Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who was once a bright young star in the conservative firmament, is now plagued by charges and insinuations.

As the primary election for Representative Madison Cawthorn approaches, a series of scandals have raised the pressure on him.
As the primary election for Representative Madison Cawthorn approaches, a series of scandals have raised the pressure on him.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. Representative Madison Cawthorn, a Republican from North Carolina, is under increasing pressure from both parties to finish his brief time in Congress, as he is beset by scandals and slanderous allegations.

Mr. Cawthorn, a rising star of the Republican far right who entered Congress as a rising star of the party’s far right, has been accused of falsely implying that his Republican colleagues regularly throw cocaine-fueled orgies, insider trading, and an inappropriate relationship with a male aide in quick succession. He was arrested at an airport this week, police said, after attempting to bring a loaded weapon onboard an airplane for the second time.

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That happened only days after images of him donning women’s underwear as part of a cruise ship game surfaced, imagery that would not sit well with his conservative constituents in Western North Carolina. For the second time since 2017, he was charged with driving with a revoked license last month.

Even within his own party, the barrage of discoveries and claims has left him isolated. An ad campaign accusing Mr. Cawthorn of being a fame-seeking liar has been funded by a political entity backing Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina. State Senator Chuck Edwards, a more conventional Republican, is running against Mr. Cawthorn, and the group is backing his campaign. And the far-right, anti-establishment element of the party now regards the first-term congressman with mistrust, accusing him of falsely portraying himself as a state gatekeeper for former President Donald J. Trump.

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Mr. Cawthorn claimed on Friday that Republicans were pursuing him because he threatens the status quo, after originally blaming Democrats for the onslaught.

He added on Twitter, “I want to transform the GOP for the better, and I believe in America First.” “I understand why the establishment is fighting those views, but it’s ridiculous that they’re dredging up something from my early twenties to malign me.”

 

Mr. Cawthorn, who is 26 years old, is still in his early twenties, and Republicans seeking to defeat him in the May 17 North Carolina primary claimed the constant barrage of discoveries could jeopardize his seat if he wins the nomination for a second term.

 

Republicans in Washington chuckle at the idea that a reliably conservative district could be in jeopardy in a year when they are substantially favored, but early voting started this week as the avalanche of allegations against Mr. Cawthorn was gaining steam.

Michele Woodhouse, one of seven Republicans challenging Mr. Cawthorn in the primary, stated, “He may absolutely lose.”

The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, his primary Democratic opponent, continues to gather funds by exploiting her Republican opponent’s flaws. Mr. Cawthorn was described by Ms. Beach-Ferrara as “a troubled young guy.”

In an interview, she remarked, “I hold him in my prayers, but I believe he is unfit to be in government.”

Still, the dirt is coming from Republicansn not in Washington, but in North Carolina, according to David B. Wheeler, head of American Muckrakers PAC, an organization formed to “hold Cawthorn accountable,” as he described it.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wheeler’s group, which is dominated by Western North Carolina Democrats, filed an explosive ethics complaint that included a video of Mr. Cawthorn with a senior assistant, Stephen L. Smith. “I feel the passion and need and would like to see a naked body beneath my hands,” Mr. Cawthorn appears to say in the video, while driving a car.

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Mr. Smith responds, “Me too,” as he rests his hand on Mr. Cawthorn’s crotch as the camera pans back to him.

Mr. Cawthorn allegedly offered loans to Mr. Smith in violation of House regulations, according to the ethics complaint. It also implied that Mr. Cawthorn, who lives with the aide, had broken rules enacted during the MeToo movement prohibiting lawmakers from having sexual relationships with people under their supervision.

Mr. Cawthorn said on Twitter after the news appeared in The Daily Mail, “Many of my colleagues would be nowhere near politics if they had grown up with a cell phone in their hands” — not precisely a denial, but a suggestion that other members not throw stones.

Mr. Wheeler sent The New York Times a snapshot of the anonymous text message containing the video, and he said the informant was a former Cawthorn campaign aide. “We all want the ultimate aim of him never serving again,” another former staffer, Lisa Wiggins, said in an audio tape supplied by Mr. Wheeler with her consent.

Republicans in the state argue that allegations of lawlessness and neglect of his constituency are more harmful than facts about his sexual life. Democrats are especially concerned about Mr. Cawthorn’s support for protestors who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to Democrats. A legal effort led by North Carolina Democrats to label him as an “insurrectionist” and constitutionally disqualify him from the ballot failed last month.

However, the disclosures concerning his behavior have caused quite a stir. According to Melissa Burns, a self-described conservative Republican from Tennessee who witnessed the game, which was part of an onboard show, the photos of Mr. Cawthorn in women’s lingerie, which were first published in Politico, stemmed from a bawdy game aboard a cruise he took before he was elected to the House.

“The sexier’she’ is, the more points you get,” Ms. Burns said in an email. For the finale, the audience was divided into teams, each of which chose a man to dress as a woman. Mr. Cawthorn stepped forward to help.

“I guess the left thinks goofy vacation photos during a game on a cruise (taken waaay before I ran for Congress) is going to somehow hurt me?” Mr. Cawthorn dismissed the photos in a link on Twitter, saying, “I guess the left thinks goofy vacation photos during a game on a cruise (taken waaay before I ran for Congress) is going to somehow hurt me?”

“I’m in quest of attractive women or couples for some crazy sexapades,” Ms. Burns said, referring to a dating app for the cruise from someone identified as “Cawthorn,” who used the same photo that was published in Politico. You will not be dissatisfied.”

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Mr. Cawthorn’s spokesman, Luke Ball, did not reject Ms. Burns’ account of the lingerie game, but he claimed the dating app was a hoax that used the wrong age, wrong hometown and wrong name of the ship.

The blows are starting to pile up. Mr. Cawthorn, a telegenic legislator who uses a wheelchair following a traffic accident when he was 18, was previously considered as a youthful leader with potential by the party’s far-right wing. Members now keep him at arm’s length, seeing him as a problematic guy who isn’t always on the same page as the base on issues.

Mr. Cawthorn, they say, is “Twitter famous,” but he doesn’t work in the district and doesn’t have grassroots support at home. Many of them have pointed out that even Donald Trump Jr., a well-known conservative figure, has remained silent and made no move to defend him.

“I don’t think MAGA people will be as forgiving,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Donald Trump.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Cawthorn last year and has continued to support him; Mr. Trump invited the congressman to appear with him at a rally in Selma, N.C. this month.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a House Republican-aligned super PAC, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which don’t participate in primaries in places where a G.O.P. candidate has a good chance of winning the general election, are staying out of the fray.

Mr. Wheeler, on the other hand, stated that his organization will continue to exert pressure. Mr. Cawthorn’s two guns charges, his run-in with law enforcement over expired permits, and his inability to obtain hunting and fishing licenses, while boasting that he does both, he claimed, legal authorities had taken no action.

Mr. Wheeler stated, “The person hasn’t been held accountable.”
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