by Ryan Girdusky
Wednesday, 18
May 2022
Analysis
08:00

Madison Cawthorn’s defeat is not the end of ‘America First’

The controversial young congressman was ousted last night
by Ryan Girdusky
Credit: Getty

Congressman Madison Cawthorn, stunningly defeated last night in a party primary contest for his rural North Carolina district, was America’s Icarus. In 2020, he defied all odds and became the youngest congressman elected that year, even beating the Trump-backed candidate and Mark Meadows’ chosen successor. He had movie star good looks, a disability that brought compassion even from his critics, and for many seemed like the Republican answer to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. How did it come to this?

Within weeks of being sworn into office, Cawthorn had become a political lightning rod. From his presence at the January 6th rally before the Capitol Riot to comments that Ukrainian President Zelensky was “a thug,” he seemed to find himself under intense media scrutiny.

As a member of Congress, he voted with the more nationalist and populist wing of the GOP. During his short tenure in office he voted against sending $40 billion in aid to Ukraine and co-sponsored legislation against illegal immigration but failed to champion any particular issue. He became more known for his personal scandals than being a warrior for the “America First” cause.

Reports emerged that both his account of the car accident that left him paralysed and his recruitment to the naval academy were extremely embellished. An eight-month long marriage, nude videos, claims of being overly flirtatious with young women, and accusations he had been invited to a drug-fuelled orgy with 60- and 70-year old Congressmen followed him over the next two years. It seemed that Cawthorn, like many other members of his generation, aspired to be a social media influencer more than a statesman; he was better-known for attending youth conferences than working on legislation.

Cawthorn’s political career didn’t end because of a single fatal blow, but a thousand paper cuts. His endless personal scandals may have been damaging to him; but it was the mismanagement of his district office, lack of legislative action, accusations of insider trading, attempts to run in a neighbouring district, and his feud with North Carolina’s Republican Senator Thom Tillis that ultimately cost him his House seat.

Amassing a gigantic social media following and having pictures taken of you at Mar-a-Lago is not enough to avoid the fury of the voter for all these missteps. Like Steve King before him, it all became too much for voters to tolerate and as one voter in his district told me, “he makes me feel embarrassed for my hometown.”

The defeat of Madison Cawthorn does not mean that the election night was a complete loss for the nationalist and populist wing of the GOP. Candidates who are sceptics of endless wars and mass immigration claimed victories in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. They are not alone: J.D. Vance and J.R. Majewski also won their respective primaries in Ohio weeks before and more candidates in that vein are expected to claim victories as the year continues.

The future of the “America First” movement will be decided if the candidates that run under their banner are more concerned with the issues ahead of being an internet celebrity and cable news pundit. To paraphrase the poet Jack Gilbert, maybe Cawthorn’s electoral loss wasn’t the end of his political career, but just him coming to the end of his triumph. He was an internet celebrity and maybe that was enough for him.

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Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 month ago

Excellent observation, that Cawthorn turned out to be more interested in being a social media celeb than a conservative force in congress. I remember being impressed by him and his story – injured just prior to matriculation at the Naval Academy, beautiful wife, decent speaker.

But then I became more and more, er, concerned and dismayed at how he allowed himself to be filmed in lingerie, told the lie that he’d been invited to cocaine parties with old Senators, getting divorced and chasing woman and hitting on them in unwelcome fashion.

He was revealed to his constituents and the world as a wanna be frat boy-prankster without a serious bone in his body. Was he always that way? Or was the limelight and glitter of DC too much for his Jejune brain? Either way, people like him (and AOC) have no place in congress.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

Funny, if he were a Democrat, he would have been hailed for his behavior and actions.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

Funny, if his name had a D after it, he would be hailed.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 month ago

The troubling thing about yesterday’s primary elections if that, more broadly, the progressive wing of the Democrats did pretty well. This year many pundits have predicted a significant Republican victory in the November midterms but I’m starting to become a little nervous.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 month ago
Reply to  J Bryant

True dat! Mastriano in PA or DR. Oz for senate in PA might make republican chances less than optimal. Also, Kemp should defeat Purdue in Georgia, who already beat Stacy Abrams like a drum once. The vast majority of Trump’s endorsements seem solid (especially the guy in Nevada) but those three (Mastriano, Oz, Perdue) did not help the cause.