In this era of partisanship, extremism and general insanity, there are few electoral outcomes that can unite voters across the political spectrum. For instance, is it a good thing that Pennsylvania Republicans just picked an election-denying conspiracist as their nominee for governor? What about the fact that Pennsylvania Democrats, in their Senate primary, went for the tattooed, goateed, progressive lieutenant governor who suffered a stroke last week over the button-down, centrist (some would say milquetoast) congressman who served in the Marine Corps and as an assistant U.S. attorney?
So many perspectives. So many opinions.
But on one point, most sensible people can agree: The voters in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District have done the nation a great service by giving the boot to Representative Madison Cawthorn, the scandal-plagued 26-year-old freshman firebrand favored by Donald Trump. While the loss is surely disappointing for young Mr. Cawthorn, it is almost certainly the best outcome for him as well.
It is hard not to take satisfaction in the downfall of a political creature as flamboyantly vile, reckless, incendiary and — how to put this gently? — dense as Mr. Cawthorn. Among his more notable transgressions: He has been cited (twice) in recent months for trying to board a plane with a gun. He has been busted twice for driving with a revoked license. He has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women and of having an inappropriate relationship with a male aide. He has brazenly lied about his background, including key details of the 2014 car crash that left him with limited use of his legs. He is facing accusations of insider trading.
But wait! There’s more! Mr. Cawthorn has said nasty things about Volodymyr Zelensky, even as the Ukrainian president struggles to defend his nation from the butchery of Vladimir Putin. Cheering the not-guilty verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who killed two people during the unrest after the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., Mr. Cawthorn urged his social media followers to “be armed, be dangerous.” And he has been among the most aggressive, irresponsible peddlers of Mr. Trump’s election-fraud lies, at one point warning that if America’s election systems “continue to be rigged” and “stolen,” the result can only be “bloodshed.”
Of course, in Mr. Trump’s Republican Party, many if not all of the above controversies might have been dismissed as youthful foolishness — boys being boys, if you will — or petty missteps overblown by the libs.
But Mr. Cawthorn’s colleagues finally drew a line when he claimed that people he “looked up to” in Washington — presumably his Republican colleagues — had done cocaine and invited him to orgies. Today’s congressional Republicans might forgive a colleague’s tolerance or even encouragement of an armed and bloody assault on American democracy. But they will not stand for being associated with the term “key bump.”
Neither were Republicans charmed when risqué images of Mr. Cawthorn (pre-Congress) recently made the rounds on social media: pics of him rocking ladies’ lingerie and a brief video of him naked and — there really is no way to put this tastefully — humping another man’s head. The emergence of these unflattering tidbits was, in fact, widely assumed to be part of a smear campaign orchestrated by Republicans weary of Mr. Cawthorn’s antics.
Getting elected to Congress is quite an accomplishment for anyone, much less a 25-year-old who had his life derailed as a teenager. A recent Politico piece detailed the anguish Mr. Cawthorn expressed about his life to a friend in the summer of 2015. He texted that he missed the ability to do basic things, such as dressing himself and using the bathroom without help, and to experience ordinary pleasures, such as “being able to compete” and “being checked out by girls.” “I miss not peeing the bed because I have no control over my penis,” he wrote, and “not having to have pills keep me alive.” He missed his “pride as a man” and “not having to convince myself every day not to pull the trigger and end it all.”
Many young people suffer horrific tragedies. And Mr. Cawthorn’s suffering in no way excuses his personal misbehavior or his toxic politics. But clearly the guy is struggling on some level and could benefit from stepping back from public life. The political circus is not the best place to achieve a healthy, balanced existence. To the contrary, modern politics tends to enable and exacerbate the worst tendencies in many people, immersing them in a world of partisan warfare and public pressure, increasingly cut off from a “normal” life.
Today’s Republican politics, in particular, rewards acting out. The more performatively transgressive, divisive and obnoxious you are, the more authentically MAGA you are considered. Mr. Cawthorn threw himself into this bad-boy role with more gusto than most. He seems to have been particularly drawn to his party’s obsession with violence and toxic masculinity — clearly to ill effect.
And so, even as we cheer the electoral humiliation of this exceptional jerk — the rare ultra-MAGA lawmaker too outrageous even for today’s G.O.P. to tolerate — here’s hoping his next gig is more conducive to helping him get his life together.
America is better off without Mr. Cawthorn in Congress. So is he.
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