It was Karl Rove, oddly enough, who helped break the story. In his latest Wall Street Journal column, the GOP operative noted Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s comments last weekend at a town hall event, where the North Carolina Republican called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” leading an “incredibly evil” government.
Rove’s catch went largely overlooked, until yesterday, when WRAL, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, ran a report with a video recording of the congressman’s rhetoric.
“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug,” Cawthorn was seen saying. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
It wasn’t long before other Republicans took note of the North Carolinian’s rhetoric and eagerly expressed their disagreement with it. As Insider reported late yesterday:
Republican senators on Thursday rejected Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina’s characterization of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” who’s presiding over an “incredibly evil” and “incredibly corrupt” government.... Asked by Insider at a Senate press conference about Cawthorn’s remarks, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa rejected his characterization of Ukraine.
“To my colleague in the House, I would push back,” Ernst said, referring to Cawthorn.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said at the same press conference, “[W]hen you see a member of Congress say things like this, the one thing I want you to know, they are outliers in the largest sense possible on our side.” The South Carolina Republican added, “Let’s end with this thought: that America believes that Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians are the good guys, and Putin’s the bad guys. And we’d like to be helping the good guys more.”
At that point, the press conference ended.
By all appearances, Graham’s largely right about political attitudes: Cawthorn’s rhetoric was out of step with what most Republican officials — and even most Republican voters — seem to believe about the crisis in Ukraine.
But the controversial North Carolina congressman isn’t entirely alone on an island. Rep. Liz Cheney has complained about the GOP having a “Putin wing,” and her comments didn’t come out of nowhere.
As we discussed yesterday, it was Donald Trump who praised Putin’s efforts in Ukraine as “genius” and “very savvy.” Soon after, retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, a Pentagon official in the Trump administration, argued that the United States should “absolutely” just let Vladimir Putin take what he wants in Ukraine.
On Capitol Hill last week, a handful of GOP House members opposed a non-binding resolution in support of Ukraine, and soon after, 15 House Republicans — including Cawthorn — opposed a bill to ban oil imports from Russia.
Is the GOP’s “Putin wing” large? No. Does it exist? Yes.
As for the North Carolinian, Cawthorn eventually commented to WRAL, condemning Russia’s invasion and saying he’s praying for Ukrainians.
The report added that the congressman sought to justify calling Zelenskyy a “thug” by accusing the Ukrainian president of pushing “misinformation on America.” WRAL went on to note, “He posted a link to a conservative blog post with examples.”