From Virginia to Colorado, MAGA infighting during primaries puts the GOP into disarray

Far-right Republicans in Arizona threaten revolt against Donald Trump for being too "deep state"

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 25, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Bob Good (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Bob Good (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Because the MAGA movement made kookiness a competitive sport, it was inevitable that some Republican activists would turn on Donald Trump for not being unhinged enough. Trump has 34 felony convictions and three more pending criminal trials to go. He spends his time making joking threats about "the ovens" to Jewish people, fantasizing about setting "up a migrant league of fighters," and reminiscing about the "late, great Hannibal Lecter," a fictional cannibal. This behavior is still not bizarre enough for the We the People AZ Alliance, which appears largely funded by Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, a once fierce Trump ally deeply involved with the 2020 attempted coup. Now Byrne's group, which is linked to the conspiracy theorist-turned-Republican senatorial candidate Kari Lake, has started an Arizona Republican revolt against Trump. 

According to a weekend report from the Washington Post, a faction of Arizona delegates to the Republican National Convention has concocted "a secret plan to throw the party’s nomination of Donald Trump for president into chaos." These aren't moderates worried about nominating a convicted criminal as president. Byrne has been tweeting that Trump is "surrounded by DEEP STATE nobodies." While it's not entirely clear what the anti-Trump MAGA flank wants, part of what they seem to be suggesting is that Trump needs a QAnon-level maniac like former general Mike Flynn to be his running mate — or to replace him as the presidential nominee entirely. The situation is threatening enough to Trump's campaign that they are trying to replace these faithless delegates and are sending out irate memos alleging "a multi-state conspiracy." 

It is amusing and even hope-inducing, as this infighting could undermine Trump's chances in November. It's also part of a larger pattern that Trump has created within the GOP, of Republicans getting into increasingly baroque infighting, spurred on by a radicalizing membership, conspiracy theories, and the way MAGA operates as a beacon for quarrelsome people. No one should pity Republican leadership, which brought this problem on themselves by embracing Trump instead of the GOP-controlled Senate convicting him for his role in January 6. Now they're awash in a sea of cranks and loudmouths vying for public office, which may be fun for GOP primary voters but tends to backfire in a general election. 

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State by state, the battle over extremism is causing internal Republican strife. Every example would take a book to list, but some recent samples are instructive.

In Indiana, Sen. Mike Braun's race to be governor is under threat after the GOP delegates decided his choice for lieutenant governor, state representative Julie McGuire, isn't right-wing enough. Instead, they're going with Micah Beckwith, a self-described Christian nationalist who said in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol insurrection that God told him, "I sent those riots to Washington." 

As Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times reports, this is causing panic in Republican leadership who fear Beckwith's extremism means Democrats have a real chance to win the race in this otherwise reliably red state. 

Joe Fraser was the initial favorite to win the Minnesota Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The Navy veteran mixes plenty of MAGA nonsense, such as claiming Trump's 34 felony convictions aren't legitimate, into otherwise bland Republican talking points. Steve Bannon, the soon-to-be-imprisoned MAGA podcasting celebrity, decided that wasn't good enough, though. He's throwing his weight behind failed NBA player and current right-wing podcaster Royce White, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who regularly uses an unprintable slur towards gay men, as well as other sexist and ableist slurs. He also tried to pass off a map of Minneapolis drinking fountains as a map of the city's crime. With Bannon's backing, White secured Republican leadership's official endorsement.

Fraser likes to say Klobuchar is not "inevitable," but if White wins the nomination, she pretty much is. 

And after being caught on tape groping her date in the audience for "Beetlejuice: The Musical," it was widely believed that Rep. Lauren Boebert's career in Colorado politics was over. Even after she moved to the more conservative District 4, her reputation as one of the biggest MAGA trolls in Congress led most observers to believe she'd be defeated in the primary and go away forever. Instead, Republicans in the district couldn't mobilize behind a single non-Boebert candidate. Now there's a six-way race between nearly identical candidates largely spouting the same MAGA radicalism about everything from immigrants to impeaching President Joe Biden.

Boebert is expected to win the primary Tuesday. In the race to the bottom, she's hard to beat. But if she does, polling suggests this once rock-solid Republican district could go blue in November. 

In Virginia, the MAGA-on-MAGA attacks have become so strange it's hard to follow what's going on in the state's 5th congressional district. House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good is a far-right conspiracy theorist who backed Trump's attempted coup. But because he then backed Florida Gov. Ron Desantis instead of Trump in the presidential primary, Trump endorsed Good's primary opponent, state senator John McGuire. What should have been an easy win for Good is now a race that is too close to call days after the election. But Good has learned nothing about the dangers of throwing in with Trump and his conspiracy theories. Instead, he's floating a Big Lie of his own, tweeting conspiracy theories falsely alleging the primary was rigged against him. 

"[W]e have Republicans who would rather fight other Republicans than engage in the harder work of defeating incumbent Democrats by convincing swing voters to vote Republican," complained Don Tracy, the head of the Illinois GOP, in a resignation letter he sent last week. Illinois is deep-blue, but there are districts some Republicans feel they could win if they just stopped fighting each other. Instead, arguments over issues like convention delegate seats resulted in party leaders openly threatening to physically assault one another. Now the GOP is losing experienced leaders like Tracy. 

This is, needless to say, all good news for Democrats looking forward to the November election. There are still a lot of swing and independent voters who would be open to voting for a Republican, if they thought the candidate was a normal person and not a MAGA maniac. But these shenanigans are running off anyone who is or at least could pass for a "normie." Polling after 2022 showed that when a candidate backed Trump's Big Lie, they lost gettable votes. It changed the race only by a few percentage points but ended up being decisive in battleground states and districts, turning those areas blue. Yet the GOP won't get the message. Instead, bellicose MAGA activists are getting more cantankerous, driving out more of the few less-unhinged people, and setting up Republicans to lose races they might have otherwise won. 

It's a saving grace that authoritarians hate each other almost as much as they hate liberals. Their views are unpopular, so they need to stick together if they want to win. But MAGA attracts people who are constitutionally incapable of playing nice with others, even those in their own tribe. With democracy on the line, everything helps, and this intra-GOP acrimony is a welcome self-own. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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