It’s been said by others, many times this week: The defeat of North Carolina freshman Representative Madison Cawthorn proves that Republican Party leaders can indeed purge extremists in their ranks. But they don’t purge them because they spew white supremacy, or support armed insurrection, or espouse violence—Cawthorn did all of that, as have wing nut House colleagues like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Brent Laudermilk… the list is long. His real sin was claiming, or revealing, that Republican colleagues invited him to orgies and that he saw them doing cocaine.
After that, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy summoned him for a scolding, and North Carolina’s senior GOP senator, Thom Tillis (who had been personally insulted by Cawthorn), put his muscle behind the challenger who defeated him, state Senator Chuck Edwards. Oh, and somebody leaked embarrassing photos of Cawthorn in women’s lingerie, as well as what looked like sex play with his staffer/roommate/cousin. That’s disqualifying, of course, in the modern GOP. But his original sin was talking about drugs and orgies, which many believe led to the embarrassing leaks—not his right-wing extremism and enthusiasm for guns.
Cawthorn loves his guns. He’s been cited twice in the last few months for trying to bring his gun aboard a plane. He hailed the acquittal of Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse by urging supporters to “be armed, be dangerous.” He warned, after Trump’s defeat, that if American elections “continue to be rigged” and “stolen,” it would lead to “bloodshed”—and he would help shed the blood. He did say, “There’s nothing I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American,” but also, “I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs.”
In the video of his remarks, it doesn’t really seem like he would dread it.
Cawthorn is clearly a disturbed young man. He lied about details of the car crash that left him paralyzed at 20—he said the car’s driver left him to die, although his then-friend actually pulled him from the wreckage. He falsely claimed he was admitted to the Naval Academy. He’s been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. He has clearly been miserable since the crash; we know little about who he was before. I hope he gets the help he needs, but he’ll probably get a Fox contract. And the “bloodshed” Cawthorn so casually endorsed, along with the racism, is endemic; we saw it in Buffalo last Saturday. In that way, Team Cawthorn is still winning.
Cawthorn himself is still unraveling: On Thursday he posted a crazy rant to Instagram, railing against the “Uni-party” and “globalist” establishment, promising an end to “gentile” politics (gentle? genteel? anti-Semitic Freudian slip?) and declaring, “It’s time for dark MAGA to truly take command.” He promised to defeat his “weak and cowardly” GOP enemies. “Their days are numbered. We are coming,” he closed, before adding a list of his allies, including Trump, Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Senator Rand Paul, and more. (If Cawthorn wants to provide evidence about GOP cocaine and sex parties, by the way, my friend Joy Reid on MSNBC has issued him an open invitation to come on her show.)
Cawthorn’s defeat Tuesday isn’t a victory for democracy; it’s just another GOP tragedy. Featured at the 2020 Republican National Convention, he was abandoned by the party that created him—but again, for his bizarre claims (or perhaps truth-telling) about GOP orgies and drug abuse, not his right-wing, violence-promoting extremism. Sure, Donald Trump endorsed him, and any day Trump loses is a good day.
But Edwards, the Republican who defeated Cawthorn, is himself a Trump-supporting right-wing extremist who says he’ll work hard to send the twice-impeached former president back to the White House. That’s no loss for Trump. And a lot of extremists Trump endorsed won Tuesday’s primaries, including North Carolina Representative Ted Budd, now the party’s Senate nominee, and wing nut January 6 riot attendee Doug Mastriano, who got the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor. (Trump endorsee and New Jersey resident Dr. Mehmet Oz is leading in Pennsylvania’s Senate nomination by a few thousand votes as of Thursday afternoon.)
So ignore the Beltway journalists keeping score of Trump’s wins and losses this primary season, in which Cawthorn’s defeat goes in TFG’s loss column. Trump wins even when he loses. It’s his party now. Cawthorn’s loss shows GOP leaders can isolate and even purge an outlier in their midst, but they only do it in their own self-interest, not the country’s.