Simple: Because in narrowly losing his congressional seat, he won, by a landslide —
A chance for a second chance.
Until a few days ago, I was ready to simply cheer if Cawthorn lost: my largest cup for schadenfreude was more than ready to run over.
But then I read a long, deeply researched piece in Politico, by Michael Kruse.
The profile did not change my political judgment: the sooner Cawthorn is gone from Congress, the better.
How bad was his first term? Only recently, Kruse recounted (a partial list) —
Police stopped him for driving with a revoked license (again). Airport security stopped him for trying to bring a gun onto a plane (again). He made outlandish and unsubstantiated comments on an obscure podcast about orgies and cocaine use by his Capitol Hill colleagues. He called the Ukrainian president a “thug,” he suggested Nancy Pelosi was an alcoholic (she doesn’t drink), and the seemingly ceaseless gush of unsavory news has included allegations of insider trading, pictures of shuttered district offices, a leaked tranche of salacious images and videos, and ongoing proof in FEC filings that he’s a prodigious fundraiser but a profligate spender as well. All of this comes on top of multiple women in multiple places accusing him of sexual harassment, his role in the insurrection on Jan. 6 of last year, his growing catalogue of alarming provocations on social media and on the House floor, and his politically imprudent decision to announce he was switching districts only to reverse course. His marriage amidst all this lasted less than a year.
Yes, the sooner the better.
But when I finished, the piece had done what I thought was impossible: it awakened some empathy for him.
In a 2015 text message, more than a year after the car crash that made him a paraplegic, Cawthorn told Brad Ledford, who had been driving, that
“I miss my life,” he said. “I miss being able to defend myself … being able to dress myself … being able to use the bathroom without someone helping me … I miss not peeing the bed because I have no control over my penis … not having to have pills keep me alive … being able to compete … being checked out by girls … I miss my pride as a man … the pride my father swelled with when he spoke my name … I miss,” he said, “not having to convince myself every day not to pull the trigger and end it all.”
Cawthorn has sued Ledford’s father and his father’s company. His deposition included more searing detail:
“Can you give me,” asked the attorney for Ledford’s father’s company, “a list of 10 things that you enjoyed doing before that you can’t do now?”
“Yes, sir,” said Cawthorn. “I can’t work out. I can’t play football. I can’t stand up and pee. I can’t wake up in the morning by myself. I’ll probably never be able to procreate. I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t wrestle with my brother. I can’t get through the day without pain. I can’t wake up in the morning without forgetting I’m paralyzed and also falling out of my bed. I can’t be too far away from my doctors. I can’t climb anything. I can’t go adventuring in places. I can’t hike. I can’t ride horses. I can’t bail hay. Do you want me to continue?”
“You said you can’t procreate,” the lawyer continued. “How do you know that?”
“Just because I can’t.”
“Who has told you?”
“That will never change?”
“Everyone is always hopeful, but, I mean, with my injury, it’s unlikely that I’ll walk or procreate or, you know, recover.”
But he “recovered” enough to take a job with then-Congressman Mark Meadows, and when Meadows resigned to become Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Cawthorn ran for and won the seat from his wheelchair.
In the campaign, he projected an inspiring “comeback from horrible trauma” image, and pledged to be a constructive, conservative-but-ready-to-cross-the-aisle Member of the House.
But three days after he was sworn in, on January 6, 2021 Cawthorn spoke, at the “Save America” rally at the Ellipse. He was one of the speakers who riled up the crowd, many of whom later assaulted the Capitol.
“My friends,” he said, “I want you to chant with me so loud that the cowards I serve with in Washington, D.C., can hear you.”
During the storming of the Capitol, he called into the radio show of right-wing talker Charlie Kirk and said he believed some of the ransacking mob were “antifa” and “people paid by the Democratic machine.”
It was all an increasingly erratic, two-year downhill roll from there, capped by recent photos of him in women’s lingerie during a cruise, talk of orgies and cocaine among his colleagues echoing in his wake, and culminating in the primary defeat on May 17 by state senator Chuck Edwards.
The change won’t much alter the political character of the deep-red western North Carolina district. Edwards, now the heavy favorite for November, is reliably Trumpy, if more quietly so.
But maybe now, the exit door from the House could open a way for Madison Cawthorn to put his life back together, out of the limelight, with some semblance of constructive hope.
The Kruse profile describes how Cawthorn made serious efforts at physical rehabilitation and overcoming the loss of direction and depression that survivors of such accident survivors often face.
He was on a tough road. Yet research studies have shown that many do manage to overcome the despair and find a new sense of purpose and even happiness.
Clearly, Cawthorn’s recovery was derailed by the lures, klieg lights and arrogant loopiness of the Trump world he was sucked into.
Now, as I said, when the result was clear last night, I felt empathic hope: Cawthorn had won –won a chance to have a real second chance.
It won’t be easy, quick, or guaranteed. But I hope he takes it.