Politics

Madison Cawthorn Keeps Getting Worse

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn onttage speaking to a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in July.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn in his happy place: the Conservative Political Action Conference, which this summer was themed “America UnCanceled.” Brandon Bell/Getty Images

There was a brief moment in North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s nascent legislative career when he seemed as though he might begin behaving, against all expectations, like an adult member of Congress.

Cawthorn, along with many of his House Republican colleagues, had stoked the “stolen election” narrative before its crescendo at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The then–25-year-old had urged Trump supporters in December to “lightly threaten” their members of Congress “and say, you know what, if you don’t start supporting election integrity, I’m coming after you, Madison Cawthorn is coming after you, everybody’s coming after you.” He also spoke at the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, revving up the crowd against the Democrats and Republicans who were“hiding” and “trying to silence your voice.” But then, like other Republican members literally hiding in the Capitol a few hours later, Cawthorn fired off a tweet to his supporters telling them to stand down.

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Despite twice voting to object to state Electoral College counts once the Capitol had been cleared, Cawthorn did seem to recognize that he and his party had gone too far, and said on Jan. 24 that “the election was not fraudulent” and that Joe Biden “is our president.” He signed an Inauguration Day letter, along with 16 other House Republican freshmen, pledging to work with Biden. He even went further than many of his colleagues in applying to Trump some of the blame for the “sickening and infuriating” Jan. 6 incident, which “slid back our movement years and years.”

“Once you start floating this idea of election fraud and people outright stealing an election and cheating, that has only one outcome,” he said in an interview with a local news station. “The party as a whole should have been much more wise about their choice of words.”

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Lesson learned. And, seven months later, either completely forgotten or completely recalibrated due to the mood of the moment. (It’s the latter.)

“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place—and it’s bloodshed,” Cawthorn said in remarks to the Macon County Republican Party in North Carolina Sunday night, according to a Facebook video that has since been taken down. He added that “there is nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American. And the way that we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states.”

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In a statement to the Washington Post, Cawthorn’s spokesman said that “in his comments, Congressman Cawthorn is CLEARLY advocating for violence not to occur over election integrity questions.

“He fears others would erroneously choose that route and strongly states that election integrity issues should be resolved peacefully and never through violence,” the spokesman said.

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Yeah, what’s the big deal? There’ll be no violence at all if you just give Republicans the voting restrictions they want, which are premised on the false narrative that the previous election was “rigged” and “stolen.”

Cawthorn has, in his own words, “built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” as he wrote in an early letter to his colleagues. It’s hard to get a bill passed as a freshman in the minority, so he figures he’s better off focused on drawing attention to Joe Biden’s nonexistent ban on eating hamburgers on Independence Day and accumulating viral clout. Whether he’s crashing a school board meeting to describe mask mandates as “psychological child abuse” or trying to board a plane with a gun—risky stunt, there!—Cawthorn’s early congressional career has not been a ringing endorsement for imbuing those in their mid-20s with state power.

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If a freshman wants to confine himself to a career of theatrics—a political career that, in these times, largely serves as a three-term tryout for a remunerative cable news career—that’s his right. But it seems that Cawthorn does not confine his act to the spotlight.

For instance: This summer, Cawthorn was trying to remove his co-sponsorship from a bill sponsored by West Virginia Rep. Dave McKinley. Rather than work it out through back channels, Cawthorn personally visited McKinley’s office and berated his staff, asking if their boss was “that guy with the mustache that nobody fucking knows.” (Pretty much, yeah.) A McKinley staffer filed an ethics complaint against Cawthorn. And after a spat on the House floor between the two principals themselves—in which McKinley repeatedly called Cawthorn “junior”—Cawthorn wrote apology notes to both McKinley and the staffer with a penmanship that matched his elementary school behavior.

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Letters are his thing now. Last week, in one of the most embarrassingly drafted letters ever put to the congressional letterhead, Cawthorn wrote to “Kamela Harris” and CC’d members of the Cabinet. (In some circumstances, that misspelling might be viewed as an intentional snub much as mispronunciation of the vice president’s first name was during the campaign. But do read the letter. It never got a professional proofread, despite his comms-focused staffing.) Somewhere between the overwrought throat clearing and the unformatted passage from Treasure Island, Cawthorn called on Harris to invoke the 25th Amendment and replace the “declining mind” atop the executive branch.

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This, too, was a topic at the Sunday meeting of the Macon County Republican Party. Cawthorn revealed his supersecret sneaky plan. He does not, in fact, want Harris to be president for an extended period of time. Instead, he said, “I will remove Joe Biden from office, and then, when Kamala Harris inevitably screws up, we will take them down, one at a time.”

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As for those insurrectionists whom he once viewed as “sickening” and “infuriating,” they are now, per his Sunday remarks, “political prisoners” and “hostages,” and it’s worth exploring how to “bust [them] out” from their confinement. When an attendee asked him, “When are you going to call us to Washington again?” Cawthorn suggested they hold tight.

“We are actively working on that one,” Cawthorn said. “We have a few plans in motion I can’t make public right now, but this is something that we’re working on.”

In addition, “Anybody who tells you that Joe Biden was dutifully elected is lying,” Cawthorn said, finally at least conceding that he’s a liar.

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