A little-known underdog named Dave Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP primary race to represent the 7th Congressional district in Virginia on Tuesday night.
Quickly, everyone scrambled to get to know the newest tea party darling who had defeated the seven-term Republican—the first primary challenger to unseat a majority leader since the position was created in 1899.
Brat, an economics professor and political novice, will face off against Democrat Jake Trammell in the November general election, but his district leans right and he’s already the favorite to win.
Here are the top five things you need to know about Virginia’s fresh-faced tea party politician.
1. “Miracles” happen: underdogs can still win in modern politics
Cantor out-spent Brat by a 26 to 1 margin, spending more on steak dinners alone than Brat did on his entire campaign, yet Brat won handily in the Republican primary, snagging 55% of the vote to Cantor’s 45%.
“If you go door-to-door knocking, the American people know the country is headed in the wrong direction, right? I mean, the debt, the deficit, the economic growth is terrible, the regulatory burden is terrible, and the representation in D.C. won’t address those major issues,” Brat told Fox News host Sean Hannity by phone. “I think the people are just ready for some major changes in this country and I was blessed, it’s a miracle. What do I attribute it to first? I attribute it to God and I’m utterly humbled and thankful. I’m a believer and so I’m humbled that God gave us this win…It’s just an unbelievable miracle.”
2. It’s all about the free markets
Brat, who earned a PhD in economics from American University, really, really loves free markets. In his interview with Hannity, Brat turned the conversation to free markets five different times, explaining that supporting free markets will fix our economy and feed the people, too.
“It’s not about right or left, free markets are indisputably the cause of our wealth. China right now is the perfect case and point. They are feeding 1.2 billion people for the first time in world history due to only one thing. Answer: free markets. As Republicans, that is the number one issue in our creed and that is a compassionate position, we are feeding 1.2 billion people!”
He believes it can not only fix the economy —it can improve our educational system, too.
“I’m with Reagan, I’m optimistic always about what the American people can do, but we gotta take off the shackles of the regulatory burden. Something like 2 trillion dollars out of the 17 trillion economy. If you get rid of that you can unleash the American economy and they’re ready to roll,” Brat said.
3. He’s pretty sure he’s a better Republican than you
Brat ran on the narrative that Cantor was too moderate and too out-of-touch with the people. On his victory, pundits declared that it was another sign the Republican Party has become more extremist.
“The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party,” New York Republican Rep. Peter King said.
But Brat swore throughout the interview that he’s not that conservative—he’s just a better Republican than you.
“The only problem with the Republican principles is that no one is following them. First one is the commitment to free markets—we don’t have any free markets in this country any more!” Brat told Hannity. (See point number 2.)
“I’m running 100% on just mainstream Republicans issues and the Republicans need to do a better job of following these and then we will get the country out of the ditch,” he reiterated a few minutes later in the interview.
4. Immigration reform = “amnesty”
Brat slammed Cantor, accusing him of supporting comprehensive immigration reform—or amnesty, as he calls it—and running ads saying the majority leader was “giving citizenship papers to illegal immigrants.”
Immigration “is the most symbolic issue that captures the issues between myself and Eric Cantor in this race, but it also captures that fissure between Main Street and Wall Street. So you look at people’s intentions and political intentions and you ask yourself why are the Republicans doing this, why are they so intent on immigration reform? And there’s no answer that makes logical sense. It’s clear they’re doing this for the Chamber of Commerce and they want cheap labor and expanded workforce and whatever and that’s gonna lower wages for everyone else,” Brat told Hannity. “We clearly cannot import seven billion people on the planet into the USA, that’s just a non-starter.”
House Republicans have so far refused to take up the immigration reform that was passed by a bipartisan group of senators in the upper chamber last year, but Cantor signaled that he was open to creating a citizenship path for the so-called “Dreamers”—young immigrants brought to the country as children—and working on border security reforms with the president.
5. Who knew? Not Sarah Palin
Brat was relatively unknown until last night and wasn’t even planning on winning—his victory party was originally billed as a thank you to volunteers—and he missed out on high profile endorsements like former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s.
But Brat did earn high-profile nods from conservatives like talk radio host Laura Ingraham and pundit Ann Coulter, who cheered on his immigration stance and used his candidacy to bash Cantor and the establishment.
Following his win, the Alaska Republican and tea party darling quickly congratulated Brat on Tuesday night, though.
“Congratulations to Dave Brat in Virginia on such an encouraging victory tonight! You shocked the political world and reminded D.C. that power lies with We the People and not any conventional party establishment,” Palin wrote on Facebook.