Madison Cawthorn, the Freshman Congressman from North Carolina’s 11th District was once considered a rising star of the Republican Party. Outspoken about the loss of the mobility in his legs after a car accident, Cawthorn’s name was memorized early into his political career. The 24 year old conservative was quickly elevated to the national spotlight after his 2020 election win. His election made him one of the youngest representatives ever elected to the House. Some wondered if his youth would work against him as a legislator, while others were refreshed by a younger outlook in government.
A huge supporter and ally of former President Donald Trump, Cawthorn closely aligned himself with some of the far-right’s biggest names. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert were among Cawthorn’s nearest Congressional allies.
A Trump endorsed candidate with Republican backing in a deeply red North Carolina district, it seemed unlikely that Cawthorn would be in jeopardy to lose his seat come the 2022 midterms. But a string of controversial mistakes made by the young Congressman threatened his status as an easily re-electable incumbent. His highly publicized scandals slashed the support of the GOP, forcing the establishment Republicans and Trump Republicans to differ in opinion.
Months before his primary scheduled for May of 2022, Cawthorn angered members of both sides of the political spectrum at the start of the Russia/Ukraine conflict when he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug,” while attacking the country for being “incredibly corrupt and incredibly evil,” accusing them of “pushing woke ideologies.”
While still expected to win his primary handily, in March of 2022 Cawthorn accused his fellow lawmakers of using cocaine in front of him, and inviting him to orgies among members of Congress. Many Republicans condemned the rumor, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stating that Cawthorn had lost his trust. A month later, a video of Cawthorn gyrating naked on his male cousin surfaced on social media outlets. Cawthorn admitted that the video was in fact him, yet stating that his actions in the video were simply “being crass with a friend.”
Polls of public opinion in his district stated that they were embarrassed by Cawthorn’s recent actions, and would look to vote him out of office. While many polls in the weeks leading up to the election contained Cawthorn having a small lead over his primary opponent, state Senator Chuck Edwards, many members of Congress did not support his re-election bid. One notably being North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, who actively campaigned against the freshman Senator, expressing his desire for him to be voted out. Friends of Madison Cawthorn, President Donald Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) threw their support behind him in the days leading up to the primary, hoping that America First ideals would prevail over the Establishment GOP.
On May 17th, voters showed up to the polls and cast their votes for the party nominees. Late into the night on Tuesday, Madison Cawthorn conceded to Sen. Edwards after a majority of the vote was tallied and Cawthorn behind by an irreparable margin. As of May 18th, Cawthorn lost the primary by about 1,300 votes, or 1.5%. Without being wrought with scandal, it is likely that the freshman Congressman would have gained easy reentry to Capitol Hill in 2023. Madison Cawthorn will lose his seat at the start of the new year, having been eliminated from the running months away from the general election.
Cawthorn’s loss brings defeat to yet another endorsee of the former President, whose hold on the Republican Party seems not as strong as it once was. Cawthorn’s elimination from the House of Representatives is a damaging blow to the outspoken far-right, who had hoped to only expand their base in 2022. Cawthorn’s defeat could be a sign of what’s to come for Florida’s notorious Representative Matt Gaetz, whose race is likely to be competitive in the general election. The establishment GOP, like retiring Senator Tillis have won a battle by Chuck Edward’s likely entry into Congress, but still face a long, polarizing road ahead against Trump backed party members.
Time will tell whether the old school Republican Party, or the Trump-era Republican Party will prevail. But Cawthorn’s loss could be an early sign of waning support for America First politicians who seek to gain fans through the association of Donald Trump.