Dave Brat avoids the press for days after defeating Majority Leader Cantor
For the three days since Dave Brat took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP primary Tuesday, he’s been holed up in his suburban home, avoiding the reporters and TV trucks waiting out front. While the world wants to know more about the economics professor turned sudden tea party star, Brat’s in hiding, apparently unprepared for the tempest he unleashed.
In a text message to The Associated Press, Brat said he was not doing any public appearances and had “shut down for a week with the family.” On election night, the 49-year-old said he was looking forward to a steak dinner with his wife to make up for having celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary while on the campaign trail.
Brat is set to square off against Democrat Jack Trammell, who like Brat teaches at the tiny Randolph-Macon College just north of Richmond, in the general election. Virginia’s 7th District leans heavily Republican and went for Republican Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by 57 percent to 42 percent in 2012.
From home, Brat has done several media interviews by phone but has mostly tried to steer clear of policy issues.
“Hey Chuck, I thought we were just going to chat today about the celebratory aspect,” Brat said Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd when asked about his position on sending arms to Syria.
Brat said he’s receiving media inquiries from all over the world, including from China and Saudi Arabia.
The campaign brought on a new spokeswoman, Rachel Semmel, after Tuesday’s win to help manage the situation.
“Right now, I’m only speaking off the record,” said Semmel, a former spokeswoman for Arizona Congressman David Schweikert.
A statement sent to the media on Friday — attributed only to an unnamed campaign spokeswoman — said Brat would be spending Father’s Day weekend with his family at home and would release a schedule of events on Monday.
Brat’s retreat from the national spotlight underscores how few people — including, apparently, the candidate — saw Tuesday’s victory coming. The father of two was viewed by virtually everyone as a longshot to dethrone Cantor, who had raised nearly $5 million for the campaign compared to $200,000 raised by Brat.
He had only two paid campaign staffers. Campaign manager, Zachary Werrell, is a 23-year-old who had only managed a Virginia state house campaign before helping Brat win. After the election, Werrell joked that he has a better win percentage than famed GOP political consultant Karl Rove.
“It really is a modern-day miracle, there really is no other way to describe it,” Brat said shortly after trouncing Cantor by more than 11 percentage points.
Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., said as a virtual unknown Brat doesn’t have the luxury of disappearing for a few days to catch his breath.
“This is an important opportunity to introduce yourself to the entire country and it’s important not to waste it,” said Farnsworth. “In politics, if you do not define yourself you will be defined by others, and that’s never a more favorable option.”
Indeed, Virginia Democratic Party spokesman Ashley Bauman said Brat’s comments, both past and future, will come under heavy scrutiny.
“For the next few months we’re going to examine his extreme rhetoric and ideology and let voters know where he stands,” Bauman said. She said the Democratic Party will emphasize Brat as a tea partyer, a label Brat has shied away from.
Brat campaigned heavily against “amnesty” for immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally and positioned himself as a free-market champion.
National media outlets and left-leaning publications spent Wednesday combing through Brat’s Ph.D. dissertation, academic papers and past speeches. Much of his writings focus on the intersection between economics and philosophy. A 2011 paper by Brat in which he worries about a Hitler-like dictator rising to power again received heavy attention.
So far, it doesn’t look like Brat will be getting much help, either in terms of money or public relations assistance, from D.C.-based groups and national Republicans.
“At this point David Brat is well-positioned to win his seat in November. Should that change, and should there be the need, we will provide support,” said ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell, a conservative leader who advises several tea party groups.