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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — During last week’s chairmanship election for the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Bob Good was directly pressed by board members on perhaps one of his most controversial moves inside the GOP: backing Ron DeSantis over Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
Good’s response, according to a source familiar with the conversation, was that he would ultimately get behind Trump if he is the GOP presidential nominee, but explained he thought it was better to have a candidate who could serve eight more years instead of four, which is why he threw his early support behind the young Florida governor.
The rabble-rousing Virginia Republican was ultimately elected this week to serve as the head of the House Freedom Caucus, a high-profile role that will put him front-and-center of some of next year’s biggest funding fights and in direct conflict with the new speaker, Mike Johnson, who will be forced to negotiate with Democrats.
But the exchange about DeSantis, which has not been previously reported, suggests there was at least some skepticism about Good taking the reins of the House Freedom Caucus, which is home to some of the former president’s staunchest allies. His endorsement could also be a liability for Good’s own reelection race, where he is now facing a pro-Trump Republican challenger using his DeSantis endorsement against him.
And Trump is not the only powerful Republican whom Good has crossed this year: Good was among the small band of hardliners who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker in October, plunging the House into weeks of chaos and dysfunction as Republicans fought bitterly among themselves to find a new speaker, ultimately settling on Johnson.
Despite making his share of enemies inside the GOP, Good said he is ready to hold Johnson’s feet to the fire and has no regrets about his decision to boot McCarthy and support DeSantis. The 58-year-old conservative said he has no fears about the GOP primary challenge he is now facing because of it.
“He’s the most outstanding governor that I’ve seen in my lifetime. And I think that he gives us the best chance to win the battleground states,” Good told CNN. “The polls don’t indicate that most Republicans are joining me with that. But we’ll see in Iowa. ... I will be enthusiastically behind either one of them as the nominee. But I stand behind my endorsement of Gov. DeSantis.”
Asked whether he’s concerned about Trump potentially coming after him in a primary, Good said: “I respect President Trump and I look forward to having a great working relationship with him in whatever capacity,” adding that he would back Trump if he became the nominee and called him “the best president of my lifetime.”
Not everyone is happy about Good being elevated to the top spot of the influential conservative group. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who is close to both McCarthy and Trump and was booted from the Freedom Caucus earlier this year, called it a “major mistake” and “controversial” move.
“A lot of the House Freedom Fund donors are upset about it. They’re not fans of him,” Greene told CNN. “It’s also very problematic for a future Trump administration. He’s a turncoat. Basically, a traitor. Had no loyalty to President Trump, who had endorsed him, supported him, when he ran for Congress in 2020.”
Greene also said she has met with John McGuire, the Republican candidate seeking to challenge Good, and said she might “possibly” get involved in the primary.
“I’ve heard great things about him,” Greene said of Good’s challenger. “I do know that he’s a big supporter of President Trump. Which I like.”
The majority of the Freedom Caucus was able to look past Good’s support for DeSantis and have no concerns about his ability to work with Trump, perhaps because several members themselves have endorsed other candidates. Republicans told CNN they believe his advocacy for fiscal conservatism, a no-holds-barred approach and clashes with leadership are in line with the group’s core mission and see him as a good fit to lead them in their next chapter.
“Bob is exceptionally smart. He loves conservatism. He will do what it takes to move the Freedom Caucus forward,” said Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, a Freedom Caucus member who has endorsed Nikki Haley.
Norman also dismissed concerns about Good’s decision-making on DeSantis or McCarthy. “We’re all free thinkers. We’re all independent contractors,” he said.
Yet many Republicans flatly blame the Freedom Caucus as a whole for paralyzing their party’s agenda and using brazen tactics to try to get their way.
“They’re mostly to blame,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a Florida Republican, said of the Freedom Caucus’ role in stalling the GOP agenda this year.
But as Good steps into his new role, he will have to quiet concerns – both in the Freedom Caucus and back in his district – about his DeSantis and McCarthy moves, while also leading the group through a series of high-profile fights related to federal spending and the potential impeachment of President Joe Biden, both top priorities for the group.
“I think there’s concerns at every layer,” one Freedom Caucus member told CNN, citing Good’s DeSantis endorsement as an example. “There is a concern: Can the organization continue to be effective? Does the brand shift, take on the character of Bob, or does Bob take on the character of the historical organization? That’s not 100% aligned in the view of a lot of people.”
Good said the faction will be ready to battle to force their way on federal spending ahead of a government shutdown fight early next year – and as senators try to strike a deal on immigration to free up aid to Ukraine and Israel, saying he’s pressing Johnson to not move off the hard-line immigration bill that passed the House earlier this year since “that’s our position.”
“We want to work with the speaker to accomplish the things that Republicans ran on, that Republicans stand for,” Good said, calling on the GOP to unite behind deeper spending cuts. “And we’re struggling with our own conference with a commitment to doing that.”
But Good’s selection as Freedom Caucus chief was not without drama: Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio told his colleagues in a letter that he would not seek reelection to the group’s board after it recommended Good to be its next chairman, saying he was concerned Good would “impair” their main objectives, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN and first reported by Axios.
Davidson declined to comment when asked by CNN about the letter.
Good, a former county supervisor who has championed staunchly conservative fiscal and social views, was first elected to Congress in 2020 after picking up a Trump endorsement and toppling fellow GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman, a Freedom Caucus member who came under fire for officiating a same-sex marriage.
Now, Good is staring down a primary threat of his own: McGuire, a Virginia state representative and former Navy Seal who has made Trump front and center in his campaign.
A source close to McGuire said he was not planning to run for the seat, but was encouraged by people in the state to launch a bid after Good helped boot McCarthy from the speakership in October.
In a statement to CNN, McGuire said “the calls to challenge Bob Good have become too great to ignore.”
“People from all over Virginia’s 5th District feel that Bob’s actions in joining with Pelosi, AOC, and other Democrats to take out a Republican speaker was completely self-serving and could not have come at a worse time for our elections here in Virginia this past November,” McGuire said. “Throw on top of it that Bob endorsed DeSantis against Trump the day Trump was indicted ... It all adds up to Bob is unfit to serve.”
Some of Good’s allies, however, believe it will be difficult for McGuire to paint Good as out of step with the conservative base. And they also argue Good will boost his fundraising capabilities with his new high-profile role.
“You’re not going to get to the right of Bob Good,” said retiring GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a Freedom Caucus member who also joined the effort to oust McCarthy and has not endorsed Trump.
Good has defended his push to boot McCarthy, arguing the speaker did not show a serious commitment to cutting federal spending. But Good also had a personal grudge toward McCarthy, complaining in private meetings that the California Republican didn’t call to congratulate him after he won his 2020 primary race.
So far, Good has shown less animosity toward Johnson, who is more conservative than his predecessor. But Good and the Freedom Caucus have been fuming over some of Johnson’s recent moves, including a decision to include an extension of a controversial government surveillance program in an annual defense bill.
Good says he is promising to keep the pressure on Johnson, calling the GOP leadership’s handling of the defense bill “an abysmal failure.”
“If Speaker Johnson does the things that Republicans across the country elected us to do, we will be his greatest advocates, his greatest partners, his greatest cheerleaders,” Good told CNN after the House voted on the defense bill. “If we do things like what we did today, then the Freedom Caucus will absolutely be a problem with an agenda that’s consistent with what we just did today.”
Some people in Trump world were surprised that the Freedom Caucus, traditionally very pro-Trump, selected Good as their leader, advisers and sources close to the former president tell CNN.
Trump and his close aides were annoyed with Good when he announced in May that he was endorsing DeSantis, Trump’s leading rival at the time. They viewed his backing of the Florida governor as “disloyal,” one of Trump’s advisers told CNN shortly after Good’s endorsement, arguing that the former president “helped get him elected” by endorsing Good’s congressional bid in 2020.
Now, with Good’s rise to prominence as the leader of the Freedom Caucus, some of Trump’s allies are questioning whether they’ll continue to view the ultra-conservative group as a collection of members they can rely on.
However, other members of Trump’s inner circle downplayed that the group’s selection of Good has any real impact, and asserted that few people in Trumpworld are paying attention to the Freedom Caucus’ activities.
“No one has mentioned Bob Good at all. It’s an insignificant thing and it’s not even on our radar,” a second Trump campaign adviser told CNN. “DeSantis isn’t going to be the nominee, so it’s a moot point for us,” they added.
Trump, both while president and now as a candidate, has traditionally relied more on his relationships with individual members of the Freedom Caucus than he has on the Freedom Caucus as a group, though he’s always viewed the caucus as a collection of “his people,” as one Trump ally characterized it.
In the intervew, Good had nothing but praise for Trump.
“As you’ve heard me say many times, I’m a big fan of President Trump,” Good told CNN. “I supported Trump enthusiastically in ’16 and ‘20. I think he’s the best president of my lifetime. If he’s our nominee I will enthusiastically support him again.” — CNN
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