GOP Rep. Dave Brat: Virginia GOP Didn’t ‘Nationalize’ Election Enough

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va.,  a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, explains his position to a TV interviewer before his group meets with President Donald Trump as the GOP's long-promised legislation to repeal and replace "Obamacare" moves to a showdown vote, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) said Wednesday that Republicans up and down the ticket in his home state had failed to “nationalize” the election — but he insisted Republicans’ stunning losses across Virginia weren’t a referendum on President Donald Trump.

“I always deal in policy, not personality and all the drama,” Brat told CNN’s John Berman and Poppy Harlow. “I don’t think it’s ever a matter of personality.”

Instead, while avoiding mentioning Trump by name, he said Republicans ought to have focused their local races on national issues: Namely, Republicans’ (failed) efforts to repeal Obamacare and the proposed massive tax cut bill — currently making its way through the House Ways and Means Committee — that would slash corporate taxes and eliminate the estate tax, among many other things.

“I think we were running too much on state issues,” Brat said. Even at the state level, Virginia only grew at 0.6 percent GDP growth rate last year. That’s not good. And yet two-thirds of people came out to the polls saying ‘the economy is doing fine.’ So we failed to message on the economy.”

He added: “Obamacare premiums are going out with 40 percent increases across the state. The Democrats are running on health care, but they’re not running on Obamacare failure.”

“And so we failed to message at the proper level, on the national level.”

It was a striking message: highlighting slow economic growth and rising health care costs are normally reserved for opposition parties. But in the White House and Congress, and at the state level in Virginia’s legislature, Republicans exercise blanket majorities. The state’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, is a Democrat. Brat wanted local Republicans to run on national Republicans’ stalled agenda, but not on the President himself.

President Donald Trump, tweeting on Tuesday, hadn’t yet had a chance to hear Brat’s advice.

Brat acknowledged during the interview that the Senate had done a “face plant” by failing to repeal Obamacare, but expressed confusion when asked if the President negatively affected Republicans’ chances.

“If you look at the exit poll numbers, twice as many people in Virginia came out to vote in part because of opposition to this President than in support of this President,” Harlow pressed.

“So yes or no, say it like it is, referendum on this President or no?”

“It depends on what you mean on by — on the agenda, no,” Brat began to reply.

“On the man,” Harlow said.

“I don’t think it’s ever a matter of personality. Last night, the evidence was health care and the economy growth. Economy in Virginia is failing right now and government jobs are tied to that economy. And so it’s staggering that northern Virginia can go along with such low economic growth.”