Ukraine Is Too Woke for Madison Cawthorn

Cawthorn faces multiple primary challengers. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To most people, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a figure to admire. The former comedian has become the face of a country under siege; his personal courage is emblematic of Ukrainians now resisting the Russian invasion. Yet Zelenskyy has his detractors, and they aren’t all named Vladimir Putin. One is North Carolina representative Madison Cawthorn. “Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug,” he said in a video obtained by WRAL, a local news station. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.” Karl Rove — yes, him — first reported the remarks in a piece for The Wall Street Journal.

Cawthorn wasn’t directly quoting Putin, but he came close. Putin, too, has portrayed the Ukraine government as something akin to evil, saying that Ukraine is run by Nazis and that the “denazification” of the country is a goal of the invasion. (Never mind that Zelenskyy is Jewish.) But Cawthorn, who once visited Hitler’s vacation home and called the Nazi leader “the Führer” in an Instagram comment, probably has a different vision of wickedness in mind. He may share his point of view with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who recently blamed the invasion on Pride parades in Ukraine.

Whatever his reasoning, Cawthorn tried to walk back the remarks Thursday in a muddled tweet.

It’s not clear what Cawthorn means by “misinformation,” which is swiftly becoming a close-to-meaningless term. The tweet, however, falls far short of an apology or withdrawal of his characterization of Zelenskyy as a thug. Once again, Cawthorn has created a headache for the rest of his party.

But Cawthorn’s comments at least have the tinge of honesty. In the years since Donald Trump’s election, the average elected Republican has quite a bit of common ground with Putin, a right-wing leader with a penchant for authoritarianism and an antipathy for LGBTQ+ rights. The U.S. Christian right, to which Cawthorn belongs, has strong links to anti-gay conservative Christians in Russia. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine thus puts some conservatives in a difficult position, which people like Cawthorn have resolved by echoing Russian propaganda. On Thursday, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative wondered whether the Ukrainian military may have “baited” Russia into bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol.

In Putin, conservatives such as Dreher and Cawthorn obviously see a kindred spirit. The Christian conservative movement is bigger than these two, but its sympathies bear watching over the weeks to come.

Madison Cawthorn Calls Zelenskyy a ‘Thug’