Perhaps the most obvious evidence of VA07 Representative Dave Brat’s unflagging support of the increasingly unhinged president is the fervor and frequency with which Brat has been mimicking Trump’s cry of “Fake News!” But even when given the opportunity to tell his side of the story for a recent Politico article, Brat passive-aggressively texted the reporter to say, “I don’t like being part of stories with a false premise from the start.” This is a provocative choice of words from someone whose entire political career can be described as a series of false premises. TL; DR: Dave Brat has become everything he campaigned against.
False Premise #1: Being Available for Meaningful Interaction with Constituents
It is widely understood that Dave Brat’s stunning 2014 primary victory over incumbent Eric Cantor was due in significant part to Cantor having lost touch with his constituents. As NPR reported the day after the primary:
“Cantor let his guard down by focusing on the intrigues of the Capitol and neglecting the demands of district service, constituent contact, and visible fealty to local priorities.”
This is a point that Brat also made often throughout his campaign for the Republican nomination in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, as well as in his 2016 book, American Underdog: Proof That Principles Matter, a 304-page self-aggrandizing elaboration on Dave’s well-worn signature themes, including “free market system,” “rule of law,” “Judeo-Christian ethics,” and “the Republican Creed.” As Dave states in Chapter One:
“The political process is manipulated to achieve certain ends for favored people, the special interests. Instead of focusing on the interests of the American people and the needs of his Seventh District constituents, I think Cantor had grown detached.”
It only took one term for Brat to default on his commitment to accessibility. When Trump was elected and the citizens of the 7th District quickly grew concerned about the immediate attack on Obamacare, Dave took note of their anxiety only to mock it in his infamous “the women are in my grill” address to conservative donors. When he finally did bend to pressure to hold a town hall, he held it in a tiny venue in a small, mostly conservative county more than an hour from the population center of his district.
Now nearing the end of his second term, Dave is still feeling the heat from frustrated constituents who are tired of seeing his social media parade of staged photo ops and hearing his same clichéd pet phrases in lieu of substantial, meaningful constituent dialogue. With the Blue Wave bearing down on him, Dave’s reaction to this frustration has shifted from indifferent to panicked, as evidenced by the letter to constituents titled “Working Hard for You” that he posted on his official Congressional website on August 4. Heavy on administrative items and short on legislation, this letter would more aptly be titled “Things My Staff Does All Day While I Meet With Donors, Crank Out Photo Ops, And Run My Mouth On TV.”
After the mid-summer “Let them eat cupcakes!” PR disaster where invited, ticket-holding constituents were denied entry to or kicked out of an “Open House” for no other reason than an ominous “We know who you are,” Dave hurriedly implemented a series of very brief “Mobile Office Hours” sessions in some, but not all, of the counties in his district. However, the short notice, brevity, and inconvenient hours of these meetings have done little to make up for the fact that it has been over a year since Rep. Brat has held a public town hall, and over two years since he has held one in Henrico County, one of several counties as of this writing still unscheduled for the Tour De Brat.
Constituents are left to wonder, as Forbes pundit Rick Ungar picked up on immediately after Brat’s 2014 Republican primary upset, are his reliance on thematic crutches and unwillingness to address the tough questions the sign of a crafty politician, or a symptom of someone completely unqualified for the position? Or both?
False Premise #2: Maintaining Civil Discourse
Dave states in the Foreword of his book:
“The reader will note, I also hope, that not a sentence in this book is intended to slight any particular person and that I write with the golden rule in mind. Just as I would expect to have people challenge my ideas boldly and firmly, I will do the same. That is what we are called to do in the realm of ideas, and I still believe we can do that, and learn from our contemporaries as well our forebears, without any of us hating each other because of it. Love is part of the solution to our political problems.”
And then in Chapter One:
“I do not condone hate or negative campaigning. I had always advised my staff that every word we put down on paper and every word from every consultant or writer or blogger should convey who I am: a seminary graduate with a PhD in economics and someone who tries to love everyone I meet. Any messaging should follow those rules.”
While Dave has frequently chided his frustrated constituents to maintain civility, he does not practice what he preaches. Rather, he has adopted the Trump playbook of blaming (Obama, Obama, Obama!), deflecting, and dividing when his ideas are challenged. Furthermore, his refusal to censure any of Trump’s non-stop hateful rhetoric is tantamount to acceptance. And this past November, some of those same women who have been holding Dave’s feet to the fire discovered that Sara James, one of the most aggressive and inflammatory conservative trolls on Dave’s Facebook page, was actually his paid communications manager, a situation that Dave never publicly addressed.
False Premise #3: Maintaining Principles and Fighting Corruption
The third false premise can be found on Dave’s campaign website, davebrat.com:
“Dave Brat threw his hat in the political ring after seeing the corruption and back door deals that plague our system . . . With help from the voters in the 7th Congressional District, Dave proved that character matters and that standing firmly rooted in your principles does pay off, even when you’re the underdog.”
(That last phrase, by the way, is conveniently hyperlinked on Dave’s site to a page where you can purchase his book.)
Aside from Dave’s unshakeable commitment to turning a blind eye to Trump, another indicator of his softened stance on corruption is the site of this week’s fundraiser: the home of a tax cheat, who is the son and business partner of another tax cheat. In fact, Tom Leonard’s apologist statement about his father, “He’s not the only one who’d like to pay less taxes,” sounds strikingly similar to Brat’s “Everybody colludes” defense of Trump.
Rick Ungar tried to warn us the day after the 2014 primary:
“Either way, as the general election gets underway to fill Eric Cantor’s seat under the glare of a national spotlight, let’s hope that Virginians recognize that replacing one disingenuous politician with another does absolutely nothing to advance either their own interests or the interests of the nation as a whole.”
VA07, let’s not make the same mistake again. While it is comforting that CNN, Cook Political Report, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate the VA07 race as a toss up, and CNU’s Wason Center is calling the race for Abigail Spanberger, we have a great deal of work to do to get out the vote. Please visit abigailspanberger.com to get involved and do your part to prove this November that character and principles do indeed matter.