Madison Cawthorn’s fifteen minutes of political fame may be about to expire on May 17. That’s the date when primary voters in his North Carolina congressional district head to the polls, and Cawthorn is watching what was once an insurmountable lead shrink, thanks to his endless round of scandals.
What may be the nail in Cawthorn’s electoral coffin is a classic homophobic smear, along with a side of transphobia. A group opposed to Cawthorn leaked a series of photos, videos and audio that suggest, in the oh-so-suggestive language of rhetorical assassination, an inappropriate relationship with a male staffer.
Not that American Muckrakers PAC, the group that leaked the info, even said that much. All they did was file a letter with the Office of Congressional Ethics, citing 10 potential ethical violations that it wanted to see investigated. The letter was a dry recitation of various House Rules that Cawthorn and the staffer, Stephen Smith, violated.
However, it was not hard for the media to package everything up in the most salacious way possible. Indeed, it was hardly a coincidence that the news broke in a British tabloid, of all places. The Daily Mail, hardly known for its restraint, had a field day with all the innuendo it could milk from the info.
Cawthorn and Smith provided plenty of ammo. From the photo of Smith with his hand on Cawthorn’s crotch to the Venmo payments for “nudes” and “the quickie at the airport,” the paper didn’t have to break a sweat to nudge readers to the conclusion that Cawthorn and Smith were, ahem, more than just pals.
Of course, that’s probably exactly what Cawthorn’s enemies were hoping for. Whether it’s true or not is another issue. Cawthorn has well-established his character; he’s a douche who probably thinks that making homophobic jokes is the height of hilarity. He probably busted a gut when he affected a cheesy accent to tell Smith, “I feel the passion and desire and would like to see a naked body beneath my hands.”
Unfortunately for Cawthorn, without any context, the comments don’t come across as jokes but simple statements of fact. The same can be said of the photo that emerged of Cawthorn in women’s lingerie. There’s no reason to think that the photo is anything other than what Cawthorn said it was – an offensive game of straight people making fun of trans people.
Yet consider all the other scandals that Cawthorn has weathered. He lied about getting into the Naval Academy. Three former classmates went on the record to accuse him of sexual harassment and 150 former classmates signed a letter accusing him of being a sexual predator. He twice was stopped at the airport for trying to carry firearms through security.
Yet, none of that is what is likely to end Cawthorn’s career. It’s the “inappropriate” relationship that’s going to raise questions with voters who would gladly overlook all his other problems.
Lies and sexual harassment? If they can forgive Donald Trump, they can forgive Cawthorn. Another man’s hand on his crotch? That’s just too much to overlook.
The irony is that when it comes to transphobia and homophobia, Cawthorn takes second place to none. This is the bro who once said LGBTQ rights used to be about “two people who wanted to be able to get married but now it’s saying that we need to be able to have gender reassignment surgery for 12-year-olds. They never stopped at a line. They always go further.”
Now, if you Google Madison Cawthorn’s name, you’re going to see result after result asking one question: Is Madison Cawthorn gay? If nothing else, it proves that it’s a great time for karma.