Rep. Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.) speaks out louder against a deluge of negative news about her as he tries to cling to political life less than two weeks before a contentious primary vote with the best Republicans in his state working against him.
Cawthorn had largely avoided responding directly to the insider trading allegations, twice taking a loaded firearm to the airport, getting speeding tickets and more. But the recent release of videos by an anti-Cawthorn PAC showing the 26-year-old first-term lawmaker engaging in suggestive and vulgar behavior has prompted him to be more vocal.
A video posted Wednesday night in which Cawthorn could be seen naked was “blackmail”, he tweeted, calling it years old. “I was being rude to a friend, trying to be funny,” he said.
Before that, Cawthorn posted a video of seven minutes and 41 seconds directly address and sweep away a number of controversies.
“I’m sure many of you still have reasonable questions,” Cawthorn said in the video posted Wednesday. “I don’t want to waste my time fighting fake media and every story they put out, but I feel honor bound to dispel some of their lies.”
He lashed out at rival campaigns accusing him of wanting to cut Social Security and military spending by 33%, saying it distorted part of his New Deal with America plan to cut by a third government spending. And he denied having insider knowledge promoting a “Let’s Go Brandon” cryptocurrency, calling the claims reported in the Washington Examiner “shallow”.
A video showing him suggestively with a distant relative, who is also his congressional office planner, was “just a stupid locker room chat between two cousins who grew up like brothers,” Cawthorn said. Photos released by Politico showing him wearing lingerie, he said, were from a “goofy game on a cruise ship” and taken before he took office.
“Honestly, I was told I looked pretty good in these photos, and I think there should be bipartisan agreement on that,” he said.
Cawthorn admitted to making mistakes when he received a speeding ticket and when he brought a loaded gun to a TSA checkpoint — twice. Cawthorn said he forgot to disarm.
“It’s my problem, and I have to own it,” he said of the TSA incident.
But Cawthorn did not address a number of headline-grabbing statements and public rebukes from Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California), including calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of “thug”, claiming that he was invited to an orgy in Washington and to see those who campaign against addiction make “cocaine key bumps”.
“It’s unacceptable. There’s no evidence for that,” McCarthy said at the time. “It’s unbecoming of a congressman. He didn’t tell the truth.”
The constant drip of negative information fuels the campaigns against him.
“I think these latest videos and photos were, for a lot of people here, just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said main opponent Michele Woodhouse, a longtime Republican activist in the district of western North Carolina. “I mean, we’re talking about layers and layers of things. You know, nobody in Washington, DC, is going to work with him on legislation.
“Congressman Cawthorn takes no responsibility for his actions. And it’s a matter of character, and it’s a matter of maturity,” Woodhouse said.
Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) endorsed another GOP challenger, State Sen. Chuck Edwards, who hit out at Cawthorn in ads for his frequent use of social media. Edwards also has the support of State Senate Chairman Pro Tempore Phil Berger and State Senate Majority Whip Jim Perry.
Cawthorn has a very powerful Republican in his corner: former President Trump. Last year, Trump endorsed Cawthorn’s bid for re-election to the seat, which was previously held by his White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Cawthorn spoke at a Trump rally in North Carolina last month.
His office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The salacious videos also shed light on the professional standards of House members. Conservative commentator Meghan McCain pointed to a double standard for men, saying Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) would be politically dead if a nude video of her were circulating.
“But hey, boys will be boys, right? So Awesome Cawthorne [sic] was not born a woman! Long live the patriarchy,” McCain wrote on Twitter.
Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-California) is one of the most recent and high-profile examples of a member being forced to resign over salacious images. Hill, who was also a first-time lawmaker, resigned from office in 2019 amid allegations of inappropriate sex with members of her staff. The scandal was exacerbated by a messy divorce and the release of nude photos.
Woodhouse worries that having Cawthorn as the GOP nominee for North Carolina’s 11th District risks tipping him under Democratic control, despite his tilt toward Republicans by about 14 points. according to FiveThirtyEight.
“We’re going to lose the seat to a very liberal Democrat,” Woodhouse said. “It will affect every downhill race in this congressional district. We need to protect the seat with a strong first candidate for America, and Madison has put that seat in great jeopardy.
Democrats hoping to challenge Cawthorn in the general election include Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a Katie Dean, LGBTQ activist and county commissioner, and auto repair shop owner.
An April 25-26 poll commissioned by Republican GOPAC showed that Cawthorn had lost ground in its primary race, falling from 49% in March to 38%.
Cawthorn, however, only needs to win 30% of the vote in a May 17 primary to avoid a runoff, which will put him in a position to potentially retain his candidate status despite negative press.