Who is the best-known living North Carolinian today?
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski? Legendary basketball star Michael Jordan? Gov. Roy Cooper? Activist Rev. William Barber? Senators Thom Tillis or Richard Burr? Anybody else?
Maybe one of these could be our best known. But none of them or anybody else is better known today than a young politician from western North Carolina.
The Honorable Madison Cawthorn, a freshman U.S. congressman for the mountain district of North Carolina, is clearly the best-known North Carolinian at this moment.
How does that make you feel?
The cheerful, good-looking, wheelchair-bound Cawthorn comes to the mind of people across the country when they think about North Carolina. He is like a cute, charming kindergarten kid, but one who has a big, deeply embedded mean streak that shows itself regularly.
Cawthorn uses effective tactics to become well known by getting his name in the paper, appearing on television, and saying outrageous things wherever he appears.
Here are a few examples.
On Jan. 6, 2021, he spoke at the rally at the White House before the march to the Capitol, alleging fraud in the election. A few days earlier, he tweeted, “It’s time to fight.’’ Later, he described the arrested rioters as “political hostages” and “political prisoners.”
Criticizing President Biden for ordering troops to Europe to respond to Russian actions in Ukraine, Cawthorn urged a “one finger” salute. He said “The sons and daughters of America are not foot soldiers for your party’s inept, geriatric despot. They’re not expendable pawns to be dispatched at the whims of an idiot, tossed carelessly around the world to godforsaken caves and bloody sandboxes. They are Americans, worthy of honor and dignity. The only salute from them Joe Biden deserves involves one finger.”
More disturbing is a report by Republican strategist Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. At a town hall in Asheville on March 5, Cawthorn called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “a thug” and Ukraine’s government “incredibly evil.”
Cawthorn’s methods of getting attention are now being condemned by most Democrats and by an increasing number of Republicans.
These reports and similar ones helped make Cawthorn the best-known North Carolinian. His status was confirmed on March 30 when both the Washington Post and The New York Times published front page articles about him. Both papers tried to explain what Cawthorn had done to make himself so famous and outrageous and why some former supporters and Republican party leaders are backing away from supporting him.
According to the Post, Cawthorn claimed “on a podcast that a colleague had invited him to an orgy and that he witnessed someone in a position of power using cocaine right in front of him.”
Making such allegations, especially if they are false, was too much for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who, according to the Post, “has stomached plenty along the way to what he hopes will be a GOP House majority that elects him as speaker.”
But McCarthy “signaled a bright red line when it comes to the conduct of freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn.”
According to the Post, “McCarthy signaled he had given his colleague an extensive dressing-down. He said Cawthorn had admitted the stories weren’t strictly true. He also indicated that Cawthorn needs to rethink his life choices and straighten himself out. And he even alluded to potential consequences if that doesn’t take place.”
Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, Cawthorn faces seven other Republicans in the May Republican primary for his congressional seat.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis , state Senate leader Phil Berger, and state House Speaker Tim Moore are backing the candidacy of state Sen. Chuck Edwards.
Another candidate, former Cawthorn supporter Michele Woodhouse, said, “People of western North Carolina are tired of the antics.’’
If Cawthorn wins his primary, he could continue as the most famous living North Carolinian.
If he loses, he will be the youngest has-been congressman in the country, on the way to being a nobody.
D.G. Martin hosted “North Carolina Bookwatch,” for more than 20 years.
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