Legislative bodies of all sorts – the US Congress, legislatures, city councils and county commissions – have at their heart a black box. Inputs go in: proposals, relevant information, counsel from subject matter experts and bureaucrats, public testimony and private lobbying, and so forth. Because of open meetings laws, most legislative bodies debate proposals in plain sight, frequently with TV cameras dispersing it to the four winds. And then, the mangle turns, and the black box disgorges a new law or amends an old one. Or not.
It is often possible to follow the logical progression to a final decision. But just as often, it is not. The black box operates on an algorithm that seems opaque because the algorithm is fine-tuned on a case-specific, hourly basis.
Generally, the larger the legislative body, the more complex the algorithm. The decisions of a five-member commissioners court may be easier to predict and understand than those of the 435-member US House of Representatives. But you’ll still find yourself surprised every now and then.
The most important variables in the algorithm, of course, are the legislators themselves, who learn to pay attention to certain qualities in their colleagues. Who is smart? Who shows up for work every day? Who does their homework and contributes? Who can take in new information and adapt? Who is too ideologically rigid to do so?
In the 150-member Texas House of Representatives, each member is taking in data and refining their judgments about their colleagues on an ongoing basis, and those judgments collectively become part of the algorithm in the House’s black box. There's even shorthand designations: workhorses, show ponies, camera hogs, backbenchers and so forth.
Which brings us to Van Taylor, backbencher.
Congressman Van Taylor is a modern American success story, as he will modestly tell you. On his website, he acknowledges his business successes but prefers you know about his service in the Marines during the Iraq War. He proudly shows off his wife and children.
In reality, though, he is a modern Richie Rich. He’s a descendant of the founder of Humble Oil and his family’s estimated worth is in the billions. Open Secrets lists his net worth, based on personal financial statements he must file as a congressman, at $34 million as of 2018.
Starting in 2010, Taylor served in the Texas House for 4 ½ years, then jumped to the Texas Senate. Only four years later, he ran for Congress, taking office in 2019.[i] He earned no distinction in any of those roles but moved up the ladder quickly on the strength of well-stocked campaign coffers and a rabid Tea Party base in his part of North Texas. This spring, he was running for re-election in the GOP primary. It should have been a cakewalk.
A sidebar on branding: If I were a Republican candidate for office in modern, MAGA times, I might think that bending the knee and swearing fealty to a corrupt serial philanderer and failed businessman would be enough to immunize me against accusations of marital infidelity, even if they were true. After all, the Dear Leader has a proud record of infidelity and a demonstrated willingness to spend big bucks to cover it up, even though the coverups never work.
Still, most decent people frown upon marital infidelity, and I could not guarantee that I would be accorded the same forgiveness and even approbation his indiscretions seem to merit. So, were I setting sail into the treacherous waters of a dalliance, I might want my paramour to bring some ballast to the boat: to have some substance and gravitas, if only to suggest that my affair was not some casual, idiotic spree. I’d want to be Mark Sanford, not Wilbur Mills.
For example, Ken Paxton probably thought “construction project manager” was a better moniker for his (alleged) mistress than “junior Senate staffer.” “Real estate broker” or “corporate attorney,” I think, have the right je ne sais quoi among the Republican faithful. “School librarian” may have sufficed once upon a time – think Laura Bush – but librarians are a suspect lot these days, exposing the impressionable young to unapproved ideas.
But if there’s one designation for my mistress I would do my best to avoid, it’s “ISIS Bride.”
On Wednesday, Congressman Taylor ended his reelection campaign amid revelations that he carried on a nine-month affaire de cœur with Tania Joya, who was once married to a member of ISIS. The affair began innocently enough but blossomed quickly. Racy text messages were exchanged. Assignations were, ahem, consummated. They argued over money. He offered to help her with her bills – on condition of keeping their affair secret. She accepted. She feared for her mental and emotional health. They broke it off in a cascade of tears and recriminations. Pretty standard stuff, as affairs with ISIS brides go.
As inappropriate as it was, though, Van Taylor’s ultimate offense was not his affair with Joya. His mortal sin was disloyalty to Donald Trump:
· He was one of only four House Republicans from Texas who voted to certify the results of the 2020 election
· He was one of only two House Republicans from Texas to vote for the creation of the bipartisan January 6 Commission.
These were enough to get him onto Donald Trump’s radar screen, in the worst way possible. Trump branded him as a RINO, and later endorsed an unknown opponent, Suzanne Harp, in what would become a five-person primary. Harp ultimately was the one who exposed Taylor’s affair, according to the Daily Beast.
Joya says she got in touch with Harp last Thursday, after becoming tired of seeing Taylor’s campaign billboards around town.
“All I wanted was for Suzanne Harp to just say, ‘Hey, I know your little scandal with Tania Joya. Would you like to resign before we embarrass you?’” Joya told The Dallas Morning News. “But it didn’t happen like that.”
Instead, Harp sent a supporter to meet with Joya, who bared her soul in a 35-minute recorded interview posted online Sunday night by National File, a far-right news site accused by traditional media outlets of frequently publishing specious claims.
Joya also shared some racy text messages from Taylor that proved, if nothing else, that he had time to watch porn despite his busy congressional schedule.
Notwithstanding Joya’s tiredness at seeing all those billboards – I mean, really? – it’s clear that she and Suzanne Harp set up Taylor. Harp, who did not advance into the runoff, may be satisfied with burnishing her MAGA credentials as a RINO-killer. One wonders what Joya is getting out of it. The affair’s end was sad and tawdry. She’s had financial woes on and off since she came to America, and money was an element, for better and worse, of her relationship with Taylor. Did, or will, she receive a payoff for telling her story? Time will tell.
Although Taylor has ended his re-election bid, he has not yet resigned from Congress. It seems doubtful, though, that he will finish out his current term next January. And why should he? What could he hope to accomplish now? Although the House GOP Caucus tolerates harpies shrieking during the State of the Union address, it will not tolerate his toxic combination of marital infidelity and disloyalty to Donald Trump.
The world will little note, nor long recall, the political career of Van Taylor. America loves second acts, it’s true, and Taylor may well show up on Dancing With the Stars or some similar piffle. His personal wealth makes it impossible to completely rule out a return to public life. But his is a cautionary tale about the twisted morality of MAGA World, and its capacity for exacting punishment.
I hope Van Taylor will try to reconcile with his wife and rebuild the life he had with his children. We should leave him alone to do it.
[i] Taylor replaced Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had himself spent only two years in the Senate before running successfully for that office.