Embittered Republicans plot to knock off House GOP’s hard-right leader in Virginia primary feud

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Rep. Derrick Van Orden is done with Rep. Bob Good.

Good, the leader of the House Freedom Caucus and one of eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speakership, has been at the center of internal GOP infighting that has left their party’s agenda in tatters and their conference embroiled in a bitter civil war.

Now Van Orden has joined hands with a band of House Republicans angling to knock Good off in his June primary by propping up his primary opponent, John McGuire – a tactic long viewed as a serious breach of protocol but one that underscores the bad blood within the House GOP.

“Bob Good didn’t come here to govern. He came here to be famous,” Van Orden, a Wisconsin Republican, told CNN. “Bob Good’s wearing our jersey, and he’s not on the team.”

Van Orden added: “If you look at what we have not been able to accomplish in this Congress, it’s predominantly because of Bob Good and his ilk.”

But Good is undeterred.

As he barnstormed through his district last week with fellow House GOP hardliners, such as Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Chip Roy of Texas, Good said voters in his district don’t care what his colleague from Wisconsin thinks. And he pointedly accused many of his Republican colleagues in Washington of casting votes that hurt the country and undermine the conservative cause.

Rep. Derrick Van Orden talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the US Capitol on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. - Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Rep. Derrick Van Orden talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the US Capitol on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. - Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

“They’ve never heard of Derrick Van Orden. They could care less what Derrick Van Orden thinks,” he said of his constituents, later telling CNN that questions about his Republican colleagues turning against him are “stupid.”

“You come to these things, and you ask questions that nobody here cares about. You bring up Derrick Van Orden, which is a joke,” he said.

“RINOs, establishment moderates do nothing to influence Republican primary elections,” Good added. “Conservative, courageous warriors like those endorsing me today and being here with me today are the ones who my constituents care about.”

The toxic infighting that has dominated the House GOP majority – and has now landed squarely in Good’s conservative district in rural Virginia – is part of a larger battle over the direction of the GOP. As many Republicans in Washington say that compromise and consensus with Democrats is the way to govern in divided government, Good and his bloc of members excoriate such deal-cutting as they push their no-compromise approach.

“This is the most important primary in the country,” said Gaetz, who led the charge to oust McCarthy and has targeted two other sitting Republicans in their primaries so far this cycle. “Bob is our masthead. Bob Good is our leader among House conservatives to get us on the same page to ensure that it is the people’s interests that rise above the special interests. They know that they hate us. But you know what, there are more of us.”

In an interview on Friday, McGuire – a former Navy SEAL – said Good’s conduct is “embarrassing” and that the congressman’s “name-calling” of fellow Republicans is “so childish.”

“I believe that my opponent wants to burn it all down, no solutions kind of guy,” McGuire said. “I think that we need leaders that want to grow the party and unite our country.”

McGuire added: “If you are helping the Democrat team take out the Republican team, who is the RINO?”

Good, 58, who won his first race in 2020 by knocking off a moderate GOP incumbent, Denver Riggleman, is one of four Republicans who are being targeted by members from within their own conference. In the other cases, it’s far-right Republicans maneuvering to take out colleagues they view as insufficiently conservative.

Now, it’s the center-right striking back – including allies of McCarthy and a new GOP outside group beginning to attack Good as well.

Asked if Good’s vote to oust McCarthy prompted the House GOP effort to defeat him, Georgia Rep. Austin Scott said: “It has something to do with that. But more important than that, I think, we’ve got a guy who would be a good member of our team,” referring to McGuire.

John McGuire attends the VCDL rally on in January 2023 at Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia. - John C. Clark/AP/File
John McGuire attends the VCDL rally on in January 2023 at Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia. - John C. Clark/AP/File

McGuire said he had not been recruited by McCarthy but told CNN that he has spoken recently with the former speaker and called him a “nice guy,” noting that McCarthy filled him in on “what goes on in Congress.”

In the interview, he made clear he would have voted to keep McCarthy as speaker.

“I would have never in a million years, partnered with the other party to take out our leader,” McGuire said. “I mean, I’d imagine if you were Nancy Pelosi, she probably said ‘Let me get this straight. You want to partner with us to take out your best leader who has the most leverage and the most institutional knowledge with no plan?’”

Earlier this month, a group of mostly defense-minded House Republicans - some of whom have sparred with Good over Pentagon spending – raised big bucks for McGuire at a private fundraiser. At the event, House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers of Alabama called Good a “danger to our country,” according to McGuire.

Rogers didn’t want to talk about his push to knock off Good when pressed by CNN in the Capitol, saying, “I don’t have any comment.” His office did not reply to a request for comment on his remarks at the fundraiser.

The Trump factor

But perhaps the biggest challenge facing Good: Donald Trump. During the GOP presidential primary, Good backed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, explaining he preferred a candidate who could serve for eight years in office, rather than just four more years like Trump.

Good’s support for DeSantis in the primary is now the subject of an attack ad by a new outside group, Virginians for Conservative Leadership PAC, which says: “Bob Good has no faith in Trump.”

Yet as he campaigned last week, Good showed no daylight with Trump, with signs that said: “Trump, Bob Good: Keeping America Great” — all as he stumped with Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who compared him to the former president.

“Not only am I proud that Bob has been willing to stand up, he’s taken arrows,” Meadows told voters. “I had the privilege of serving with a president that’s taking arrows as well. And you know what? When you shy away when the arrows come, the arrows end up hitting someone else.”

In the interview, Good dismissed questions about his backing of DeSantis.

Rep. Bob Good speaks with reporters at the US Capitol on January 12, in Washington, DC. - Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Rep. Bob Good speaks with reporters at the US Capitol on January 12, in Washington, DC. - Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Asked if he regretted his DeSantis endorsement, Good told CNN: “Why don’t you get with the present? This is a time to rally behind President Trump. My opponent wants to continue to divide people based on the past. We’re all behind President Trump. He must win. The country can’t handle four more years of Joe Biden.”

But Good’s foes won’t let him forget where he stood given that he backed DeSantis until he dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

“I think we all hate politicians that say one thing in public and a different thing in private, and you can’t trust them,” said McGuire, who met privately with Trump at Mar-a-Lago recently. “And he is proven that he can be trusted, and Trump can’t trust him.”

McGuire boasted about his efforts to help Trump ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

“I made like 10 hours’ worth of phone calls for him there, and I put a bunch of yard signs,” McGuire said. “I’m a team player.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, a former Trump Cabinet member who is backing McGuire, added: “We can do a lot better than Good,” he said. “We can do great.”

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene - who was booted from the Freedom Caucus last year after sparring with her GOP colleagues - has endorsed McGuire, saying Good “cannot be trusted and will work against Trump.”

“John McGuire endorsed and supported President Trump while you stabbed him in the back,” she posted on X.

Good angrily dismissed her.

“Nobody cares what Marjorie Taylor Greene says or thinks. And she’s a one-man show, she’s grandstanding and she wants attention,” Good said.

Trump has yet to endorse anyone in the race, but one of his top advisers, Chris LaCivita, told a local Virginia news outlet in January: “Bob Good won’t be electable when we get done with him.”

Asked last week if he stood by that sentiment, LaCivita indicated his attention was elsewhere.

“My focus is on electing Donald Trump the 47th president of the United States,” LaCivita told CNN when asked about Good.

Some Trump allies who back Good are trying to make sure the former president doesn’t undercut their colleague’s bid.

“I’ve done all I can to explain to President Trump that his agenda will be executed to its best efficacy if we have Bob Good in Congress,” Gaetz said. “A fighting Republican Party will be there for President Trump. Bob Good leads the fighters.”

CNN’s Sheden Tesfaldet contributed to this report.

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