Last week, Quin Hillyer, who has frequently written here and is a longtime friend to a number of us, announced his candidacy for Congress, when Jo Bonner, Republican representative from Alabama’s first district, revealed he was retiring. This morning, former senator Rick Santorum endorsed Hillyer, and promised to join him on the campaign trail.
The new candidate talked to National Review Online about the race so far.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Was there one clincher issue or variable that made you decide to run?
QUIN HILLYER: The timing. If somebody arrives as a special-election, mid-term freshman, he is 435th in seniority and has no transition period to learn the ropes — and nobody in Washington knows him. That leaves his constituents seriously in the lurch. I offer the advantages both of the “inside” — my five years as a House leadership staffer mean I already know how the place works — and the “outside,” in that because I am so well-known to the national media and conservative movement, I have a megaphone for Alabama’s conservative principles that no other special-election winner down here could possibly enjoy.
LOPEZ: Have you always wanted to end up here, running for office?
HILLYER: No and yes. Yes, in that it has been in the back of my head for years that if I happened to be in the right place and right time, I would love to serve. But I didn’t think it would ever happen, and didn’t think that a career as a journalist was likely to lead me there.
LOPEZ: Is there a concern that people may view you as too much of the political professional because you’ve spent so much time writing about it? Too much into process? Or is that an advantage in your mind?
HILLYER: In some ways, it’s just the opposite: I am the only one in the race who has never run for office, and I’ve been out of all political work for 17 years. So I’m not a career politician like the others — but I am the only one running who knows how Washington works, from both the inside and the outside, so that’s an advantage.
LOPEZ: What has the initial response been like?
HILLYER: Extremely gratifying. The national conservative media and national conservative movement has enthusiastically rallied to my cause, like they rallied behind Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The locals all know (and like) me as a columnist/analyst, and they are watching to see if I have real “political chops.” The endorsement today from Rick Santorum, and the wonderfully warm comments from Bill Kristol and so many others, are quickly showing them that I do.
LOPEZ: Is it odd to be written about instead of doing the writing?
HILLYER: Right now, no, because I’m going at such warp speed that I haven’t had time to appreciate the difference, even though it is significant.
LOPEZ: What’s the strategy to win?
HILLYER: Work harder than anybody else; remind southern Alabamians of how strongly I have advocated for their principles (and some of their biggest local concerns) for the past 15 years; and inspire a Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio sort of national enthusiasm among conservatives excited that somebody who has been a stalwart “conservative movement” activist and writer for 34 years (!) has a sudden chance to carry their banner in Congress.
LOPEZ: Free men and women, with free minds, in a free market, produce abundance and a vibrant society,” you wrote when announcing you were putting your pen down to run for Congress. What does that mean practically speaking? It’s much easier to be a “full-spectrum conservative,” after all, in Microsoft Word than the halls of the House of Representatives.
HILLYER: I’ve proved my conservative bona fides beyond a doubt, but I also worked for an appropriations-committee chairman who led the fight to cut $50 billion in actual dollars (not projected increases) in just two years, back when that was a lot more money than it is now. I understand how the process works — and, more important, how the human interactions should work.
LOPEZ: Alabama is no stranger to the immigration fight. If you were in the House now, what would you be doing on this front?
HILLYER: Nothing at all. What I mean is this: Even if there is a need for some sort of reform of our immigration system, I do not think it is humanly possible to pass a bill agreeable to conservatives that President Obama would sign. Right now, illegal immigration is a problem, not a crisis, and I’d rather wait until a Republican is president so we can focus on border security and on less rigmarole for — and better assimilation of – legal immigrants.
LOPEZ: What are the minefields you’ve seen politicians walk into over the years that you’ve learned from and know to avoid?
HILLYER: Too many to mention! I’ll offer one: Too many politicians lose a sense of humor about their own minor human foibles. I will actively guard against that mistake.
LOPEZ: What is motivating you to do this?
HILLYER: Two things: First, the point I’ve made about southern Alabama’s being left in the lurch unless somebody can hit the ground running; second, as should be obvious from my long career in the conservative trenches, I have a passion for Madisonian government and want to reverse the stampede away from Madisonian/Reaganite principles.
LOPEZ: Will your first rally feature Rick Santorum, of whom you’ve been a longtime vocal supporter?
HILLYER: I don’t know if my first rally will feature him, but he endorsed me this morning and announced he would be campaigning by my side at some point during the process. Then again, I fully expect lots of other major conservative leaders, of many conservative “sub-types,” to do the same. But I will forever be grateful to Senator Santorum for his early, enthusiastic support.