Meet David Brat and Jack Trammell, the Two Unknown Randolph-Macon Professors Running for Eric Cantor’s Seat

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Brat and Trammell. Photo: Steve Helber/AP/Corbis; Courtesy of Jack Trammell for Congress

The inconceivable 11-point victory by some guy named David Brat over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — who spent nearly as much at steakhouses as Brat did on his entire campaign — in Virginia’s congressional primary last night means all of a sudden we may have ourselves a race come November. It wasn’t supposed to be this way: Cantor’s very deep pockets plus a heavily Republican district was supposed to mean guaranteed victory in the general election, but nothing makes sense anymore. If there were a harder question to answer before yesterday than “Who the hell is David Brat?” it was “Who the hell is Jack Trammell?” That’s the man he’ll be running against. For congress! They happen to be college professors at the same school.

Allow us to break it down.

Brat is the Republican. He’s a tea-party type, and an Ayn Rand–loving economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, a tiny liberal arts college in Virginia. He also loves theology — Brat has a master’s in divinity from Princeton (Update: That’s Princeton Theological Seminary, not the Ivy League one) and a Ph.D. from American University — as evidenced in his 13-page essay “God and Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?” which includes a section on Hitler maybe happening again:

Capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality. Read Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the weak modern Christian democratic man was spot on. Jesus was a great man. Jesus said he was the Son of God. Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. Then came the Christians. What happened? What went wrong? We appear to be a bit passive. Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily. The church should rise up higher than Nietzsche could see and prove him wrong.

Here’s his Rate My Professor score:

He’s also allegedly a hottie:

Trammell is the Democrat. He also teaches at Randolph-Macon, which has an academic staff of barely 100 and enrollment of about 1,300 students, as an associate professor of sociology with a specialty in disability issues. His most recent book is The Richmond Slave Trade: The Economic Backbone of the Old Dominion, which has one (five-star!) review on Amazon. (His other books include Chickahominy: The Life and Times of a Vanishing Virginia River and Reflections of a Southern Gentleman Farmer, about his life as a southern gentleman farmer.)

Here’s his Rate My Professor score:

He is apparently not a hottie. He is, however, living The Brady Bunch, Virginia-style: Trammell has three grown children and his wife has four, plus their shared “several horses, sheep, and other animals” on the farm. “Six of their seven children will be in college this fall,” according to his bio.

The Issues

Brat beat Cantor by running to his right, opposing any sliver of compassion for undocumented immigrants, praising the free market, loving guns, hating abortion, and all that. He has Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, the Breitbart crew, Erick Erickson, and Donald Trump on his side.

“Obamacare has proven to be an economically disastrous law and an unconstitutional power grab by our Federal Government,” says his website. And: “When addressing the issue of immigration, we must start by securing our border.” Plus: “I support a full audit of the Federal Reserve System.”

But he also has a harder-to-place anti-corruption, anti-big business streak. “All the investment bankers should’ve gone to jail. Instead they went onto Eric Cantor’s Rolodex,” he said during a speech in which alternates between attacking companies like AT&T and more classic conservative enemies like food stamps.

Trammell, a political science major in undergrad, is still working things out — although the issue section of his campaign website has been taken down, a cached version exists. Student loans are listed as a “top priority,” as are jobs and education reform. “Jack is a loud voice asking about what is special right now about special education in Virginia,” the site said. He’s going to need a major policy revamp now that people are actually paying attention.

Their Chances

Mitt Romney won the district in 2012 by 15 points. That’s not promising for Trammell. But national Democrats are reportedly considering competing for the seat, especially on the very off chance that Eric Cantor attempts a write-in campaign (no one is sure yet if that’s legal, but it’s almost definitely not going to happen) and potentially splits the Republican vote.

However: “The party will do everything it can to hold onto the seat,” a state Senate Republican Caucus rep told Roll Call. ”Everybody will line up behind David Brat right away.”

Brat spent about $200,000 on the primary (Cantor spent 25 times that) and will certainly see a windfall of cash now that he’s a national figure and a tea-party hero. Trammell, on the other hand, didn’t even run — he became the Democratic nominee only Monday after no candidates entered the primary and a committee suggested he be the sacrificial lamb.

And yet here we are. “Virginians are hungry for a radical change from the dysfunctional and reckless politics being practiced by those in Congress,” Trammell said in a statement last night, at least promising to give it a go. “In the coming months, I look forward to a spirited campaign where can talk about the issues that matter to our community, and how we can get Congress re-focused on the priorities that truly matter to us.” He’s the underdog to the underdog, but why not? Crazier things have happened — like last night.