If Madison Cawthorn doesn’t want to be invited to orgies or watch people snort cocaine, he should stop hanging around with the likes of Matt Gaetz and Don Trump, Jr. And if the Republican Party wants to quit being embarrassed by the likes of Cawthorn, they need to reject Donald Trump and the right-wing media that helped create him. Cawthorn is a product of Trumpism and the disinformation and prejudice that feeds it. 

Cawthorn is following the Trump model of politics, just with less skill. He’s an opportunist who will say anything for attention and he’ll pander to the worst instincts of America. Besides Gaetz, he’s flirted with White supremacists and neo-Nazis because he knows that’s not a liability in today’s GOP and may even be an asset. Just ask Dan Bishop, a similar political creature with a little more brains. 

Cawthorn—and Trump, for that matter—were decades in the making. Nixon’s Southern strategy brought disgruntled, pro-segregationists into the fold back in the late 1960s, laying the blame for integration and the Civil Rights Movement on Big Government. Reagan exploited their resentment with racial stereotypes like the Welfare Queen. By the 1980s, Rush Limbaugh tapped into their grievances and fired up the reactionary “dittoheads.” Fox News took Limbaugh’s model and put it on a screen, transforming cable news from information to infotainment. It was professional wrestling in a talk show format and Democrats and liberals were always the villains thrown to the mat by the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. 

The common thread through all of this history is an ignorant audience that feels under attack by a changing country. By the time Trump came along, they were ready to believe anything. Thirty years of grievance politics left them ripe to believe the disinformation and distortions that would be spread over talk radio, cable news, and social media. The echo chamber filtered out alternative views while feeding them conspiracy theories and other bullshit.

As for the GOP leadership, they’ve either stayed silent or embraced the show. The Dan Bishops of the world went all in, courting White supremacists and demonizing marginalized populations. They captured and exploited the spirit of the lynch mob, rallying aggrieved, ignorant White people against perceived threats to their way of life. A hundred years ago, they were protecting White women against Black fiends. Today, they are protecting innocent children from child molesters masquerading as women. The goal is the same: exploit prejudice to maintain power.

Cawthorn was not condemned by the GOP for perpetrating obvious lies. Cawthorn’s mistake was implicating his fellow Republicans in one of them. After all of his rhetoric, everybody knows Cawthorn is not hanging around Democrats. Now, Republicans are screaming foul, but Cawthorn is their own creation.

This is the party that censured Liz Cheney and stripped her of leadership positions because she believes Trump should be held accountable for his misdeeds, but refused to address the sex trafficking allegations against Matt Gaetz. They stayed silent about Marjorie Taylor Greene giving a speech to a White nationalist group. And they want to disband the January 6 commission as evidence increasingly shows that Trump and Republicans in Congress were involved in trying to hijack the 2020 election. 

Yes, Cawthorn is a product of the modern GOP. Nobody is held accountable for anything. The leadership is willing to let rumors and lies proliferate. Cawthorn may not be reflect Mitch McConnell or Thom Tillis or Richard Burr, but he does reflect the base they’ve tried to exploit. He’s an uneducated, angry White man raised on a diet of distortions, disinformation, and lies who wears his ignorance as a badge of honor.  And if he hadn’t implicated his fellow Republicans in his latest fantasy, he would still be a Republican in good standing. 

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