McCarthy rips Cawthorn: He told me his story about orgies and coke was exaggerated

McCarthy rips Cawthorn: He told me his story about orgies and coke was exaggerated
Screenshot via ABC's

At this point, the most amusing thing about Madison Cawthorn’s tales of cocaine and sex parties in D.C. is watching how eagerly his colleagues are piling on him over it. I don’t think that’s a matter of pure indignation either. I suspect there’s more to it.


I mean, how often does the ultra-MAGA Freedom Caucus dog one of its own members?

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who chairs the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus to which Cawthorn belongs, said he plans to speak to the North Carolina Republican one-on-one about the incendiary comment. Perry further indicated that Cawthorn should identify the individuals he alleges engaged in that behavior.

“I think it is important, if you’re going to say something like that, to name some names,” Perry said in a brief interview…

More than one member of the group has raised the idea of kicking Cawthorn out, remarks that are seen as more rattling and venting than an actual likelihood, according to two people familiar with Freedom Caucus dynamics. These people, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity, said Cawthorn’s comments caught many of the group’s members by surprise.

That’s been a common demand within the House GOP this week: Name names. You can’t do “blind items” about rampant licentiousness on Capitol Hill when you’re a sitting congressman. People will take you seriously, especially if they’re primed to believe that Washington is the font of all evil.

Under pressure from the caucus, Kevin McCarthy hauled Cawthorn into his office this morning to demand an explanation. Things didn’t go well.

“I just told him he’s lost my trust, 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 said Cawthorn conceded some of his remarks were untrue and “exaggerated.”

“In the interview, he claims he watched people do cocaine. Then when he comes in he tells me, he says he thinks he saw maybe a staffer in a parking garage from 100 yards away,” McCarthy said.

“It’s just frustrating. There’s no evidence behind his statements. And when I sit down with him … I told him you can’t make statements like that, as a member of Congress, that affects everybody else and the country as a whole.”


“He thinks he saw maybe a staffer in a parking garage from 100 yards away.” Add this to the pile of reasons not to trust what comes out of Cawthorn’s mouth, which I’m sure is part of his colleagues’ annoyance with him.

Also, which was it — “exaggerated” or untrue? They’re two different things.

Either way, McCarthy is warning that there may be consequences:

What’s going on here? Why are he and other Republicans so pissed at a well-known blowhard for telling tall tales? Cawthorn didn’t accuse anyone specifically of misconduct, after all.

I think it’s a combination of things:

1. Age. McCarthy and others would deny this but there’s no getting around it. Cawthorn is just 26 years old, the youngest member of Congress. If the caucus is going to get unnecessary grief from a member’s antics, like when Cawthorn recently called Zelensky a “thug,” it had better not be from a holier-than-thou kid among them. (Especially a kid who came to Congress with a bad reputation.) Re-read McCarthy’s comments above — “he’s lost my trust” — and he sounds like an annoyed dad scolding his misbehaving son for acting up.

2. Track record. If Cawthorn were a man of ideas, influential or even interested in shaping serious legislation, he might be forgiven for a misstep. But he’s typical of the MAGA caucus insofar as he seems more eager to build his cachet in populist media than to craft policy, which explains how he got sucked into telling tales about D.C. depravity on a podcast in the first place. For figures like him and Marjorie Taylor Greene, the chief value of being in Congress is the platform it provides to agitate in conservative media outlets about culture war, not governance. Republicans who don’t have the same priorities won’t have much patience for characters like that. For instance:


3. Status. Cawthorn is liked by the base but isn’t quite the MAGA star that Greene and Matt Gaetz are, I sense. He doesn’t seem to enjoy Trump’s favor as much as they do either. To borrow a mafia term, he’s not a “made man” yet. As such, his colleagues can mess with him without fear of retribution from Trump to a degree that they can’t with Greene and Gaetz. So they’re taking advantage.

4. Wrong target. Because Cawthorn said that he’d been invited to an orgy by older figures whom he looks up to politically, people logically assumed that those figures must be populist conservatives. It’s one thing for him to smear Democrats or centrist Republicans but the Freedom Caucus is going to notice when he starts hinting that the right’s “values” warriors in Congress are egregious hypocrites behind closed doors. Particularly since they know their constituents are eager to believe that there’s no form of immorality that’s uncommon in D.C.:


Cawthorn’s put them under a cloud of suspicion whether he meant to or not. “I think he’s got to be really careful as to how he characterizes things and the kind of sanctimonious nature about the way he said it,” said an annoyed Steve Womack of Arkansas. “That ‘hey, I’m not doing this stuff, but other people are.’ He’ll need to be careful, because eventually he’ll be judged.”

5. Opportunity. It’s rare that Erick Erickson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are having the same thought but both find McCarthy’s strong sense of indignation at Cawthorn odd given what’s gone unpunished within the caucus:

I think McCarthy’s making an example of Cawthorn because it’s an easy opportunity for him to show strength as a leader when he’s looked horribly weak in the past. No one’s going to care if he disciplines a freshman who shot off his mouth about orgies, particularly since everyone suspects Cawthorn was lying. It’s a straightforward case of a member embarrassing the caucus for no good political reason. Members who speak at a white nationalist rally, on the other hand, embarrass the caucus for what cynics might say *is* a good political reason. Namely, they’re signaling to racists who are open to voting GOP so long as they don’t feel too unwelcome that they have friends in the House Republican caucus.


That’s how nihilistic McCarthy’s calculations are in riding herd on his caucus. So long as you’re arguably gaining more votes for the party than you’re losing by your antics, and/or so long as you’re under Trump’s political protection like Greene is, you can do what you want no matter how loathsome it is. Too bad for Cawthorn that he didn’t make the cut.

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