He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the United States House of Representatives from Alabama's 1st congressional district in the 2013 special election in that district, finishing fourth in the Republican primary.
Hillyer was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and graduated from the Isidore Newman School in 1982 before matriculating at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., graduating with an A.B. in government and theology (cum laude) in 1986. While at Georgetown, Hillyer held major editorial positions at the student newspaper, The Hoya, and wrote extensively during the school’s Final Four basketball appearances in 1984 and 1985.
After his graduation Hillyer joined the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a correspondent before a term as research/issues director for the Louisiana gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Representative Bob Livingston in 1987. He served as an unpaid director in the state campaign for Pete Dupont’s 1988 GOP presidential bid. A former page at the 1980 Republican National Convention, Hillyer attended the 1988 Republican convention as an alternate delegate from the state of Louisiana.
Following the 1988 elections, former Louisiana Democrat David Duke switched parties in an attempt to reach higher office. Duke’s rise in Republican circles were troubling to many Louisiana public- and private-sector officials. Hillyer, serving as state chairman of the Louisiana Young Republicans, was among a group of ten, which also included Beth Rickey, who founded the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, a bipartisan group which sought to publicly counter assertions that Duke had severed ties to the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. The Coalition opposed Duke’s revisionist history and exposed a number of his ongoing associations with these groups, factors which may have contributed to Duke's lack of success in statewide races for U.S. Senate in 1990 and governor in 1991.
In 1989, Hillyer became managing editor of Gambit, a weekly newsmagazine in the New Orleans area. He later joined Congressman Livingston's staff in 1991, rising to the position of press secretary as Livingston rose to the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee in 1995.
After the 1996 elections Hillyer returned to the private sector, where he returned to journalism and political commentary. In 1997, he joined the editorial staff of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, focusing on both local and national issues during the term of then-governor Mike Huckabee. In 1998, Hillyer joined the editorial desk at the Mobile Register, gaining widespread acclaim for his coverage of statewide politics and its effect on the city as a whole, receiving the Carmage Walls Commentary Award from the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Green Eyeshade Award for commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Hillyer returned to Washington in 2006, serving as a managing director at Qorvis Communications, and executive editor of The American Spectator before assuming the post of Associate Editorial Page Editor at The Washington Examiner in 2008. From 2009 through 2011, he was a senior editorial writer at The Washington Times. He remains a senior editor and columnist at the Spectator.
Hillyer’s articles have appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, National Review, the New Republic, The Guardian (UK), and Investor’s Business Daily. His television appearances have included Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and CBN on various political issues, particularly in the 2008 campaign.
On May 23, 2013, six-term Republican U.S. Representative Jo Bonner announced he would resign from Congress effective August 15, 2013 to become a vice chancellor at the University of Alabama. Hillyer made his announcement to seek the Republican nomination for Bonner's seat one day later, telling his audience at the American Spectator: "I am a constitutional conservative—and an 'opportunity society' conservative as well, hearkening back to the Reagan-Kemp era of prosperity and liberty. Free men and women, with free minds, in a free market, produce abundance and a vibrant society."
Hillyer received outside support from Rick Santorum, who recorded a radio ad purchased by Citizens United Political Victory Fund. He also garnered the endorsement of Citizens for the Republic, the former Ronald W. Reagan political action committee based in Alexandria, Virginia.
Hillyer is a classical conservative; his writings maintain the principles of limited government first theorized by James Madison and most closely held in recent years by Ronald Reagan. Hillyer’s writings are also respectful of the Madisonian contribution to American liberty and politics. His writings distance him from the single-issue focus of some religious conservatives, and show him to be especially distrustful of big government conservatives, particularly over taxation and deficit spending policies.
In addition to politics, Hillyer has written frequently on U.S. Supreme Court nominees over the last two decades. He has supported many Republican-nominated candidates, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, but took the Bush administration to task over the proposed appointment of Harriet Miers in 2005. Hillyer was a frequent contributor to the Court-centric web site Confirm Them.
Hillyer has been deeply involved in leadership positions for organizations ranging from work with at-risk youth to historic preservation. Outside politics he enjoys jazz music, golf, and is a passionate New Orleans Saints fan. Hillyer is married and lives in Mobile, Alabama, where he serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a writer-in-residence at the University of Mobile.