It’s rare for a rank-and-file congressmember’s comments to break through the news cycle for multiple days, but that’s just what’s happening with Representative Madison Cawthorn, the bombastic, Trumpian 26-year-old Republican representing North Carolina’s 11th congressional district. Over the weekend, Cawthorn falsely claimed that the country’s elections “continue to be rigged” and that if it went on, there would be “bloodshed.”
“The things that we are wanting to fight for, it doesn’t matter if our votes don’t count,” Cawthorn said Sunday in Franklin, North Carolina, at the Macon County Republican Party’s offices. “Because, you know, if our election systems continue to be rigged, and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place, and it’s bloodshed.”
The remarks were caught on video (which now appears to be taken down) and have dripped deeper into the news stream since then. The video clip moved around Twitter thanks to a Democratic congressional staffer. In an interview, a Democrat running to unseat Cawthorn condemned his remarks and said it was “dangerous” for Cawthorn to hold power.
Cawthorn went on to say that “there is nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American. And the way that we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states.”
A spokesperson for Cawthorn, Luke Ball, did not respond to multiple emails from The New Republic. But in a statement, Ball told The Washington Post that Cawthorn was not calling for some kind of violent uprising.
“In his comments, Congressman Cawthorn is CLEARLY advocating for violence not to occur over election integrity questions,” Ball told the paper. “He fears others would erroneously choose that route and strongly states that election integrity issues should be resolved peacefully and never through violence.”
Keep in mind, though, this is the same congressman who called the January 6 rioters who were arrested for storming the Capitol “political hostages.” And though he condemned the rioters after the fact as “disgusting,” when he spoke at the January 6 Stop the Steal rally that preceded the assault on the Capitol, Cawthorn said the crowd “has some fight in it.”
At the same event, Cawthorn vowed to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to remove President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris from office. “I will remove Joe Biden from office, and then, when Kamala Harris inevitably screws up, we will take them down, one at a time,” Cawthorn said.
At another point, someone in the audience asked him, “When are you going to call us to Washington again?”—an apparent reference to January 6. He said there are plans in motion. “That—we are actively working on that one,” Cawthorn said. “I don’t have an answer to that one right yet. But we are actively working on this. We have a few plans in motion that I can’t make public right now.”
It’s unclear, though, whether the young lawmaker and hard-right darling will pay for any of this at the ballot box. Cawthorn represents a district that includes the very liberal Asheville but has been represented by Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff, for seven years. Democratic operatives are wary about getting too excited about ousting the freshman lawmaker in 2022. The Cook Political Report gave the district an R+9 rating in 2020. But there are a handful of candidates competing for the seat. The district will also be redrawn by a Republican-controlled assembly before the election, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Polling has been scant, but the Democrat who has raised the most money is Buncombe County Commissioner and Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. Beach-Ferrara is a twice-elected county commissioner who has also been an active advocate for same-sex marriage rights in the state. She was also one of the North Carolina lawmakers who supported a push to ban “conversion therapy.” She’s raised over $600,000 in the fundraising period ending in late August and has over $231,000 cash on hand—Cawthorn has over $383,000 cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records.
In an interview on Tuesday, Beach-Ferrara said the “latest comments from Cawthorn reinforce that he is unfit for office and that it’s dangerous for him to be in a position of power.”
Asked if she thought Cawthorn’s words should be taken seriously, she said, “I think these comments should be taken very seriously.” She noted Cawthorn spoke at the January 6 rally. That showed that his statements on Sunday should “absolutely” be taken seriously, while “some of the other conduct would fall under the realm of political stunts.”
When I asked if she planned to continue highlighting Cawthorn’s comments in the coming days, Beach-Ferrara said, “I think it’s very important to continue to shine a bright light on Cawthorn’s comments and [hold] him accountable.”
There’s plenty for Beach-Ferrara to hold him accountable for. Cawthorn has been accused of harassing women, pushing all kinds of outlandish falsehoods, and posting photos of himself and a friend giddily visiting Adolf Hitler’s vacation home (Cawthorn referred to Hitler as “the Führer”). Cawthorn would have to be called the favorite, but Democrats may be competitive all through North Carolina next fall. They’re hoping to pick up a Senate seat they should have won in 2020 and hold the governor’s mansion in 2024.