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Loyalty test: Bob Good and his conservative allies want voters to know he's Trump's man

Mike Johnson’s grip on the speaker’s gavel in the U.S. House of Representatives was already loose, but now two of the hard-right Republicans responsible for the coup that ousted his predecessor are not ruling out doing it again.

Four members of the 42-strong conservative House Freedom Caucus were in Scottsville Wednesday as part of Rep. Bob Good’s "Freedom Fighters Tour" reelection campaign.

While the congressmen had traveled down from Washington to make the case for Good, who represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and leads the Freedom Caucus, they spent plenty of time railing against the $1.2 trillion deal Johnson made with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.

“On Friday, virtually every one of us was on the floor of the House calling out every one of those 101 Republicans who sided with funding the very tyranny that is destroying your lives,” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told a crowd of 50, shielded from the rain by awnings of the Scottsville Pavilion. “Funding the FBI, funding the United Nations, funding the World Health Organization.”

While neither Roy nor Good nor their colleagues mentioned the Louisiana representative by name, the animosity against Johnson was palpable, and they spent significant time criticizing his spending package, calling it a win for President Biden and other Democratic leaders.

“Some of us believe that the debt and the spending is unsustainable. And we’re not willing to go along with it and say that, ‘On our watch, we’re going to just continue to increase spending and do what Democrats want to do,’” Good told the crowd.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said too many Republicans are willing to compromise with Democrats. After the rally, he told The Daily Progress that he wants to see Johnson be tougher.

“We’ve got to set a line and hold it against the Biden administration. And the speaker doesn’t need to be so accommodating to some of the demands of Chuck Schumer,” he said, referring to the Democratic senator from New York and the leader of the left in Congress’ upper chamber. “I want Johnson to succeed. He hasn’t yet. But I want to work hard to see him succeed.”

Gaetz was instrumental in the historic ouster of Johnson’s predecessor Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California last fall. In an October interview with The Daily Progress, Gaetz listed Johnson as one of the Republicans he wanted to see replace McCarthy as speaker. On Wednesday, he wouldn’t say whether he wants Johnson out.

While clearly not pleased with the $1.2 trillion spending package that Johnson helped pass, Gaetz did appear to cut him some slack.

“We’re in a divided government with a one-vote margin. So I don’t know that you can judge Johnson by the same rubric that we judged McCarthy, who had a majority four times the size. It sure would be nice if people stopped walking off the job though,” Gaetz said.

That was a reference to Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Ken Buck of Colorado, both of whom recently announced they would resign from Congress early, leaving the Republican House majority hanging by a thread. Buck was among the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy.

So was Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who was with Gaetz and Good in Scottsville Wednesday. Like Gaetz, he was noncommittal on Johnson’s future. He said that he’s not particularly focused on the speakership, but there has been a “lack of progress and movement” on policy priorities.

“I’m not happy, and [Johnson] knows that. But I’m more focused on trying to get some good policy done,” Biggs told The Daily Progress.

Is Johnson the right man to achieve those policy goals?

“I’m pushing him that way. We’ll see if he goes the way I’m pushing him,” Biggs said.

While Biggs is pushing Johnson to hold the line, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia is trying to push Johnson out. Greene filed a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair on March 22. While safe for now, that could change when the House returns from recess in early April. If brought for a vote, Johnson could see himself following in the footsteps of McCarthy, just six months after taking the gavel.

While Johnson’s spending package got its fair share of attention on Wednesday, the real focus was on Good, who is running for a third term in a district that stretches from Charlottesville in the north to Danville in the south, the Richmond suburbs in the east to Lynchburg in the west, and has been represented by a Republican for the past 13 years.

Along with Gaetz, Biggs and Roy, the Virginia congressman was joined by Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, Virginia Del. Tom Garrett — himself a former Freedom Caucus member who left Congress in 2018 due to his alcoholism before reentering politics last year — and Mark Meadows — a former chair of the Freedom Caucus who later served as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff who played a significant role in Trump’s doomed attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

It was significant star power for a cold and rainy morning.

“Do you realize how unusual it is to have seven Congress members right here?” Good asked the crowd.

Standing next to Good was not just a show of support for their colleague but a message to his primary challenger: state Sen. John McGuire of Goochland.

Their race has led to some bitter intraparty warfare among Central Virginia Republicans, with the Cook Political Report recently writing that, “Good’s reelection prospects don’t look great right now.”

Gaetz told The Daily Progress that the Good-McGuire matchup is the most important primary in the country.

“Bob Good is the leader of the Freedom Caucus. He is the masthead for House conservatives. And if an establishment-backed candidate like McGuire were to prevail, it would deflate a lot of the fighting spirit throughout the Republican conference in the House,” he said.

Gaetz and his colleagues Wednesday made a point of countering one of McGuire’s most effective attack lines: Good is not loyal to Trump.

McGuire and his supporters frequently point out that Good was slow to endorse Trump in 2016, and that he originally put his support behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this primary season.

Good wholly rejects the narrative. His campaign website highlights a Trump endorsement — albeit from 2022, as Trump has yet to make an endorsement this year — and large campaign signs posted on Wednesday included Good’s name and Trump’s name side by side.

While Good says the frequent “Never Trump” attacks lobbed from McGuire’s camp are bogus, they’ve at least been effective enough that his surrogates felt the need to address the accusations unprompted on Wednesday.

“A lot of people are going to say Bob doesn’t stand with President Trump. It’s a lie,” Roy said. “All of us endorsed President Trump. All of us are standing behind President Trump.”

It was the very first thing Gaetz spoke of when he stepped to the microphone.

“I take a back seat to no man and no woman when it comes to supporting President Donald Trump, and the best way to animate and illuminate and execute the Trump agenda is to send Bob Good back to the United States House of Representatives,” Gaetz said.

Passing the Trump litmus test has become a defining characteristic of the race as both candidates claim to be more loyal to the former president than the other. That was illustrated during a February incident when Good was asked to leave a Trump store in Farmville which was hosting a McGuire event.

Good has been on the counterattack, arguing that it is not him but McGuire who is not aligned with Trump’s policies.

“This race represents more than just the 5th District. This represents defeating the swamp’s efforts to strike back, and they have found a willing candidate in liar McGuire,” Good told the crowd, invoking a Trump-esque nickname for his opponent.

The crowd that turned out in Scottsville Wednesday either didn’t buy or didn’t care about McGuire’s attacks. Some agreed with Good that McGuire was a liar who couldn’t be trusted.

But they said they could trust Good’s conservative values.

“These men up here are the ones that are loyal to the conservative cause,” Connie Sylvester told The Daily Progress. “I believe that these men are doing good. I believe that in November of 2024 we’ve got to make a change.”

While Scottsville resident Jim Tatangelo doesn’t know how Good feels about Trump, he does believe that Good’s values align with his own.

“It’s more important to have a conservative in the 5th District, and we go from there,” Tatangelo told The Daily Progress. Good, he said, is the better conservative candidate.

Questioning one’s loyalty to Trump has become a fairly common Republican tactic this primary season, according to Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“If you define conservatism, as I think many do these days, as essentially whether you’re loyal to Trump or not, then you can undermine their conservatism,” Kondik told The Daily Progress. “Though Good is very conservative ideologically, McGuire can undercut that by saying he’s not loyal.”

With that in mind, Good and McGuire will likely continued to claim Trump as their own until the primary on June 18. And even if Trump does make an endorsement this year, Kondik doesn’t expect that will necessarily determine the victor.

On Wednesday, Gaetz framed the 5th District primary as crucial to the future of the GOP, comparing it to the Revolutionary and Civil wars, in which Virginia played a significant role.

“The battle about the type of Republican Party we are going to have is being waged here in the 5th District of Virginia. I want a fighting Republican party. I don’t want a sellout Republican party,” Gaetz said.


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