Overview:

In an interview with a YouTube podcast by the Warrior Poet Society, Cawthorn claimed Washington was more about hardcore drugs and orgies than passing legislation and standing up for constituents.

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Madison Cawthorn, a far-right Republican congressman from North Carolina, is in serious trouble with his own party after claims made on a YouTube podcast.

Even as President Trump has embraced fiery politicians like Cawthorn, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, this fringe of the GOP has faced lukewarm support from party leadership. Now Cawthorn may have gone from tepid acceptance from Republican Party leadership to razor-thin ice. 

In an interview last week with a YouTube podcast by the Warrior Poet Society, Cawthorn claimed Washington was more about hardcore drugs and orgies than passing legislation and standing up for constituents. “The only thing that’s not accurate in that show [House of Cards] is that you could never get a piece of legislation about education passed that quickly,” he said. “The sexual perversion that goes on in Washington. I mean, being kind of a young guy in Washington, where the average age is probably 60 or 70 — [you] look at all these people, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to through my life, I’ve always paid attention to politics. Then all of a sudden you get invited: ‘We’re going to have a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come.’ ‘What did you just ask me to come to?’ And then you realize they’re asking you to come to an orgy. And then you watch them do a bump of cocaine right in front of you. And it’s like, this is wild.”

The response from Republican Party leadership was immediate. “I’m very disappointed. I told him he’s lost my trust,” said Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader. “He’s lost my trust. He’s going to have to earn it back.” Richard Burr, a Senator from Cawthorn’s home state, called him “an embarrassment at times.” Even Republicans in the far-right House Freedom Caucus said they were troubled and would be speaking with Cawthorn about his remarks.

After a 30-minute meeting with Cawthorn, McCarthy reported that the 26-year-old congressman admitted to having “exaggerated” the claims.

Either Cawthorn is outright lying, which says something about firebrand conservative politicians like him, or he is not, and the Republican Party is closing ranks to silence him.

Cawthorn’s interview may have sparked off a firestorm within the Republican Party, but it has also started a broader conversation about Republican politics. Either Cawthorn is outright lying, which says something about firebrand conservative politicians like him, or he is not, and the Republican Party is closing ranks to silence him. If the latter is true, then it flies in the face of a Republican Party that (until the age of Trump) had made morality, personal responsibility, and family values its calling card. 

All of this takes place in a context that could easily see Cawthorn losing his seat: He is just weeks away from an eight-way primary.

No matter how the Cawthorn “orgy” saga plays out, the Republican Party loses face. These are the kind of unforced errors that the party wants to avoid before the midterm elections. But it is also deeply revealing about a party that has long claimed to set the moral standard in the US.

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.