WASHINGTON — Rep. Van Taylor apologized Wednesday for an affair with an ex-jihadist dubbed the “ISIS bride” by British tabloids and abruptly dropped his bid for a third term, conceding the GOP runoff to rival Keith Self, a former Collin County judge.
“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world. I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life,” he said in an email to supporters.
The infidelity surfaced just before Tuesday’s primary with help from a third candidate, Suzanne Harp.
A Plano resident named Tania Joya – widow of the most infamous American to join the Islamic State – contacted Harp last Thursday, hoping she would confront Taylor privately and persuade him to drop out and resign from Congress.
On Sunday afternoon, two days before the primary, a rightwing website, National File, posted audio of that 35-minute interview full of salacious details about the nine-month affair. The next day, the conservative site Breitbart posted a similar story that it labeled “exclusive.”
Conservatives gleefully spread the stories on social media.
Although Taylor has enjoyed stellar ratings from the NRA, Heritage and other conservative groups, he was one of five Texas Republicans who voted to certify President Joe Biden’s victory in every state. Self and Harp had made that vote central to the campaign.
Donald Trump snubbed four of those five, including Taylor, as he bestowed endorsements on 16 other Texas congressional incumbents.
Under Texas election law, Self will become the nominee as long as Taylor withdraws in writing to the state Republican Party chair. The deadline is the third day after the deadline for canvassing the results. “If he withdraws by 5 p.m. on March 16, then the other candidate is declared the nominee and the runoff election is canceled,” said Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State.
“I hope to earn your trust as we move towards our common goal of restoring integrity to Congressional District 3,” Self tweeted a few hours before Taylor dropped out, breaking a silence about the scandal.
Later, by email, Self called Taylor’s decision to suspend his campaign “appropriate” because “conservatives who believe family values are the backbone of our nation are held to a high standard.”
He pledged to serve the district “honorably and to the best of my ability….I believe deeply that the Republican Party offers the best solutions to the many problems – from national defense to education to inflation and a long list of others – and I plan to devote my time and energy to helping fellow conservatives build public confidence and trust and win elections.”
I hope to earn your trust as we move towards our common goal of restoring integrity to Congressional District 3, and I want you to know that there is a place for you at our table.
— Keith Self (@SelfForCongress) March 2, 2022
On Monday night Harp, having orchestrated the publicity about the affair, pounced.
She called the revelation of the affair “shocking…disturbing and unbecoming of a sitting U.S. Representative” and warned that it would be “dangerous to have compromised and corrupt representation in Washington.”
Taylor’s campaign website describes him as “Family Man. Businessman. United States Marine.” There’s video footage of him and his wife, Anne, happily walking hand in hand. In a wedding photo, he’s in a Marine dress uniform – they married after he returned from Iraq. They have three daughters.
The reality was at odds with the image.
“Today I am announcing I will not continue my campaign to seek re-election to Congress,” Taylor wrote his supporters.
Taylor, a real estate executive with undergraduate and MBA degrees from Harvard, spent four years each in the Texas House and Senate.
He’s expected to serve the remainder of his term, which ends when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.
“I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters. For months, Anne and I have been working to repair the scars left by my actions. I am unworthy, but eternally thankful for her love and forgiveness,” he wrote.
In 2017, Joe Barton, an Ennis Republican elected to Congress 17 times, chose not to seek reelection after sexual images he shared in an extramarital relationship were made public.
Joya said she and Taylor met through her work as an ex-jihadist helping to reprogram extremists, and the affair lasted from October 2020 to June 2021.
“We were very close,” Joya told The Dallas Morning News on Monday night.
“I have let down so many other family members, friends, colleagues, supporters, and the people of the 3rd Congressional District whom I have had the great honor and privilege to represent. I am truly sorry, and I hope in time I can earn their forgiveness,” Taylor wrote, adding that his best wishes to Self as he seeks the seat.
The district – Collin County, where Self served a dozen years as the top elected official, and much of Hunt – is overwhelmingly Republican.
Morally, said Hunt County GOP chair David Hale, “that’s between him and his family” but politically, “if he were to continue on to the runoff, it would be a bloody messy race.”
“I commend Van for not trying to fight to the bitter end. At the end of the day, family’s more important than politics,” he said.
The Legislature just added Hunt County to the district so Taylor isn’t well known there. Still, voters mostly gave him the benefit of the doubt before he admitted the affair “just because the timing” so close to the election, Hale said. “It felt kind of questionable to me.”
Referring to a nasty 2018 Supreme Court fight, he added, “This is the era of Justice Kavanaugh. Republicans – they hear of an allegation, they’re like, well, is this legit or is this just somebody trying to knock us off the ballot?”
Joya said she didn’t intend to inject herself into the election, and didn’t even realize the primary was five days away when she contacted Harp. She was just annoyed at having to see her ex-lover’s face on billboards as she drove around Plano.
“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?’ But it didn’t happen like that,” Joya told The News.
Taylor led in early voting with 51.8% in a five-way race, enough to secure the nomination outright. But as it turned out, nearly half the votes were cast on election day and he hadn’t banked enough of a lead to withstand the fallout.
After Joya’s revelations surfaced, his election day share of the vote plunged to 45.2%.
Out of 63,981 ballots, Taylor fell 823 short of what he needed to avoid a runoff.
Support for Self, who served a dozen years as the chief executive of fast-growing Collin County, held steady. He ended up with 26.5% to Taylor’s 48.7%.
Harp ended up with 20.8% – enough to play spoiler but not to make the runoff.
Joya’s first husband, John Georgelas, who grew up in Plano, converted to Islam and became a top recruiter for the extremist Islamic State.
In 2013, he took her and their three children to Northern Syria where, as Yahya Abu Hassan, he became the most important American fighting for ISIS. He was killed in 2017 as the caliphate collapsed.
The Atlantic called Joya “the first lady of ISIS.”
Three weeks after their arrival in Syria, Joya, pregnant, fled to Turkey with the children, then to Plano to live near her in-laws.
As the relationship with Taylor wound down, she said, she asked for help to pay off a credit card and pay some bills, and he gave her $5,000.
“I needed help. I was like, just help me out because that’s the least – the very least – he could do,” she said. “For him, it was like, ‘Okay, on the condition you don’t tell anyone.’ … I didn’t want to tell anybody anything.”