The feedback loop that protects conservatives from legitimate criticism is Bob Deuell's challenger's best friend.
I mentioned Bob Hall’s latest troubles a little bit the other week, but it’s worth looking at them again. Hall finds himself in a primary runoff against sitting state Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) in one of the more surprising upsets of this cycle’s primary elections. A lot of observers figured that Deuell, who’s pretty conservative—if not a member of the Senate’s far-right Dan Patrick/Donna Campbell axis—would coast to re-election, so his challengers benefited from relative obscurity.
After the primary, though, the Dallas Morning News circled back around to Hall, and it’s safe to say the article that resulted won’t be featured in any of Hall’s campaign literature. Hall moved to Texas from Florida, where he seems to have had a turbulent personal and professional life. The most troubling accusation to surface:
Hall and his former wife, Jane E. Hall, had been divorced four years when they took their allegations against each other in July 1994 into Florida courts.
In seeking a protective order against Hall, she said in a document filed in Okaloosa County that she asked Hall to leave her house during a confrontation over alimony. She said he began screaming and threatened to quit paying.
“Asked to leave my house, he refused and became more violent, physically attacking me,” she said. “During our twenty-three years of marriage, he was prone to furious rages. I was physically, sexually and verbally abused for most of our marriage.”
In response, a judge prohibited Hall from “assaulting, battering or otherwise physically abusing the petitioner.”
Bob Hall filed a complaint against his wife, too, alleging that she had “stabbed me with a ballpoint pen.” Her complaint, he said, amounted to “retaliation.” So Hall had a terribly acrimonious divorce, during which horrible things were alleged. It’s difficult to know what to make of all that. But that wasn’t all the Morning News brought to light. His business in Florida—he heavily touts his experience as a business owner—was in running Professional Proposal Management Inc., which helped corporations “in obtaining federal contracts.”
The awful accusations of domestic violence are a character issue, and possible for a supporter to dismiss as hearsay. But his professional history strikes at Hall’s credibility in a unique way. First: he’s running a campaign in which he’s railing against the usual tea party bêtes-noires: special interest groups and government overspending. His first “legislative priority” listed on his website is fighting “spending at all levels of government.”
Yet for much of his life, Hall made his living by helping businesses obtain a greater share of government largesse. That’s a bit odd. Worse:
He racked up nearly $165,000 in federal tax liens on his Florida properties over a 20-year period because of unpaid federal taxes, according to court records in Santa Rosa County, Fla.
That was based on eight separate federal income tax liens during the period, and all have since been settled, including as recently as 2011, records show.
Hall “retired” from his consulting business under the weight of mounting financial obligations, and moved to Texas. Over the next several years, presumably unable to pay the IRS back in full, he negotiated the IRS down and finally settled with them. He got a new wife, and joined the tea party.
All told, he’s not anyone’s ideal candidate. He’s got some skeletons in his closet, and if his ex-wife’s allegations are true, he has some personal demons to contend with. But since the Dallas Morning News’ story came out some 10 days ago, conservatives have rallied even more strongly around Hall. This morning, Empower Texans, the conservative group run by Michael Quinn Sullivan which strongly backed Hall, penned another lengthy endorsement of Hall’s crusade. Deuell, the incumbent, is “Goliath,” and Hall is “our David.”
For years, conservatives have been better at circling their wagons when taking enemy fire than their more cat-like liberal counterparts—on both the national and local level. Lefties started taking pot-shots at Obama days after his first election, while many conservatives stayed with Bush until the bailout. That herd mentality has grown into a veneration of persecution. Nothing could endear movement conservatives to Chris Christie, it seemed, until the media decided he was a crook.
Among conservative grassroots in Texas that phenomenon is even more prominent. Hall may be a political neophyte, but look at how skillfully he spun his tax cheating to the Morning News:
Hall acknowledged that the IRS placed liens on his property, but he said he battled the agency in court and won some reductions.
“I stood up to the IRS,” he said. “We went to court, and I won.”
Shorting the IRS for years, walking away from your business under a crushing tax debt, and then settling with the agency for slightly less than you owed is winning in the same way the Texans won the Alamo when Susanna Dickinson survived. But it’s exactly what his supporters want to hear. When I raised the issue on Tuesday, here’s what the Texas state director of Concerned Women for America told me:
@cd_hooks we have seen how the IRS loves to target everyone. Wouldn’t surprise me they target a honorable served military official…ummm.
— Michelle Smith (@Michellebbz) April 1, 2014
Up is down, left is right. A loss becomes a win. Hall’s inability to keep his business solvent becomes a heroic victory over the federal government. An attempt to recoup owed taxes becomes proof that Obama’s lackeys are running scared. A man whose expertise is in helping corporations win lucrative government contracts becomes a small businessman, a warrior for fiscal sanity. The charges of physical and sexual abuse his wife leveled are evidence of his opponent’s immorality and underhanded tactics. No criticism, no matter how substantive or legitimate, can penetrate a shield of unreality that thick.
This article, in turn, will become grist for the mill. “The Texas Observer is Running Scared of Bob Hall,” they’ll say. It’s an odd and disquieting feedback loop that appears difficult, if not impossible, to interrupt.