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  /  News   /  GOP infighting threatens to deliver primary losses 

GOP infighting threatens to deliver primary losses 

Bitter infighting among House GOP lawmakers is threatening to boot several members out of office, as Republicans wade into incumbent primary contests against the best advice of their own party leaders. 

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) became the latest Republican to back Rep. Bob Good’s (R-Va.) primary rival, John McGuire, after Good endorsed Bacon’s primary challenger Dan Frei last month. A handful of other GOP lawmakers and notable political groups have also backed McGuire. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has thrown his weight behind Brandon Herrera, who’s challenging Rep. Tony Gonzales (R) in south Texas — underscoring how deep-seated resentment is embroiling the party’s already narrow majority. 

Though some member-on-member squabbling is taking place in safely red districts, it’s also spilled into other corners, like Gonzales’s seat, potentially putting those areas into play for Democrats this fall.  

“If you’re gonna go after me. I’m gonna come back twice as hard — as hard as I can, and I think it should be a lesson,” Bacon told The Hill. “This is not what we want to do. I think … it creates dysfunction. I feel like this is bad for Speaker Johnson, but there has to be a consequence to a bad behavior.”

House Republicans have been engulfed in feuds and fighting since the earliest days of their GOP majority.  

It started with conservative holdouts who forced 15 ballot votes just days into the new Congress before finally electing former-Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker — a byproduct of the narrow GOP majority that gave defectors pronounced influence over their party. 

The squabbles seeped into the open, particularly after a group of Republicans removed McCarthy in October — capitalizing on some of the same negotiations they made with McCarthy to later remove him — leading to weeks of uncertainty over the path forward for the House GOP, a trove of early retirements and even more headaches even after House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) won the gavel. 

The infighting is now stretching into more personal territory as House Republicans wade into each other’s primaries despite efforts by Johnson to quell the bickering.  

Good — the head of the Freedom Caucus who drew the ire of Trump loyalists after initially backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the GOP presidential primary before later backing Trump — told The Hill in a phone interview that members started encroaching into one another’s races after he saw a fellow House member holding a fundraiser for his opponent.

Outside groups, such as the Republican Main Street Partnership, which has close ties to McCarthy, have also gotten involved. 

Good accused McCarthy of being on a “revenge tour” against those who ousted him from his Speakership role.  

But Good bristled at criticism made by other House GOP members who have accused him and others of being obstructionists, making it hard to get things done within the conference. He argued that Republicans supporting McGuire have passed legislation with Democrats that didn’t include “significant policy reforms,” in reauthorizing the national defense spending bill and reauthorizing a surveillance law without a warrant requirement.  

“What have they been prevented from getting done? More things that Democrats would agree to?” Good told The Hill. “Or are they pretending that they would do more conservative Republican-like things if it weren’t for us, when they know the Senate wouldn’t pass those anyway? So what are we referring to?”

Yet the member infighting that’s extended into the primaries is threatening to boot Republicans from their seats – and potentially put some of those into play for Democrats this fall. 

Gonzales is fighting for his political life against Herrera, a gun enthusiast and YouTuber, in a primary runoff later this month after he failed to win at least half of the vote during the initial March primary.  

Members like Good, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) have endorsed Herrera, while Johnson, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Republicans such as Texas Reps. Ronny Jackson and Jake Ellzey have thrown their weight behind Gonzales. Some Republicans have voiced concern that if Herrera wins the special election this month, it could give Democrats an opening.  

“I think 23 is just kind of the one district I’d be very careful about,” explained Austin-based Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser, about Gonzales’s 23rd Congressional District. “… Primaries are healthy, and they’re good, but this is the kind of district we could lose. So I think … it’s just a safer bet to go into districts that are safely red,” he added, referring to members getting involved in other GOP primaries.

Herrera’s campaign rebuffed the idea that Democrats could get an opening if he won the special election, telling The Hill in a statement that “the suggestion that this seat is ‘at risk’ is a baseless scare tactic being spread by Tony Gonzalez’s campaign that depends on Republicans being bad at math and ignorant of recent history.” 

The campaign argued that Gonzales was “running on lies” and that “Brandon Herrera is going to win this seat in November by a larger margin than Tony ever did.” 

In other primaries, such as the Bacon-Frei primary race in Nebraska’s swingy 2nd Congressional District, some GOP members are less concerned that Frei will knock off an incumbent, but it doesn’t mean they’re thrilled with the squabbling either.

“A cookie cutter conservative candidate can win in some districts … could win in the third. Nebraska’s third district, easy,” said Omaha-based GOP consultant Philip Young. “But it can’t win in the second without kind of going along to get along a little bit.” 

Members, too, acknowledge that the infighting isn’t helpful for the party.

“There’s no doubt it hurts us. Dysfunction, division hurts the Republican Party,” Bacon told The Hill.

The infighting defies an unwritten rule — championed by former President Ronald Reagan — that’s governed GOP politics for the better part of the last half century: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. Reagan dubbed it the 11th Commandment.  

The outward defiance of that edict — and the potential damage it could have on the GOP’s chances in November — has not been overlooked by Johnson, who has gone out of his way to discourage his troops from attacking fellow incumbents in primary contests. During the Republicans’ annual issues conference in West Virginia in March, the Speaker said he’s “asked them all to cool it.” 

“It causes division for obvious reasons, and we should not be engaging in that,” he told CNN at the time. “So I’m telling everyone who’s doing that to knock it off.” 

The message, however, has gone ignored by a number of sitting members, who have continued to jump into races against incumbent colleagues in districts across the country. Aside from Texas, Nebraska and Virginia, those fights have also crept up in South Carolina, where members of the far-right Freedom Caucus are actively campaigning against GOP Rep. William Timmons, and Illinois, where hardliners like Gaetz unsuccessfully sought to boot moderate Rep. Mike Bost. 

“I think they’re just sick and tired of do-nothing Republicans who have terrible records, and when they see a strong conservative fighter who gets results, they get excited about it and wanted to get behind our candidacy,” explained South Carolina state Rep. Adam Morgan (R), who’s challenging Timmons next month and has the support of folks like Gaetz and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.). 

Frei, who’s been endorsed by Good, argued that “…the important issues that [constituents are] talking about are not the issues that the likes of Don Bacon and [Mike] Flood and [Adam] Smith are addressing.” 

To be sure, Democrats have their own ideological divisions, which have led to instances where members have backed primary candidates over sitting lawmakers — much to the frustration of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and his leadership team, who have gone out of their way to champion incumbents.  

But those cases are few and far between, and the tone has been nowhere near as hostile and aggressive as the public stumping by some Republican lawmakers against their own GOP colleagues.  

The internal tensions reflect the deep fissures in the Republican Party in the era of Donald Trump, whose arrival on the political scene in 2015 has cleaved the GOP into factions that have frequently pitted “America First” Trump loyalists against Reagan-esque institutionalists in a pitched battle to decide the future direction of the party.  

That clash was manifest in the removal of McCarthy; it appeared in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) recent effort to dethrone Johnson; and it’s emerging again on the campaign trail as the Speaker scrambles — unsuccessfully — to discourage lawmakers from interposing in primary races.  

Some members have appeared to leave the door open to backing other primary challengers to sitting incumbents. 

Asked if there were any other primaries Good was considering getting involved in, Good replied: “Well, if there are, those will be public, and that information would be announced obviously.” 

But the Virginia rabble-rouser doesn’t portend electoral consequences for Republicans in the fall amid the member-on-member primary squabbling. 

“If Derrick Evans wins in West Virginia, if Adam Morgan wins in South Carolina, if Brandon Herrera wins in Texas, and Dan Frei wins in Nebraska, and [Jarrod] Sessler wins in Washington, I think we’ll win all those seats in the general election as well.”

Updated at 6:43 a.m.

Mychael Schnell contributed.