Republican Party rifts on display in Virginia congressional primary pitting Good and McGuire

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Bob Good is fighting a two-front battle to hold his seat in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and with it his role as leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. And that doesn't even count his opponent in the June 18 GOP primary, state Sen. John McGuire.

Good, who played a key role in the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, has drawn the ire of establishment Republicans, who are bankrolling a campaign to oust him.

More significantly, he's also lost the support of former President Donald Trump, who is endorsing McGuire. Good fell out of favor with Trump when he endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the 2024 presidential nomination.

Good switched his endorsement to Trump after DeSantis dropped out, but that failed to assuage the former president. On social media, Trump called Good “BAD FOR VIRGINIA, AND BAD FOR THE USA." Trump acknowledged that Good eventually gave him an endorsement, but it was too late: "The damage has been done.”

Trump has escalated the attacks in recent days. He issued a video endorsing McGuire and warning that Good “will stab you in the back like he did me.”

McGuire has echoed the attacks, calling Good a “never Trumper,” putting Good on the defensive.

Good, for his part, says he considers Trump “the best president of my lifetime.” He says he endorsed DeSantis because he wanted a candidate who could serve two terms, and Trump is constitutionally eligible to serve only one more term.

He attacks McGuire as a serial campaigner who always has his eye on the next job.

McGuire ran for the state Senate in 2023, and within a week of winning a four-year term there announced he was running for Good's seat in Congress. In 2022, he ran for Congress in another district, the 7th, but later withdrew. In 2021, he ran for the House of Delegates and won. In 2020, he lost a primary race for the 7th District.

“He's literally a perpetual candidate in search of a race,” Good said.

Good, on the other hand, has a relatively short political resume. He served on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, and then took on incumbent Republican congressman Denver Riggleman in 2020. He defeated Riggleman at a nominating convention as Riggleman faced blowback among social conservatives for officiating a same-sex wedding.

Good is facing payback for his efforts in McCarthy's ouster. The Republican political action committee Defending Main Street, which almost always spends money to support GOP incumbents, launched a $450,000 ad campaign against Good.

“We spend 99% of our money protecting incumbents and adding more mainstream conservatives to the House, but this was a unique situation,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the group’s president and CEO.

Good said he believes the massive ad campaigns against him are the only reason the race is close but that voters don’t care he voted for McCarthy’s ouster.

He said McCarthy “is on his revenge tour now, and I’m his biggest target.”

It might have seemed inconceivable that an incumbent with the conservative record of Good could be vulnerable in a primary, but Alex Keena, political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the race “has just captured the dynamics in the Republican Party right now really well.”

He said Good has “put himself on an island,” alienating mainstream Republicans by ousting McCarthy. And he lost the Trump voters because, “I guess he betrayed Trump, which is really easy to do.”

Good put it simply: McGuire, he said, “is not running to the right of me. He’s running to the Trump of me.”

McGuire and his campaign did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking an interview.

The race has splintered the far-right Freedom Caucus, for which Good serves as chairman. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has come to the district to support Good, while Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene campaigned for McGuire.

At a rally last week in Charlottesville — the most liberal part of the district — a few dozen McGuire supporters were outnumbered by 75 to 100 protesters who swarmed around McGuire and Greene when they got off a campaign bus.

Any efforts by McGuire and Greene to speak were drowned out by protestors chanting “Go Home!” and waving signs that said “No hate in our state.”

Neither McGuire nor Greene seemed to mind, with McGuire smiling through the chaos and Greene blowing kisses to her detractors as they responded with middle fingers.

McGuire, asked what he made of the scene, smiled and said, “Freedom!” as he retreated back to his bus.

McGuire supporters at the rally indicated that their support for the candidate stems primarily from their disappointment with Good.

“Good is a backstabber," said Nelson County resident Kerry Williams Thornton. ”I was with Good two years ago. ... But you cannot go with DeSantis and think that Trump is going to have your back."

Matthew Barakat, The Associated Press