Other voices: Republicans have finally had enough of Madison Cawthorn

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 12, 2022

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn seems to have finally struck a nerve with his party.

Since he first emerged on the political stage just a couple of years ago, the first-term congressman from western North Carolina has made a name for himself as a far-right extremist and overall embarrassment to the state.

And, for the most part, Republicans have said and done very little to distance themselves from him. Until now.

His most recent indiscretion — and the one that has most drawn the ire of his fellow Republicans — occurred during a podcast appearance where he spoke of “sexual perversion” among politicians in Washington, the kind you’d see on a political TV drama like “House of Cards,” Cawthorn said.

In the interview, Cawthorn alleged that some of his older colleagues have invited him to orgies at their homes. He also claimed that “some of the people who are leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country” have done “a key bump of cocaine” right in front of him.

Needless to say, Republicans were not happy.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Cawthorn to discuss the situation, as he has done in the past with other members who mire themselves in scandal, such as Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. McCarthy told reporters after the meeting that Cawthorn, who apparently admitted the allegations were exaggerated, has lost his trust and warned there could be consequences if he doesn’t “turn himself around.”

North Carolina politicians were similarly displeased.

“I thought it was a silly statement and it’s not the first one,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis told CNN.

Said U.S. Sen. Richard Burr: “On any given day, he’s an embarrassment.”

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger are listed as special guests for a fundraiser held by state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who is one of seven Republicans running against Cawthorn in the 11th Congressional District. Tillis told CNN he is also backing Edwards in the primary.

Just a few weeks ago, comments made by Cawthorn drew similar criticism from his colleagues after a video surfaced in which he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug.” At the time, it was one of the few instances in which Republicans had condemned any of Cawthorn’s transgressions. Now, it seems like it may have been approaching the last straw.

It is, of course, refreshing to see Republicans taking a stand at last against their party’s worst. But it’s hard to overlook all the times they didn’t.

There have been plenty of opportunities. A string of sexual harassment allegations surfaced shortly after his inauguration. There have been reports of him bringing weapons to school board meetings and airports. He may or may not have played an outsized role in the U.S. Capitol insurrection, and he’s threatened and incited violence on more than one occasion.

After all that, these salacious but rather immaterial allegations about cocaine and orgies are what finally pushed the GOP over the edge. Only now that his apparently active imagination has threatened the rest of his party do his colleagues seem willing to speak up. Moore, for example, has seemed more inclined to criticize him ever since Cawthorn decided, briefly, to run for re-election in the district that was widely believed to have been drawn specifically for the speaker.

Cawthorn, while ostentatious, is hardly an anomaly. Republicans have been equally reluctant to take on other extremists in their party, including Marjorie Taylor Greene. They cower when former president Donald Trump and others spread election falsehoods that chip away at democracy. But now that the fantastical stories involve them, they’re suddenly speaking up? It’s hypocritical. And it’s about time.

— Charlotte Observer/ Raleigh News and Observer