In Virginia, Bob Good’s Republican Primary Has Split the MAGA Movement


Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia stepped off a tour bus wrapped in “Trump 2024” decals one afternoon last week in the south-central Virginia with a simple message: Representative Bob Good of Virginia, the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, was a traitor to former President Donald J. Trump.

“We need loyalists,” Ms. Greene barked at about a dozen voters gathered on the baking cement of a parking lot in Goochland. Mr. Good, she said, had “kicked Trump when he was down, and went and endorsed another candidate.”

John J. McGuire, a state senator, former Navy SEAL and election denier, is challenging Mr. Good for the Republican nomination on Tuesday. Mr. McGuire, who attended the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, “is the true MAGA, the true Trumper loyalist!” Ms. Greene said.

Not too far down the road the following evening, Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, was on hand to rally with Mr. Good, an important injection of MAGA bona fides for a congressman dealing with the potentially crippling fact that Mr. Trump has endorsed his opponent.

“They think you’re a bunch of morons who don’t count,” Mr. Bannon told a large crowd gathered on a pleasant summer evening in front of the Powhatan Court House, surrounded by rolling farmland. He reminded the audience that Mr. Good was one of eight rebel Republicans who voted last year to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his post, and he cast the fight for re-election as a battle against the traditional G.O.P.

“Why are we here today?” Mr. Bannon asked. “Because of Kevin McCarthy. We’re here because we were sold out by the Republican establishment. They hate anybody that will stand up to them. This is not about President Trump.”

But this wild Republican primary in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains has become all about Mr. Trump. It has splintered the MAGA movement and the G.O.P. itself and highlighted the shifting alliances, personal feuds and chaotic maneuvering that have come to define the party as much as any ideological or policy position.

Both candidates have plastered Mr. Trump’s name in letters as big as their own on their campaign lawn signs. (The Trump campaign sent Mr. Good a cease-and-desist letter demanding that he stop, but it does not appear to have had any effect.) Mr. Trump is scheduled to participate in a tele-town hall meeting for Mr. McGuire on Monday night, on the eve of the primary, which his supporters think will put him over the edge for victory.

The back-to-back events last week pitting some of the most famous MAGA figures against each other have highlighted how strange this civil war of a primary has become. It is indicative of a larger split on the right that has been brewing for years. Each candidate is pitching himself as the lawmaker in lock step with Mr. Trump, dividing the far right in this bright red district and leaving many voters confused.

“It shows the weakness of MAGA and the Trump coalition,” said David Richards, a professor of political science at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia. “There are a lot of egos trying to leverage Trump to their advantage. If that’s all you have going and you don’t have a big policy difference, that’s going to lead to some really weird splits.”

The establishment Republican Main Street Partnership is backing Mr. McGuire, who bears little resemblance to the kind of center-leaning Republican the group typically aligns with. While most Freedom Caucus members are supporting their chairman, at least one member of the group, Representative Warren Davidson of Ohio, is backing Mr. McGuire.

There is scant difference between the two hard-right candidates on the issues. They are both America First isolationists who want to crack down at the southern border, block aid to Ukraine and shrink government spending. Center-leaning Republicans have aligned with Mr. McGuire because of Mr. Good’s vote to oust Mr. McCarthy, who has been on a revenge tour against the eight Republicans who voted him out. And Mr. Trump turned against Mr. Good after he backed Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida over him in the Republican presidential primary.

It has all left Republican voters in the district frustrated and at odds with people they usually agree with. About a third of voters in the district said they were still undecided, according to a recent survey by the Virginia Faith and Freedom Coalition. That poll found Mr. McGuire with a 10-point lead over Mr. Good. But another poll commissioned by the Champions of Freedom PAC showed Mr. Good leading by nine points.

Mr. Good, who calls himself a “biblical conservative,” first won his seat in 2020 by stoking a right-wing revolt against a Republican incumbent, Representative Denver Riggleman, for officiating at the same-sex wedding of one of his congressional aides.

But he made a powerful enemy of Mr. Trump last year when he backed Mr. DeSantis, claiming that he wanted to help elect a Republican who could serve two terms in the White House. Then, after Mr. DeSantis dropped out of the race, Mr. Good may have set a world record for the speed at which he blasted out a statement in support of Mr. Trump.

But it was too late. In a recent video for Mr. McGuire’s campaign, Mr. Trump told Virginia voters that Mr. Good “will stab you in the back like he did me.”

In an interview last week, Mr. McGuire said he was still getting used to the fact that Mr. Trump now calls him out of the blue to chat.

“I’ve got his cellphone number!” he said with glee.

He recounted his phone conversation with Mr. Trump before the official endorsement went out on social media. “He said, ‘It’s going to be great; it’s going to be huge,’” Mr. McGuire recalled. “Then he starts counting down. ‘Five, four, three, two — you ready for this? It’s going to be great.’ And he hit the button.”

Mr. McGuire, who in 2006 broke his neck in a freak accident on a trampoline and was told he would never walk again, was just elected to the State Senate last year.

“I took it really hard when he decided he was going to run against Bob Good,” said Karen Wirsing, who voted for Mr. McGuire last year for the local seat. “He was very opportunistic.”

Ms. Wirsing, who serves on the Goochland County School Board, said she was a die-hard Trump supporter but would not follow his lead in backing Mr. McGuire.

“Whatever Trump’s reasons are for doing that, we have to vote on the issues that matter to us in our area,” she said.

Jeanette Makowskyj, who is retired, said she used to be a supporter of Mr. Good but is now for Mr. McGuire.

“He is just standoffish,” she said of her congressman. “I worked the polls a couple of years ago. John McGuire shook my hand, thanked me for volunteering. He’s more personable.”

But, she added: “It’s sad. We should be one united party.”

With little in the way of policy differences dividing the two candidates, most of the campaign has been spent on personal attacks.

“The whole campaign is based on lies; the whole campaign is based on deceit,” Mr. Good said of his opponent last week, without providing any examples. He said the people of his district would not let the seat be “bought by the D.C. special interests.”

Mr. McGuire, the day before, said that “Bob Good is on the Bob Good team.” And he criticized him for his vote to oust Mr. McCarthy, calling him a “Republican in name only.” “If you’re on the Republican team and you partner with the Democrat team to take out the Republican leader, who’s the RINO?”

Mr. Good’s vote to oust Mr. McCarthy got mixed reviews in the district.

“That wasn’t right,” said Phil Griffin, a Vietnam veteran who previously supported Mr. Good and is now backing Mr. McGuire. “I didn’t like McCarthy, but that wasn’t right. We’re still in no better shape. It didn’t do a thing. He’s a traitor; it’s not right.”

Jim Agnew, a retired sheriff, said it made him like Mr. Good more.

“He’s shown a real backbone in standing up for what he believes,” he said.

But many voters were simply left confused by the entire thing.

On Thursday morning, LaGina Facinoli, a recent transplant to the district, witnessed supporters of Mr. Good holding up signs near an event for Mr. McGuire as a peaceful counterprotest. Both sets of signs displayed Mr. Trump’s name.

“What happened between Bob Good and John McGuire?” she asked a volunteer for the McGuire campaign. “What is the problem?”

The volunteer said her candidate was a former Navy SEAL backed by Mr. Trump.

“That’s all I needed to know,” Ms. Facinoli said.

By the time Mr. McGuire stepped off his tour bus, Ms. Facinoli was waving a campaign sign and waiting to shake his hand.



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