Despite his troubles, Cawthorn was seen as the favorite going into Tuesday’s primaries in the state’s 11th District, aided by Trump’s backing and a big fundraising operation — though his campaign has spent its money at least as fast as he’s raised it.
From personal to political controversy, Cawthorn’s time in the public eye has seen it all. Police have stopped him for driving with a revoked license multiple times, and he’s been cited for trying to board a plane with a gun. He floated swapping districts last fall to secure an easier reelection — but returned to the 11th District once redistricting lines shifted again.
Without evidence, he sparked backlash among colleagues, throwing around accusations about orgies and lawmakers using cocaine. A leaked nude video surfaced earlier this month. He’s been accused of sexual harassment on multiple occasions and criticized for his role on Jan. 6.
These actions have prompted pushback from members of his own party, and not just Tillis. After alleging cocaine use and attendance at orgies by his fellow Republicans, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy described Cawthorn’s missteps as “not becoming of a congressman.”
Conservatives once saw the 26-year-old congressman as a rising star and the future of the Republican Party, after Cawthorn won a 2020 primary to fill Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows’ seat. He became one of the youngest members in the House’s history, turning his adversity — a car accident that left him partially paralyzed as a teenager — into political success.
Cawthorn has managed to stay in the national spotlight while simultaneously losing the support of some of his state’s most influential Republicans, including House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, as well as Tillis and Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Even Trump has stayed relatively quiet on Cawthorn as the controversies piled up, though the former president broke his silence on primary eve, throwing a last-minute lifeline Cawthorn’s way.
“When Madison was first elected to Congress, he did a great job,” Trump said in a post on Truth Social. “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again…let’s give Madison a second chance!”
But it was Tillis who got the last word after Cawthorn’s concession. Edwards, the senator tweeted, would “fight” for the district “every single day in Congress with honor and integrity!
Ally Mutnick contributed to this article.