We’re all for public officials being attentive to the “public” part of their title. It’s good for everyone when elected representatives explain what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. But on behalf of a whole lot of North Carolinians, we have a request regarding one of those officials:
Can someone please steer Madison Cawthorn away from the cameras? And the microphones? And really, most situations in which he publicly tries to turn words into meaningful thoughts?
The first-term, District 11 U.S. House member has been an embarrassment to the institution, to his party, and to his state. In the last month alone, he:
▪ Helped incite the U.S. Capitol invasion with a Jan. 6 speech that lied about election fraud and stoked anger, then less than 24 hours later said the president’s election falsehoods played a role in the riot while claiming his own, similar election lies weren’t a factor. Cawthorn wasn’t alone in that kind of whiplash-inducing pivot, but he was the only lawmaker calling for unity after Jan. 6 who also sold “Cry more, lib” T-shirts on his web site. (He later removed the listing.)
▪ Faced questions about claims that he was a legitimate candidate for the 2020 Paralympic Games. Cawthorn has suggested so more than once, including telling a Christian podcast host that “I had an opportunity for the Paralympics for track and field.” This is not accurate, as The Nation reported, and it’s an insult to the Paralympic athletes who invest their time and effort to compete at an elite level.
▪ Typed this actual sentence in a Jan. 19 email to Republican colleagues obtained by TIME: “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation.” That commitment to messaging, rather than understanding and participating in legislating, might have been something that interested his constituents before they voted to send him to Congress.
▪ Struggled through an excruciating interview with CNN’s Pamela Brown in which he finally acknowledged Joe Biden’s legitimate victory yet continued to allege that states subverted the U.S. Constitution in changing election rules. That’s not true, and when Brown noted that election rules also were changed in North Carolina, Cawthorn said he wasn’t aware of those changes. Either Cawthorn inexplicably doesn’t know what’s going on his home state, or he lied. (The latter is very possible given Cawthorn’s volatile relationship with the truth. During his campaign, he created the impression that he was headed to the U.S. Naval Academy before an accident left him partially paralyzed. The reality: Cawthorn was rejected by the Naval Academy before his accident.)
Cawthorn’s strategy for these kinds of mishaps? It’s apparently to keep doing interviews, which results in more head-shaking headlines and national ridicule. It’s why the North Carolina freshman is on the medal stand for worst new member of Congress. It’s also why at least one prominent supporter has expressed regret, and why Republicans are surely not looking forward to two years of cringing.
It’s difficult to feel sorry for GOP leaders, however, including those in North Carolina. Cawthorn is a Frankenstein of their making, a product of legislative gerrymandering his state’s Republicans engaged after their 2010 victory in the N.C. House and Senate. Those maps resulted in some of the most gerrymandered districts in history, and even after courts intervened for fairer maps, a Republican is still all but assured to win in NC-11.
As has happened in districts across the country, such gerrymandering squeezes out moderates who thoughtfully consider the center. That leads to awful candidates and elected officials, and as lawmakers embark on a new round of map drawing in 2021, they should keep Cawthorn in mind. It might be nice to get easy election wins, but it’s not good for your party or the people you’re supposed to serve.