I’ve been fascinated by the evolving Madison Cawthorn “scandal.” As TPM Readers know as well as anyone, House Republicans say batsh*t insane stuff pretty much weekly. They not infrequently make statements in support of fringe racist and domestic terror groups. They endorse borderline sedition (light treason, if you will). These pass with as little trace as a brief summer shower. Yet here we have Cawthorn whipping out this weird Boogie Nights reverie about cocaine-filled orgies among his colleagues in Congress, a den of iniquity the brash young man-boy Cawthorn says he is striving to keep himself pure from. And yet this looks to be on the verge of making him a political dead man walking among congressional Republicans. Kevin McCarthy said yesterday that Cawthorn has “lost my trust” and that if he doesn’t shape up he could be stripped of his committee assignments or worse.
McCarthy and Politico describe this as just the latest of Cawthorn’s misdeeds. But the truth is that I haven’t heard McCarthy or any other congressional Republican express any problem with Cawthorn until this comment. How is it this that is just a step too far? Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think anyone believes that there’s a big swinger cocaine scene up on Capitol Hill, as he claimed. A few people? Sure, maybe. But I don’t think that would spur this kind of furious response. I assume this would just be more nonsense everyone would ignore. But far, far from it. Now North Carolina’s senior senator, Tom Tillis, says he’s backing Cawthorn’s primary opponent. In the context of electoral politics, that’s little short of a death sentence.
The simplest explanation that I’ve seen is that from my friend Amanda Marcotte: Cawthorn broke the golden rule of GOP conspiracy theories. You’re only supposed to aim them at Democrats. Cawthorne’s reverie is right out of the QAnon cinematic universe, which amidst all its complexities is driven by the idea that the elites (read: the ones who are Democrats or support Democrats) who control the world live a hidden life of sexual deviance and predation on the innocent. So this is entirely par for the course. Only it’s directed at Republicans or at Republicans and Democrats in equal measure. Cawthorn didn’t actually say explicitly that he was talking about Republicans, though he did refer to people he’d admired for a long time from a distance. So it’s a reasonable inference.
I think Marcotte is right. But somehow it’s still not a totally satisfying explanation. It explains why the reaction is different. But I still find myself marveling at its sheer intensity. In the QAnon cinematic universe the GOP has created an entirely self-sustaining moral order of light and darkness, in which the darkness is inhabited by crooked Democratic pedophiles and sex traffickers conspiring to steal rural Republican voters’ lawn furniture. Cawthorn for whatever reason let out the apparently deep dark secret that his GOP colleagues are among the darkness too.
Still, though, the intensity of the reaction … there’s got to be another piece of the puzzle.