Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) has twice been stopped trying to bring a gun onto a plane. He claimed his colleagues take cocaine and hold orgies. He suggested House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is an alcoholic, even though she doesn’t drink. He might be caught up in an insider trading scheme, and a GOP senator from his own state has called for an investigation. He has called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.” Multiple women have accused him of sexual harassment.
And his constituents have decided they have had enough.
Cawthorn, 26, lost his bid for reelection Tuesday, falling to state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the GOP primary in the 11th Congressional District. Seven challengers had stepped up to challenge Cawthorn in this deeply red district. He called Edwards to concede Tuesday night.
“This is simply incredible. Against all odds, we fought hard to win this election and provide clear conservative leadership for the mountains,” Edwards said in a statement after his win.
With Tuesday’s results, many of his colleagues in Washington and North Carolina are likely breathing a sigh of relief. In recent weeks, Cawthorn faced an onslaught of unflattering opposition research and questions about his mental stability. Republican leaders in the state ― including Sen. Thom Tillis, who backed Edwards ― worked mightily to unseat him.
Cawthorn was once a rising star in the Republican Party, getting a speaking spot at the party’s 2020 convention as a political newcomer after his surprise win the GOP primary in his district.
In 2014, at the age of 18, he was in a car crash that left him partially paralyzed. He has said that he’d struggled mentally since the crash ― and even contemplated suicide.
“I think it slowed my brain down a little bit. Made me less intelligent,” Cawthorn said in a deposition. “And the pain also made reading and studying very difficult.”
A year later, he made his start in politics ― a part-time job as an assistant in one of then-Rep. Mark Meadows’ North Carolina district offices.
Cawthorn had his fair share of controversies from the get-go, but criticism from his GOP colleagues has stepped up in recent months. He lost the support of much of the Republican establishment in North Carolina, including Tillis, and the state’s House speaker and Senate leader ― all of whom backed Edwards in the primary.
Some of the frustration was far more local and personal. Last year, Cawthorn angered Tillis when he called the senator “a terrible campaigner” and “a complete RINO” (“Republican in name only”) at a Republican meeting in the state.
Tillis praised Edwards as the “embodiment of Mountain values who will fight for them every single day in Congress with honor and integrity” in a statement Tuesday night.
Cawthorn also briefly talked about switching districts, pushing aside and disparaging Tim Moore, the state House speaker and presumed front-runner.
And as a congressman, Cawthorn faced criticism for ignoring constituent services back home.
“Unfortunately, Madison Cawthorn has fallen well short of the most basic standards western North Carolina expects from their representatives,” Tillis said in late March.
“On any given day, he’s an embarrassment,” added Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who did not endorse anyone in the race.
Trump finally endorsed Cawthorn on Monday, the day before the election.
“When Madison was first elected to Congress, he did a great job,” Trump said in a post on the social media platform that he created that has failed to take off in a significant way. “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again…let’s give Madison a second chance!”
A group of Cawthorn’s constituents challenged his eligibility to be on the ballot, arguing that he shouldn’t be allowed to run because, they say, the congressman “advocated for political violence both before and after” Jan. 6, 2021, and that the actions of Cawthorn and others “led directly, intentionally, and foreseeably to the insurrectionists’ violent assault on the Capitol.”