Column: Now we know where Trumpers draw the line. Madison Cawthorn went too far

A man in a blue suit and dark tie holds a piece of paper as he speaks at a lectern
North Carolina voters asked state officials to disqualify Rep. Madison Cawthorn as a congressional candidate because of his connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
(Associated Press)

If you had asked me a month ago to come up with topics that could make House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy publicly reprimand a Trump-supporting member of the House, I doubt I would have ever come up with cocaine and orgies. So, congratulations are in order for that firebrand Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). Where the insurrection and a speaking gig at white nationalist event have failed, you, my friend, have found success.

Our story begins where many of the freshman congressman’s troubles begin — with his love-hate relationship with the truth. To understand the disturbing nature of this pattern, you only have to look at how he disparaged his best friend, Brad Ledford.

Recounting a 2014 car crash in which Cawthorn was a passenger and Ledford was the driver, the congressman told a crowd in 2017 that Ledford ran for safety as the vehicle burst into flames, leaving him behind to die.


“I was declared dead at the scene,” Cawthorn told the audience.

According to the police report, he wasn’t.

Not only that, but after the fire started, it was Ledford who broke the window on the passenger side and with the help of a stranger, dragged Cawthorn 200 yards away from the burning vehicle. Afterward Cawthorn’s family took to social media to thank Ledford for saving his life.

“It hurt very badly that he would say something as false as that,” Ledford would say later about the congressman’s version of events. “That is not at all what happened.”

It was only under oath that Cawthorn eventually admitted, “I have no memory from the accident.”

And there are other examples.

Cawthorn, who has used a wheelchair since that accident, claimed on social media that he was training for the 2020 Paralympics. But the 26-year-old is not listed in the International Paralympic Committee athlete database and had not participated in any qualifying races. He has suggested he was headed to the Naval Academy until that crash derailed his life … but Cawthorn conceded in a deposition that his application had been rejected before the crash.

I could continue to list his deceptions, but who are we fooling? We all want to skip ahead to the cocaine and orgy party.


“The sexual perversion that goes on in Washington…,” Cawthorn said on the “Warrior Poet Society” podcast. “Being kind of a young guy in Washington, where the average age is probably 60 or 70 — [you] look at all these people, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to through my life, I’ve always paid attention to politics. ... Then all of a sudden you get invited: ‘We’re going to have a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come.’ ... What did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they’re asking you to come to an orgy. ... Some of the people leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country, and then you watch them do a key bump of cocaine right in front of you. And it’s like, this is wild.”

“Wild” would be one way of describing it.

Meghan McCain said Cawthorn should name the alleged orgy participants. To be honest, I’d rather he didn’t. I have enough disturbing thoughts floating around in my head.

Once the news of his claims began to spread, Cawthorn backpedaled, telling McCarthy he “exaggerated” the whole scene. Of course, that only raises the question: Which part of the story was real and which were…? Ewww.

“I just told him he’s lost my trust,” McCarthy told the news website Axios about their conversation. “He’s gonna have to earn it back, and I laid out everything I find is unbecoming. And, you can’t just say, ‘You can’t do this again.’ I mean, he’s, he’s got a lot of members very upset.”

McCarthy added, “There’s no evidence behind his statements,” which is pretty rich given the undying support that both the Bakersfield Republican and Cawthorn have shown for President Trump and his statements entirely lacking in evidence.

The minority leader also shared that he told Cawthorn “you can’t make statements like that, as a member of Congress, that affects everybody else and the country as a whole.” That’s the sort of admonition you wish he would publicly give to other reckless representatives such as Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert.


The truly wild aspect of this entire story is that despite Cawthorn’s documented history of just making things up, anyone who has ever read Jeff Sharlet’s 2008 expose “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” knows that the orgy claim can’t totally be dismissed. Sharlet shined an unflattering light on the evangelical political organization that ran the C Street Center, a house on Capitol Hill.

According to Sharlet, some lawmakers used the C Street location for inappropriate sexcapades. This includes Chip Pickering, who was accused of meeting up there with his mistress, whose family owned the telecommunication company for which he began lobbying after leaving office in shame. Speaking of mistresses and leaving office in shame, Cawthorn recently said Newt Gingrich had become one of his mentors because, and I kid you not, “I don’t have a lot of wisdom.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who once complained that “the traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is … not growing,” compared with the Black and Latino populations, was reportedly so angry about Cawthorn’s “sex and candy” characterization of some of his colleagues’ proclivities that he has thrown his support behind one of Cawthorn’s opponents in the primary. Yes, “one of.” He faces seven Republican challengers.

Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.) said the young congressman is an embarrassment. I agree.

Of course, I also thought Cawthorn, who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally before the attack on the Capitol, was an embarrassment before he crossed a new line in that podcast interview. Before that interview, I didn’t know there was a line that a pro-Trump House member could cross.

Now we know what it is. Ewww.