Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat, who raised only $231,000, beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor 55 percent to 45 percent in an historic victory for populist, protectionist conservatives Tuesday.
Was Brat’s win in the Virginia seventh district Republican primary a national referendum on amnesty? Yes. But it was also a powerful tea party statement on the Republican establishment’s corporate agenda. It shed light on a pro-amnesty push engineered by Eric Cantor and operating right out of the Virginia Republican Party office. And it confirmed the fundamental conspiracy theory of Brat’s campaign: that Democrats, immigration activists and Republicans are all working together behind the scenes to pass comprehensive immigration reform before this year’s November elections.
Dave Brat opened primary day Tuesday with a blunt statement: “No lawmaker is more beholden to large corporate funders than Eric Cantor. His corporate donors think they can buy this election.” They couldn’t. While Cantor chatted Tuesday with lobbyists at a Capitol Hill Starbucks, Brat posted Facebook links to polling locations. He prepared a small “Brat Pack Volunteer Appreciation Party” that convened at 7 p.m. at an out-of-the-way office complex off Route 695 in Glen Allen, Virginia. Before the clock struck eight, that pessimistically-titled “volunteer appreciation party” became a victory party.
Cantor’s more than $5 million campaign, meanwhile, went down in a ballroom scuffle at the Westin Hotel in Richmond, where immigration activists stormed the gathering around 9:30. Cantor spoke for four minutes about how “it’s disappointing,” then left in a black SUV before the activist group Casa de Virginia began chanting “What do we want? Immigration reform. When do we want it? Now.”
A young woman was headlocked in the melee as eyeglasses hit the floor and a Cantor supporter threw his wine at an intruder. As the majority leader of the Republican House caucus and his wife bitterly fled a scene straight out of a Tom Wolfe novel, we have to ask: Who the Hell is Dave Brat? And what has he been telling people?
Professor Brat may have a tendency to veer off-topic, according to student reviews of his business class, but for the last two weeks he stayed on message. In a 15-point Republican district, Brat ran exclusively against amnesty. It’s the kind of issue he approached from an academic perspective.
Brat’s campaign coincided with massive pro-amnesty protests in the seventh district targeting Cantor. The protests were organized in large part by former Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, whose “Fast 4 Families” bus tour hit Cantor’s hometown for a four-day fast in April (the protesters that ransacked Cantor campaign headquarters also participated in the fast).
Eliseo Medina served on the Hispanic Advisory Council for President Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. He said in a speech captured on video that immigration reform will create a long-term progressive “governing coalition.” And his tenacious activist campaign was wearing Cantor down. Brand-new Virginia Republican executive director Shaun Kenney, a former Cantor political consultant whose wife was running Cantor’s campaign against Brat, welcomed Medina into the state party office in April for a meeting in which Kenney promised his support for immigration reform and said that anti-amnesty Republicans are afraid of “The Other.”