At this point, it’s obvious that President Trump is wasting no time in implementing his agenda. As a result, he's galvanizing his opponents on the left. The women’s march brought hundreds of thousands to Washington. (Yes, Mr. President, many more than your inauguration did.) The rollout of his Executive Order on immigration -- which is making healthcare.gov look like a triumph by comparison -- provoked protest actions at airports across the country. Tweet-inspired outrage is becoming as regular a feature of the day as lunchtime.
Trump may or may not be feeling the brunt of this response. But there's one guy who definitely is: VA Congressman Dave Brat.
Brat may have been an early supporter of Trump, but he's far from Trump’s inner circle. Still, he’s been having trouble adjusting to the new climate of Trump-inspired protest, especially as it affects his district.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Monday that Brat has been "feeling some political pressure" from activists in his district, particularly women inspired by the march on Washington. While a group of women waited outside Hanover Tavern for him last Saturday, he told conservative activists and officials that "these women are in my grill no matter where I go."
Brat’s unfortunate choice of words helped drive national attention to the story, and he suddenly found himself having to defend himself against claims of being inaccessible, plus demands from constituents that he hold a town hall meeting. Trying to change the narrative, Brat quickly arranged a virtual “town hall” on Facebook Live, and found his site inundated with over 7,700 comments, many negative.
Brat’s response? Deny that this actually means anything. He told the RTD that the women at Hanover Tavern were "paid protesters... paid activists on the far left, not my Democratic friends I go to church with." Here Brat is echoing claims from others on the Right. For example, Caroline County activist Steven Brodie Tucker wrote on the Bull Elephant blog this week that anti-Trump protests are "an organized political tactic orchestrated by Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, George Soros, and the DNC."
This is dopey. Yes, there’s a growing network of organizing groups and activists on the left - just as there is on the right. But activist groups have not formed a conspiracy that dupes people into joining actions, or that fools the media with crowds of paid actors. Instead, they are doing what good grassroots groups do: creating a framework for spontaneous action and for "regular" people to join the movement.
Claims of Soros-funded conspiracies are part of attempts, conscious or not, to minimize the opposition. Brodie, for example, suggested that "these same 18-20 protesters have been trolling [Brat’s] social media pages all day, every day, for the last week." Yet the negative comments on Brat's Facebook live event were routinely getting over 150 Likes. The final tally for the page was 947 angry emojis to less than 250 likes + hearts. That’s more than just a handful of dedicated crazies.
Of course, not everyone pinging Brat on Facebook may be 7th district constituents. But a cursory glance at the names and profiles -- more than Brat can manage, apparently -- shows that a lot are. (I'm close to the 7th district border, and I actually recognize some of these folks. If they're getting a check from Soros, I hope they can at least take me out for dinner.)
One of the many ironies here is that Brat won the 2014 Republican primary in part because his opponent was a famously out-of-touch insider. Eric Cantor was the House Minority Leader, a powerful broker and prodigious fundraiser, and a complete no-show in his district. Brat built a constituency out of Tea Partiers and disgruntled rank-and-file Republicans who wanted someone to represent them, not Washington.
This week Brat understandably defended his record. In an e-mail to supporters with the subject line, "Always accessible," he noted that "In the past two years, I have held over 30 townhall meetings in the 7th district that have been open to the public." But that was then; Brat seems uninterested in noticing how much things have changed since November. People in Brat's district, many of whom have never been very active politically, are mad. They are looking for targets for their ire. Trump may be too far away for them to affect directly, but a local Congressman? That’s another story.
Brat's next election may be a long way off, and it's certainly easy for protest movements to lose steam. But for now, lots of people are going to be "in his grill;" Brat had better get used to it.