In a Virginia primary between hardline candidates, the bottom line for Republican Jews is support for Israel

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WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition is taking sides in a Virginia congressional primary race between two candidates with links to the party’s hardline right — citing their differences over Israel.

The RJC’s preferred candidate in Virginia’s fifth district, State Sen. John McGuire, is challenging incumbent Rep. Bob Good, who rallied a group of colleagues this year to vote against aid to Israel. The district encompasses a chunk of central Virginia, including Charlottesville. The primary is on Tuesday. 

The endorsement is a departure of sorts for the RJC, which has become a standard-bearer for a type of Republican increasingly at peril: the robust foreign policy moderate. In several other primary races this year and in past elections, the group has endorsed moderate candidates against those with ties to the far right whom it describes as “extremists,” such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

In the Good-McGuire race, neither candidate is a moderate. Good leads the hardline Republican Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives and voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. McGuire, a former Navy SEAL, participated in the rally that led to the riot and likewise denies Biden’s victory, though he says he never entered the Capitol that day.

What is driving the RJC’s backing of McGuire is another one of its priorities in intra-party fights this year: support for Israel. RJC Director Matt Brooks said in February that the group was taking aim at neo-isolationist trends in the party and has spent in races against other Freedom Caucus members.

Discussing the McGuire endorsement, Brooks said that he doesn’t “look at it through the prism” of what took place on Jan. 6. He said McGuire’s record in the Virginia legislature marked him as a team player who would not disrupt Republican legislative efforts.

“McGuire’s going to be a powerful voice, a consistent voice for support for Israel,” Brooks said in an interview. “I’m looking at ‘who’s going to be value added.’ You know, elections are binary choices. He’s going to be a significant improvement over where we are with Bob Good.”

Brooks would not say how much the RJC is contributing to McGuire’s campaign; often, an RJC endorsement functions as a spur to individual contributors to donate. The most recent disclosures show McGuire competitive in the money race with Good, raising $1.2 million to Good’s $1.1 million.

The race is getting national attention, largely because Good has made enemies of prominent Republicans. Former President Donald Trump endorsed McGuire because Good supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the presidential primaries — which Trump won. McGuire also has the backing of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy; Good played a central role in McCarthy’s ouster last year.

State Senator John McGuire (center) campaigns for Congress in central Virginia, June 16, 2024. (Courtesy McGuire for Virginia)

Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a newsletter published by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the Good-McGuire race was typical of a new type of internal GOP tension — one that has less to do with ideological tensions between moderates and purists, and more to do with who is more loyal to Donald Trump.

“It’s just a different kind of dynamic,” Kondik said in an interview. “Republicans are often trying to pledge their loyalty to Donald Trump and in this instance, the challenger is closer to him than Bob Good is, even though Good by any metric is very conservative.”

The RJC is worried about a different evolution in the party: the growth of opposition to Israel aid. For years, there was a single GOP “nay” vote in the House on Israel-related bills: Thomas Massie of Kentucky. This year, in separate votes, Good rallied 14 and then 21 Republicans to vote against bills providing aid to Israel. 

A version of the package, which also provided aid to Ukraine and Taiwan, passed the House in April. But Republican “no” votes growing from one to 21 in less than a year — and, moreover, after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel — set off alarm bells for Jewish Republicans.

“For the pro-Israel community, this is not the first time concerns have been raised about Rep. Bob Good’s undermining of U.S. support for Israel: Good also voted against passage of an Israel aid bill in February, and he opposed a defense authorization bill that included important funding for joint U.S.-Israel defense programs, including Iron Dome,” said the April RJC announcement that it was endorsing McGuire — which focused almost entirely on criticizing Good.

For his part, Good has told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in the past that he favors funding for Israel’s defense, but wants it to come with offsets to other programs in order to ensure fiscal responsibility. That would mark a change: Foreign assistance funding has never come with offsets.

“We’re heading for a fiscal reckoning in this country, and so we’ve got to begin to address that and some of us on the Republican side are willing to try to do so,” Good told JTA in February after voting against an Israel aid bill. 

Brooks said he was aware of the risks of taking on a high-profile group like the Freedom Caucus. 

“For somebody to stand up on the floor of the United States Congress and vote no on critical aid to Israel at a consequential moment in history, it goes against our values and goes against who we are, and if we alienate other members of the Freedom Caucus, so be it — perhaps that’ll encourage them to be more aware and to do better on these votes going forward,” he said.

This is not the first time the RJC has opposed Good. In 2020, when Good was running against incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, the RJC endorsed the incumbent. Good, who won that race, targeted Riggleman because Riggleman had presided over a same-sex wedding.

Riggleman later pushed back against the election denialism championed by McGuire and Good. He went on to advise Jewish groups on the extremism that had fueled the riot, as well as the House committee investigating Jan. 6.

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