It was just a few weeks ago when Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn generated national headlines by publicly condemning Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” who’s leading an “incredibly evil” government. Even many in the GOP were not pleased with the North Carolinian.
It probably would’ve been in the controversial congressman’s best interests to lower the volume a bit, at least for a while. Instead, he chose a more provocative path.
Cawthorn appeared on a podcast last week and was asked whether the TV show “House of Cards” is realistic. The 26-year-old lawmaker said he couldn’t help but marvel at the “sexual perversion” of his older colleagues.
“I look at all these people, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to through my life, I’ve always paid attention to politics,” Cawthorn said. “Then all of the sudden you get invited to, ‘Well hey, we’re going to have kind of a sexual get together at one of our homes, you should come.’ I’m like, ‘What did you just ask me to come to do?’ And then you realize they are asking you to come to an orgy.”
He added that some members of Congress have done “key bumps” of cocaine in his presence.
In case this isn’t obvious, there’s simply no reason to accept the GOP congressman’s claims at face value. Cawthorn has earned a reputation as a fabulist whose stories are literally unbelievable, and his claims about orgies and cocaine seem ridiculous. In fact, most political observers, including me, heard about his comments and ignored them.
But some of Cawthorn’s colleagues did not. Politico reported:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is planning to sit down with Rep. Madison Cawthorn and talk to the North Carolina Republican about his latest incendiary public comment.... During a closed-door House GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, multiple Republicans in the room said lawmakers stood up to air their anger and frustration over Cawthorn portraying his own colleagues as bacchanalian and sexual deviants.
The same report added that Rep. Steve Womack stood up during the Republican conference meeting, acknowledged that he rarely speaks at these gatherings, but said he’d faced questions about orgies and drug use in the wake of Cawthorn’s claims. The Arkansan “remarked that many lawmakers go to bed at 9 p.m. and still use fax machines and flip phones, stating that it was inappropriate to paint them with a broad brush, as Cawthorn did.”
Other GOP members have pressed Cawthorn to bolster his claims, if they’re true, with specific names. In other words, if elected lawmakers have invited him to orgies and done cocaine around him, Cawthorn should either expose the miscreants or shut up.
Of particular interest, though, is McCarthy’s willingness to have a chat with the North Carolinian, at which point the minority leader will probably ask Cawthorn not to say such things. One assumes the freshman will be quite contrite during the private chat.
But have you noticed how common these talks have become? McCarthy felt compelled to have closed-door chats with members who attended a white nationalist event. And closed-door chats with members who parroted Kremlin propaganda. And a closed-door chat with a member who released a video depicting him murdering a Democratic colleague. And a closed-door chat with a member whose rhetoric aligned with the deranged QAnon delusion.
The broader takeaway is tough to miss: The House Republican leader has to spend quite a bit of time talking to the extremists in the GOP conference, and it doesn’t appear to be making much of a difference.
So long as the party continues to support these members and back their re-election campaigns, there’s every reason to believe the party’s embarrassing problems will continue.