No lawmaker in recent memory has inspired such fervent, bipartisan speculation as Madison Cawthorn. The young, right-wing first-term member of Congress has generated so many horrible news stories, ranging from the personal to the ideological, that observers have grown obsessed with locating the unifying thread that explains it all. Is he a secret Nazi? Some kind of sex weirdo? A compulsive liar?
These are all plausible theories. But I am increasingly drawn to a novel explanation of Cawthorn’s frenetic generation of terrible news stories: He has made a list of every major political scandal and is attempting to commit all of them.
The newest revelation, via the conservative Washington Examiner, is that Cawthorn may have violated federal insider-trading laws. On December 29, Cawthorn posted a photo on social media with the main investor in Let’s Go Brandon coin, a cryptocurrency, writing, “LGB legends. … Tomorrow we go to the moon!” The next day, the coin announced a deal that made its value soar 75 percent. Its value has since dropped to 0, but Cawthorn’s promotion may indicate he participated in a pump-and-dump scheme.
A financial-engineering crime would round out the impressively broad portfolio of scandals Cawthorn has amassed in a short period of time.
Cawthorn first attracted attention during his campaign for falsifying key elements of his biography. He claimed the automobile accident that left him paralyzed had robbed him of his dream of attending the Naval Academy, which in fact had already rejected his application prior to the accident. He also claimed to have been accepted to Princeton and an online program at Harvard before later admitting neither of those things happened.
In one speech, he told an audience that after his fateful car accident, his companion abandoned him, when in fact he pulled him from the wreckage, and that doctors pronounced him dead, which they did not.
Also during his campaign, 150 former students at Patrick Henry College, the conservative Christian university Cawthorn attended for one semester before dropping out with horrendous grades, signed a letter stating his brief time on campus “was marked by gross misconduct towards our female peers, public misrepresentation of his past, disorderly conduct that was against the school’s student honor code.” (The above list can be found in this now sadly outdated 2021 compendium of Cawthorn misdeeds.)
All this happened before he even won his only race, after which point the pace of Cawthorn scandals somehow accelerated.
Cawthorn played a side role in the events of January 6, during which there’s a chance he may have committed some light insurrection.
Last summer, Cawthorn was caught bringing a gun through airport security. A couple of months later, he was caught bringing a hunting knife into a school-board meeting and then admitted to Olivia Nuzzi that he had (illegally) brought the same weapon into Congress.
In March, Cawthorn was stopped while driving with a revoked license (for the second time). A few weeks later, he alleged that multiple members of Congress had invited him to cocaine orgies, a claim that, because it implicated fellow Republicans, finally seemed to exhaust the patience of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Last Friday, Politico published photos of Cawthorn wearing women’s lingerie in public. This is obviously not a crime, but it’s also somewhat inconsistent with his reactionary public posture on matters of gender, which has included statements like “I think that we have bred a generation of soft men and that generation has created a lot of problems in our society and our culture” and “There’s only one God and two genders.”
Oh, and today Cawthorn was caught bringing a loaded gun through airport security. Yes, again.
Taken as a whole, the list runs from the self-interested to the self-destructive, from culturally Neanderthal to libertine, and from ideological to pure frat boy. Possibly, Cawthorn decided that, having started his career in a deep hole of scandal, his best hope for success lay in somehow shooting the moon. Or perhaps he is in the middle of some Brewster’s Millions–style gonzo scandal jag that stands to win him a huge fortune if he can round out the portfolio with, say, a dead stripper in his car and a charge of hunting an endangered species.
Whatever the explanation, bear in mind: Cawthorn has accomplished all this at the age of a mere 26 years old. He has decades of misconduct ahead of him.