish”—enough Spanish to get by on the dance floor—but when I got elected, my staff said this comment wasn’t congressional. So the apology I gave for not speaking better Spanish was “Entiendo mucho pero hablo muy despacio como un niño en la escuela primaria.” It means “I understand a lot of Spanish, but I speak slowly like a kid in elementary school.” This was even better than my dance floor wisecrack because it always got a laugh. I don’t know why, but I guess people find the image of a six-foot-three, 230-pound guy in elementary school funny.
Mel and I crammed my Toyota 4Runner into a spot alongside hundreds of other cars in a makeshift dirt parking lot. I wore a white guayabera—a casual Mexican shirt—and Mel, whose family is from Mexico, looked like a movie star.
The party’s nerve center was a cream-colored, one-story cinder block building where the food was being prepared and distributed. A large, greenish awning jutting off one of the structure’s sides provided shade, under which a band was playing popular Tejano tunes. The smell of slow-roasting pork was making us hungry. We could see dozens of couples dancing and eating. This was a popping party. But when we got closer, hundreds of heads turned and fixated their gaze on us. It got real quiet. It was like an old Western. Three members of the band, who happened to be local elected officials, literally stopped playing.
I thought everyone was staring at Mel. Then she whispered in my ear, “Are all these people staring at you because you are a Republican?”
Okay, so they weren’t staring at Mel.
I had been trained for this situation. It was like being at a diplomatic reception when I was in the CIA looking to “bump” a target of interest. A “bump” means using a piece of information about a target to strike up a seemingly benign conversation with them. A “target of interest” is anyone who might have access to information we seek. A bump is the first step in the long process of recruiting a spy. I had pulled off bumps in restaurants, ski lifts, airplanes—even a terrorist training camp.
Usually when you perform a bump, you have a target in mind. This was the first time I was doing a bump without a specific target. At the same time, everyone in the crowd was an appropriate target for the kind of bump I needed to perform.
No one at that tardeada—not me, not the people around the yard staring curiously at me—could anticipate what was coming in the years ahead. The people of Maverick County would be dragged through hell in 2020 when COVID slammed into them. It was one of the worst-hit communities in the country.
But all this was not yet in front of this hardworking community, which I would get to know so well during my three terms in Congress. For the moment, on this dusty, warm November day, there were curious eyes and the same baffled question hanging in the air, as Mel and I made our way to the bar: Why are you here?
We worked the room as well as we could. I was a novelty. Why was a Republican at a tardeada in Eagle Pass? Almost all the people at the event, including the hosts, were going to support the incumbent, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez.
I gave the same answer to everyone: “Why am I here? Because I like to drink beer and eat barbecue, too.”
Everyone laughed and slapped me on the back. The conversation would then turn to everyday things—how oppressive the heat was, how bad the Dallas Cowboys were playing, and how fast time goes by when you realize your kids are becoming adults and about to graduate high school. Nothing political.
The next time I showed up in Eagle Pass, people would shake my hand. The next couple of times, a few people would walk by and whisper, “I’m a Republican.”
After I got elected, I kept showing up, and people started telling me their problems: the Department of Veterans Affairs’ slow response time to inquiries about a veteran’s benefits; missing Social Security disability payments; and unnecessarily long lines at the border crossing between Eagle Pass and its sister city, Piedras Negras, due to insufficient staffing at the border checkpoints.
Then I would return and tell them how my staff and I had helped solve their problems by battling the bureaucracy in Washington, DC, getting answers to their questions, or, in some cases, passing laws to resolve the issue.
In all of my elections in Texas 23, I never won Maverick County. That’s not the point. I never expected to. But by my third election, I increased my vote total by 50 percent in a Democratic, Latino county, and many people did what they never thought they would ever do—vote for a Republican.
Texas 23 sprawled along the south and west of the state, through two time zones, three geographic regions, and a political divide as wide as the nation’s. Almost as large as Georgia, the district runs from the San Antonio suburbs, along 820 miles of U.S.-Mexican border, skims the New Mexico line, and reaches the outskirts of El Paso. The 23rd contains Big Bend National Park, towns like Eagle Pass, Fort Stockton, and Mentone—population 19.
Seventy percent of the population in Texas 23 is Latino, 24 percent is White, 3 percent is Black, and 2 percent is Asian American. The median household income is a little under $60,000 and almost 16 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Fifty-nine percent of the district is under forty years of age. Only about a quarter of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, and half the district has someone in their household who speaks a language other than English. While 15 percent of the population is foreign-born, many people are descended from families that have lived in the area since Texas was a part of Mexico.
Most of the district is rural and dominated by gas, oil, and cattle, and trade with Mexico is the district’s lifeblood. At the same time, a cybersecurity industry thrives in my hometown of San Antonio, the seventh-largest city in the U.S., and in El Paso, you have the largest and most valuable military installation in the nation and six international ports of entry.
For the last decade and a half, the 23rd voted consistently half Republican and half Democrat—for most of my adult life it was the only fifty-fifty district in Texas, and one of a few dozen remaining fifty-fifty districts in the country. Winning elections here is tough. I was the first person to hold the 23rd for successive cycles in a decade, including in 2016 when I was just one of three Republicans nationally to win a district carried by Hillary Clinton. Prior to my first victory, the seat had toggled back and forth between Democratic and Republican each election cycle since 2006.
For two of my three terms, I was one of two Black Republicans in the House of Representatives. In my last term, I was the only African American Republican in the House. But during my entire time in Congress, I represented a majority Latino district and took a conservative message on issues like healthcare, border security, and education to places that didn’t often hear it.
My success in the 23rd is a bellwether for success across the rest of the country, and I was winning by righting the wrongs identified in the infamous Republican “autopsy” report written after Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s defeat by President Barack Obama in 2012. Romney lost by almost four points even though he went into Election Day with most polls predicting he was in the lead over the incumbent president.
The “autopsy” conducted by senior Republican leaders, stalwarts, and activists explained that “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
The GOP has tended to do the exact opposite, especially in presidential elections, and it has proven fatal. The Republican candidate has lost seven out of the last eight popular votes for president.
Almost a decade ago, the autopsy outlined what everyone knows—the U.S. is changing, and Republicans haven’t caught up. A majority of the U.S. population will be non-white by the year 2050. Instead of pursuing a strategy of disenfranchising voters of color, like some Republican-controlled states have done because they believe people of color won’t vote Republican, we as the inheritors of the party of Abraham Lincoln should be doing everything we can to ensure the GOP reflects the demographics of our broader society. If the Republican Party doesn’t start looking like America, then there’s not going to be a Republican Party in America.
In the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans lost the House, Senate, and the White House. Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020 in large part because President Trump ignored the advice in the 2012 Republican autopsy and failed to sufficiently appeal to the largest-growing groups of voters: people of color, female voters, and younger voters. Trump only received 26 percent of the non-white vote, only 36 percent of voters twenty-nine or younger, and 42 percent of all women voters.
The Republican Party can make inroads into these communities. I proved it during my time in Congress, and further evidence of our ability to be successful is the significant increase in Republican votes in Latino communities along the Texas-Mexico border in the 2020 election.
I’ve had a front-row seat to the Republican Party’s inability to make inroads into critical voting communities, and my lessons from places like Eagle Pass give us a road map on how to reverse this trend. To be consistently successful at building a Republican Party that looks like America, we need to take four important steps.
First, we need to accept the fact that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen. It was lost. Donald Trump lost because he failed to make the Republican Party look like America.
Second, the GOP must stop peddling conspiracy theories like those that led to the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. This actual assault on our democracy was fomented by former president Donald Trump and is an example of the kinds of internal threats many of our military leaders have cautioned our political leaders to take as seriously as external threats. To prevent future manifestations of this threat from materializing, the Republican Party must drive out those who continue to push misinformation, disinformation, and subscribe to crackpot theories like QAnon—the crazy internet conspiracy that Donald Trump was trying to “take down” a shadowy cabal of Democratic pedophiles.
Third, the GOP needs to broaden family values from its historical views on religion, marriage, and family structure to everyday issues faced by families—whether that family consists of a man, a woman, and child; a woman and a child; or a man and a child. And yes, two moms or two dads.
When some Republicans talk about “family values,” they mean being anti-abortion, pro-gun, and defining marriage as between a man and a woman. I believe the government shouldn’t tell anyone who he or she can marry, and we should assume life begins at conception. While I am pro-life and pro–Second Amendment, and my record reflected that in Congress, I realize the debate around these two issues has devolved into a binary choice. You are either for or against. Neither side is going to change their position, and nobody is unaware of the Democratic or Republican positions on these topics.
The Republican Party can see increased electoral success if we become the champions of new family values. In addition to caring for our own health and that of our families, taking care of our kids and making sure they get a good education as well as protecting our parents, we need to be the party ensuring our country is open to those who can make it better, and our planet is habitable for future generations.
Finally, the Republican Party must realign our actions based on our principles—freedom enables opportunity, opportunity allows for growth, and growth leads to progress. These principles are not new; they were even written into the Republican platform in 1984. But despite this vision, the party has failed to be ideologically consistent in the pursuit of these noble ideals, instead pursuing a path of political expediency—saying or doing anything to win an election. We the people, individually as citizens but collectively as a nation, want to be inspired and we want pragmatic solutions that positively impact the greatest number of people. Results, not rhetoric.
Freedom means empowering people, not the government. A citizen should be able to make their own decision on how to take care of their own health rather than being told by the government how to do that. Opportunity means letting everyone move up the economic ladder through free and fair markets, not through market manipulation by a handful of people. Let a parent take control of ensuring their son or daughter gets the best education wherever they want. Growth and progress means being prepared to solve the generation-defining challenges like a New Cold War with the Chinese government on global leadership of advanced technology.
I’m the son of a Black father and White mother. I grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t my parents’ first choice. It wasn’t even their second or third. My folks met in Los Angeles and moved to San Antonio in 1971 a little over a year after getting married. When it was time to stop renting and buy their own house for their family of five, it took them almost a year to find a place. During the week, when my dad was traveling for his job, my mom would do the house hunting. At house after house, realtors would give encouraging signals to my mom, but when she returned with my dad fresh from the road, the real estate agent would lie and tell them the house had been sold. The realtor wasn’t going to sell to an interracial couple.
It was neither en vogue nor widely accepted to be an interracial couple in the early 1970s in South Texas. My parents didn’t let the hardships they faced define them or impact the values they taught my brother, sister, and me. Values like having the courage to do the things that haven’t been done before, being truthful even if it leads to getting in trouble, and fighting for people who need help the most. These values gave their youngest son the tools and fortitude to serve in exotic places around the globe in the CIA, help build a cybersecurity company, and then get elected to Congress three times. Why?
Because, throughout my life, my parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors all worked hard to help me access opportunities, and they helped prepare me to take advantage of opportunities when they came my way. This allowed me to grow in ways neither my parents nor I expected and to progress through life in previously unimaginable ways.
Freedom, opportunity, growth, and progress—this is what the Republican Party should stand for. It’s what has allowed people across this country to turn their American Dream into an American Reality.
The GOP has been widely known for standing for this before, when a guy like Jackie Robinson was a Republican. Yes, that Jackie Robinson. The first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball was an ardent social justice warrior and vocal Republican, but he would unlikely be a Republican today.
The Republican Party has made mistakes over the years—being seen as embracing issues like white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, and callousness to people’s suffering—culminating in a sitting Republican president losing reelection. If the GOP doesn’t get back to being a party based on values and principles, then these losses will be the norm rather than the exception.
This is more than just a problem for Republicans. Democrats, Independents, and people who don’t vote should care because two strong parties have enabled a competition of ideas that has been the hallmark of our success as a nation. We need two strong parties to participate in this competition of ideas. This is the only way we are going to be able to address the generation-defining challenges our country is facing at home and abroad. This is about leaving our country better off for our kids and their kids.
The GOP’s inability to appeal to Americans of all walks of life enabled the Democratic Party to win the presidency in 2020. But the Democratic Party’s own ineptitude prevented it from using this victory to influence races down the ballot. While the Democratic Party is experiencing its own vicious internal struggle for control of its soul, a strong GOP can be the only guaranteed foil to prevent the left-wing branch of the Democratic Party—those who are attempting to socialize the economy, constrict the free exchange of goods and services, and take power away from the governed and place it within the government—from deciding the future direction of our country for the next few decades.
To get back to winning, we must become a party that someone like Jackie Robinson and the millions of voters who voted for the first time in 2020 would be proud to join. The GOP can do it, and it starts by making the Republican Party look like America by aligning our actions as a party with our values of freedom, opportunity, growth, and progress.
It’s going to be hard, but three terms in Congress, winning multiple campaigns in the toughest district in the country, successfully navigating a broken legislative process in Congress, and interacting with diverse constituents have taught me how. It starts with doing something simple that anybody can do.
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 14, 2023)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982160777
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