The abrupt departure of Bill Hobbs of Nashville from his job as communications director of the Tennessee Republican Party — announced Thursday by new state party chairman Chris Devaney — was probably inevitable once Devaney survived intraparty intrigue and won out over two rivals to win the chairmanship last week.
Before making his bid for the chairmanship (against opponents Oscar Brock of Chattanooga and state Representative Eric Swafford of Pikesville), Devaney had served as state director for U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who had publicly objected to official actions taken by Hobbs and the party chair he served, Robin Smith.
Hobbs was widely regarded as a mentor and alter ego for Smith, who resigned her chairmanship last month after announcing her candidacy for the 3rd District congressional seat next year. The two of them drew public rebukes from both Corker and the state’s other GOP senator, Lamar Alexander, on two notable occasions.
The first provocative act was a party press release circulated during the 2008 presidential campaign, referring to then candidate Barack Obama with pointed reference to his middle name of “Hussein,” suggesting that Obama had anti-Semitic support, and mis-identifying a native costume worn by Obama during a visit to Kenya as “Muslim garb.”
The other circumstance was a YouTube video prepared by the Hobbs-Smith team that expressed skepticism about Michelle Obama’s pride in being an American.
Besides their direct criticism on these two occasions, the two senators, both famously urbane in manner, were thought to be generally uncomfortable with the red-meat rhetorical approach favored by Hobbs and Smith, though they gave pro forma support to Smith’s continued service as party chair.
More recently, there had been rumors in GOP ranks, denied by Devaney, that he had been privately impugning Smith's job performance during her tenure as chairman. One of those making the charge was Memphian Frank Colvett Jr., the state party’s finance committee chairman, who said, “I can’t stand by and see a good chairman’s integrity questioned in the name of winning a campaign.”
But Devaney did win, and the announcement of Hobbs’ departure was one of his first official acts Though the new chairman insisted that Hobbs had not been dismissed and would maintain a connection with the state GOP in some sort of consultantship, he was vague about the question of a long-term relationshp with the party for Hobbs.
There has been much speculation In state political circles of late about the possibility of Hobbs’ serving as a campaign aide in Smith’s congressional race.
If indeed Hobbs’ over-the-top polemical style figured in his leaving his communications post, it would not be the first time his penchant for extreme statements forced a job change. Before taking the state party job, he had worked at Nashville’s Belmont University as a media relations specialist and blogging coach.
That relationship came to an end in 2006 after Hobbs posted on his personal Web site a cartoon caricaturing the prophet Mohammad and considered inflammatory to Muslims. Hobbs’ cartoon was published in the afermath of worldwide Islamic resentment of a provocative cartoon published in a Danish newspaper.
Hobbs later disavowed his own cartoon, calling it “appalling” and something composed “in a moment of weakness.”