The momentum is decidedly not in Representative Dave Brat’s favor in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Ever since his infamous “the women are up in my grill” blunder mocking female constituents in early 2017, Brat’s public image has been taking harder and harder hits, due in roughly equal parts to his unflagging allegiance to the Trump playbook of lying, blaming, deflecting, and dividing; and his refusal to engage in constituent dialogue beyond an infuriatingly predictable and superficial idiolect that wears out pet phrases like “professor of economics,” “free market guy,” and “yep yep yep.”
CNN, Cook Political Report, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball have been steadily downgrading Brat’s reelection chances over the course of this year, with VA07 now rated as a toss up. This is huge news in a district that has not elected a Democrat to the House since the pre-Southern Strategy days. Huge, but not surprising, given the impressive strength of the Democratic nominee, Abigail Spanberger, the unprecedented grassroots activism throughout the state; and the last eighteen months of solidly negative PR for Representative Brat, who continues to ignore the hard questions from his constituents while doubling down on his blind allegiance to Trump.
It has been well over a year since Brat has held a public town hall, instead embarking on a desperate odyssey of Saturday-errands-turned-photo-ops that he grandly trots out on social media as if he were on a papal pilgrimage. His ubiquitously awkward Sears Roebuck catalog stance only serves to highlight the staginess of the scenarios.
Dave’s Sh** List
Brat had the opportunity for an easy PR win this past week, but either was not savvy enough to see it, not brave enough to try it, or too petty to consider it. A Roadside Town Hall was organized by Together We Will – Henrico, 4VABlue, and ProgressVA to run concurrently with Brat’s “Open House” scheduled for the evening of Friday, July 27. The purpose of the Town Hall was to inform, not disrupt, and accordingly was set up on the opposite side of a major Henrico County thoroughfare from Brat’s office. Attendees were encouraged to bring signs that asked the questions they would ask Brat at a town hall if he were to ever hold one. For someone who loves photo ops, a quick trip across the street at the end of his event to shake hands and even pretend to listen would have been a genius move compared to what did happen.
Around 5:30 p.m., a couple came over to the Roadside Town Hall who had just been escorted out of Brat’s event by apologetic county police who were obligated to carry out the directive from the Brat camp. The couple were invited, registered, and holding tickets. Once inside, though, they were somehow “identified” and asked to leave for undisclosed reasons, other than that the event was “only for supporters.” In a letter to the editor of Richmond 2Day Media, Sue Goetz tells the story of her attempt to have a brief audience with her representative, wanting to introduce herself and her husband, a conservative who voted for Brat, as people who owe their lives to the ACA. She and her husband also shared their story on this video.
Lisa Salita is a constituent and a member of the clergy who also was not allowed to participate in the event to which she was invited and for which she had properly registered in advance. In this video she shares her experience being denied entry. “We just want representation,” Lisa states, describing her frustration with Brat’s refusal to hold a town hall in Henrico County for the last 2 1/2 years.
Constituent Sarah McDermott’s experience was similar, and she shared it on video at the Roadside Town Hall. “I just wanted to listen to my elected representative,” Sarah states, expressing her disbelief at being denied entry to the event to which she was invited.
None of these constituents were given a specific reason for why they had been asked to leave the “Open House.” Was the list of registrants compared to Dave’s donor database? Did Brat’s staffers cyberstalk registrants’ social media profiles? Does Dave keep a “list” of persona non grata constituents? And why wasn’t the distribution list scrubbed before invitations were sent out? It’s a curious strategy for a vulnerable incumbent, especially in the wake of vehement Republican uproar over the Red Hen restaurant turning away White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Update: Sh** List confirmed! As of noon on July 30, at least one constituent calling Brat’s office to inquire about why ticket holders were denied entry has been told, “Because we know who you are.”)
I’m just a flunky, but I have cupcakes!
As if turning away peaceful, concerned constituents weren’t bad enough, several staffers left Dave’s event and crossed the street to see what they could stir up and get on camera. A silly charade ensued in which the self-described “flunkies” pretended they were just there to share Dave’s cupcakes and their concern that the 20 foot inflated Trump Chicken might be a bit of a lightning rod in the iffy weather, but that wouldn’t explain why they needed their video camera rolling the whole time.
A polite but firm exchange took place in which Lisa Salita calmly explained what had happened to her and why it left her disappointed with her representative, all the while declining the bumbling but persistent cupcake offers, and a battle cry for the next 100 days was born:
“We don’t want cupcakes; we want to be heard!”