Voices: Republicans are hellbent on kicking Madison Cawthorn out for good

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was grappling with whether to fire J. Edgar Hoover as the head of the FBI, he said: “Well, it’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.” In the case of the beleaguered freshman Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn, Republicans are putting the squeeze on him for being inside the tent and still pissing inside it.

On Thursday evening, the Daily Mail published screenshots of a video of Representative Madison Cawthorn with his staffer Stephen Smith putting his hand on the congressman’s crotch. Cawthorn’s communications director initially said he could not give any response until he saw the video, but offered up an even more damning detail: Cawthorn and Smith are apparently cousins, which could mean that the congressman had violated a federal statute that says public officials cannot employ their own relatives.

As observers might remember, Cawthorn’s latest troubles began in earnest last month when he said that some people he had “looked up to” in Washington DC had invited him to an orgy, and that some would even take “a key bump of cocaine right in front of you”. That, of course, got Kevin McCarthy angry at him — which shows that the House Minority Leader is capable of publicly admonishing a member of his conference publicly when he wants to, despite his using kid gloves for the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar.

That’s what makes the rate at which dirt about Cawthorn is emerging so shocking. You may remember that last week, a photo showed him partying in lingerie. The opposition research about him now falling off the back of the GOP truck is prodigious. But the real question is why Cawthorn is the target, particularly given there are equally controversial members in the caucus, including some who, like him, helped incite a literal insurrection.

While it may be funny to imagine that the cocaine orgies are real, evoking the image of Steve Scalise doing rails of Colombia’s finest naughty salt with Lauren Boebert (who dodged the Capitol’s metal detectors when your reporter tried to ask her about McCarthy this week), the truth is more complicated.

First, many Republicans never really liked Cawthorn in the first place (as I wrote in a feature earlier this month). He also only won his seat in the first place because, when Mark Meadows resigned to become Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff, he got Trump to endorse Lynda Bennett, a friend of his family.

“The original sin in all of this is the son of a b***h Mark Meadows,” one Republican source told your reporter, blaming Meadows for “the way he cock-blocked those other legislators from running”.

“There are a lot of good Republican legislators out there that have done a lot of good,” this person said. It was dissatisfaction at that too-cosy endorsement that allowed Cawthorn to win over support.

Then there’s the fact that Cawthorn picked a fight with the North Carolina Republican establishment. After the state finished its redistricting maps for the 2022 election, Cawthorn announced that he would run in a newly-drawn district that included the Charlotte area – even as Tim Moore, the speaker in North Carolina’s state house, was eyeing the same new district. Eventually, the state’s Supreme Court threw out the map, and Cawthorn has reverted to his old district — but the state establishment appears to have decided he must be punished regardless. This is why Moore and his predecessor, now-Senator Thom Tillis have backed Chuck Edwards and trained their fire on their freshman colleague.

Still, at the end of the day, Cawthorn has done most of this to himself. Just this week, he was reportedly cited for trying to bring a gun onto a plane — this is the second time he’s been caught trying to do so. He was also recently cited for driving on a revoked license and given two speeding tickets. All these actions mean Republicans just need to keep shoveling till they finally pile up enough extra dirt.

None of this means Cawthorn is definitively toast. Firstly, he spoke at one of Trump’s rallies earlier this month, indicating he all but certainly has the former president’s imprimatur. Second, because the North Carolina legislature lowered the threshold to avoid a runoff from 40 to 30 percent, he needs fewer voters than ever to survive the split primary in his district.

But if Cawthorn does lose, it will be because enough Republicans didn’t like how he pissed all over them – and they intend to make sure it ends with him soiling himself.

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