Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) has lost his primary for North Carolina’s deep-red 11th Congressional district in a shocking upset, following a scorched-earth campaign by his Republican colleagues to get him the hell out.
The freshman Congressman’s troubles first emerged shortly after he made some wild (yet ultimately very plausible) claims on a conservative podcast in March, recounting how Republican colleagues had snorted “key bumps of coke” in front of him and invited him to orgies in their homes. When his storytelling caught fire in the media, Republicans were quick to fire back. Several House Republicans demanded that Cawthorn “name names.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely architect of some of the worst anti-Cawthorn headlines lately, called Cawthorn a liar who “needs to turn his life around.” One of Cawthorn’s own Senators called him an “embarrassment,” and the other endorsed his primary opponent.
Of course, the immediate, very public backlash from top Republicans was just the beginning. What followed was the utter desecration of Cawthorn’s once good (lol) name. Suddenly, even conservative outlets were reporting on the 26-year-old’s various shady dealings—his numerous traffic violations for reckless driving, a police officer confiscating his driver’s license, his second time being cited at the airport for bringing a loaded gun through security, very credible allegations of insider trading, and an ethics investigation against Cawthorn for questionable payments to a staffer.
And, in perhaps the most lethal attacks on the Congressman given the deeply homophobic, transphobic base he’s spent his career courting, last month, Cawthorn found himself the subject of a number of lewd, leaked photos and videos: First, he was exposed partying in women’s lingerie; next, it was videos of Cawthorn’s staffer and friend appearing to grope him in a car, and then another video of a nude Cawthorn thrusting his genitals in a man’s face.
The massive oppo dump on Cawthorn swiftly transformed his primary into a competitive race: One poll commissioned by the GOPAC Election Fund found Cawthorn had dropped from 49% support among respondents in March, to 38% in early April—before the bulk of the more lewd hits on Cawthorn had even dropped.
It seems pretty clear Republican Congressional leadership sought to make an example out of Cawthorn for the cocaine-orgy remarks, despite how he still won former President Trump’s endorsement. It’s certainly telling that it was Cawthorn’s tattling on his caucus that incurred the Republican Party’s wrath, rather than, say, the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him, or unabashed support for the Jan. 6 insurrection. In any case, however much effort McCarthy may have privately devoted to trying to oust Cawthorn, the North Carolina Congressman is hardly a #Resistance martyr—just last week, when the US hit 1 million covid deaths, Cawthorn was introducing legislation to require the CDC to count abortions in the national death rate.
Cawthorn’s defeat ultimately feels like a warning shot to fellow House Republicans: Run your mouth about the coke and orgies at your own peril, people.