Dave Brat, the Republican congressman from south-central Virginia, cut his political teeth going after members of his party: Last year he toppled then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an astounding primary win, and then he teamed up with two dozen other House Republicans to try to knock John Boehner out of his speakership. That effort failed, but it still made the leadership nervous. If there’s a powerful Washington Republican having a tough time with his backbench colleagues, Dave Brat probably isn’t too far away.
That doesn’t mean he’s short on criticism for the president. After Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, the former economics professor told reporters that he misses teaching.
“I’ve taught economics for 20 years and I’ve read books that have been around for 200 years, and I’ve never heard of ‘middle-class economics,’ ” he said, referring to a term the president rolled out in his address.
A central theme of the president’s speech was economic populism, and Brat took significant issue with that.
“The Democrats are going to do populism, but can they do it well?” he asked. “I’ve never heard of a populism that is top-down, central planning from the central government on down.”
Many young Republicans, eager to shake off the corporate associations that have long dogged the GOP, think they can do populism better. Opponents of Gang of 8-style comprehensive immigration reform—and Brat is a vocal one—are particularly eager to invoke populism when they argue that increased immigration of the legal or illegal varieties would contribute to wage stagnation for hard-working Americans.