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HomePoliticsThe Anti–Madison Cawthorn Campaign Is Also Anti-Gay, Some Democrats Fear

The Anti–Madison Cawthorn Campaign Is Also Anti-Gay, Some Democrats Fear

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Cawthorn’s recent scandals intensified last month when Politico published photos showing him in a bar wearing women’s lingerie. Then American Muckrakers, Wheeler’s PAC, which runs the anti-Cawthorn website Fire Madison, filed an ethics complaint against him, alleging he provided free housing to a staffer, with whom the group also suggested Cawthorn was in “a personal relationship…separate and apart from the professional relationship of employer and employee.” The PAC’s evidence for that suggestion included an old photo of them reclining on each other while shirtless in a pool; purported Venmo payments between them from 2018 in which they wrote things like, “Nudes,” “For loving me daily and nightly,” and “Getting naked for me in Sweden”; and a video in which the other man grabbed Cawthorn’s crouch as they laughed together in a car.

Finally last week, the same group published the video to Fire Madison showing a naked Cawthorn dry humping a friend in bed and grunting. “Madison,” the man says amid laughter. “Your ass is on my face!”

Cawthorn immediately hit back at what he said was a hit job from his political enemies designed to blackmail him. “Years ago, in this video, I was being crass with a friend, trying to be funny. We were acting foolish, and joking. That’s it,” he tweeted after the video was released. “I’m NOT backing down. I told you there would be a drip drip campaign.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News for this story, Cawthorn said:

The establishment ‘right’ and the radical left have teamed up to defeat me and my campaign for the people of western North Carolina. I call the swamp out on their bullcrap, and I’ve shone a light on the corruption in Washington. They despise me for it. Their blackmail and intimidation tactics will fail. I’m ready to move past this primary and unite the NC-11 GOP in defeating the Democrats’ nominee in November.

But the attacks are piling up and the first-term Congress member’s image has taken a dent among his own party. According to Rolling Stone, even Cawthorn’s political hero, Donald Trump, is said to be “completely weirded out” by the scandals.

“What we’re seeing about Cawthorn is as close to unprecedented as we can get in these unprecedented times,” said Christopher Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University.

Cooper noted that Cawthorn finds himself in the highly unusual position of being under attack from three fronts: the Democrats and their supporters working on the Fire Madison campaign; the Republican PAC aligned with Sen. Tillis, Results for NC, which is spending six figures to try to oust Cawthorn in a primary; and his own disgruntled ex-staffers and friends.

Indeed, the source close to Cawthorn, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely, told BuzzFeed News they believed most of the recent “onslaught of negative press” against him was being orchestrated not by Democrats but by “establishment” Republicans, including Tillis. They pointed to a recent string of critical stories in the conservative Washington Examiner and said they believed these Republicans were “shopping around” leaks about Cawthorn, then giving it to groups like American Muckrakers if the news media declined to publish them.

“It’s almost as if it appears there’s going to be a baton that’s passed off,” this source said. “The Republicans can try and do their damage now, and then the Democrats can take it from here and push forward.”

Representatives for Tillis and Results for NC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Whoever may be behind the leak campaign, Cooper at the Western Carolina University says the motivation is the same: sully Cawthorn’s image and portray him as reckless and immature. “No one is going to see the video of him on that bed and think that looks like a person acting maturely,” Cooper said.

But in the more rural and conservative parts of the district, Cooper believes the “salacious videos” may take on a different meaning. “Those videos — the release of them is a dog whistle for ‘gay,’” Cooper said. “I don’t know any other way to say it.”

The source close to Cawthorn said they believed this was evidence “social conservatives” were behind the campaign. “They’re trying to paint that image, and it’s a false image. Madison is not — you know, he is straight — but if they’re able to paint that perception and embarrass and try to chip away at the base, that’s their goal.” the source said. “And some folks are turned off by that.”

Some of Cawthorn’s avowed enemies on the left can also see anti-gay undercurrents to the attacks. Patrick Brothwell, a marketing professional in Asheville (a liberal bastion in Cawthorn’s otherwise conservative district) who has written op-eds against the Republican in the local newspaper, said that as a gay man he’s felt uncomfortable with what he sees as homophobia.

“I guess I am conflicted over it,” Brothwell said. “It is nice. Obviously, I want him to get his comeuppance. I don’t want him to be our representative. I think he’s very dangerous. [But] we put them in these trappings of, like, ‘Yeah, he’s wearing a dress or he’s naked humping somebody.’ That’s the least of his problems, but that’s what people do grab onto.

“This is kind of essentially counting on District 11’s homophobia or the nation’s homophobia,” Brothwell said.

Instead of what he believes were Cawthorn’s ”embarrassing frat guy antics,” Brothwell said he would prefer that the attacks on the Congress member focused on his other controversies — of which there are many.





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