When then 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn easily defeated a Trump-backed rival to capture the GOP nomination in Western North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, he declared that his mission would be to rescue his party from a “generational time bomb.”
Charismatic, telegenic, social media-savvy and deeply rooted in the region, the Hendersonville native reveled in the national news reports that, if elected, he would become one of the youngest people ever sent to Congress and a bridge to his party’s future.
“Move over AOC,” asserts a cartoonish video on his campaign website where his smiling photo shoves aside one of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 31-year-old favorite of the Democratic left known widely as AOC. GOP congressional candidate aspires to be the conservative alternative to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, widely known as AOC. Cawthorn told a New York Times interviewer that he was motivated to seek office “because I believe there’s a generational time bomb going off in the Republican Party… I think we’ve not been working hard enough to really reach out and try to appeal to younger voters and we’re starting to see the ramifications of that in national elections.”
But if those words seem to presage a campaign message that would inject a new, younger way of thinking in his party, it isn’t evident in his general election campaign. Since claiming the nomination, Cawthorn has campaigned as a hard-right conservative on policies aligned with the party base of older white voters rather than those expressed by his Gen Z and millennial peers in several polls.
Gone from his website is a boast that, by trouncing primary-rival Lynda Bennett despite her endorsements from President Trump and former incumbent Mark Meadows, he had demonstrated his independence from the Washington, D.C.-based Republican elite.
Newly prominent is the mantra that he is “pro-Trump, pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment.” He populates his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts with videos of his Washington, D.C. meetings with Trump and other long-time GOP leaders.
These join earlier images of the ever-upbeat young man bearing assault-style weapons, an homage to the 2nd Amendment (which, he claims, makes possible the 1st Amendment’s guarantees) and occasional Bible verses. A home-schooled evangelical Christian, he says he believes in “faith, family & freedom” and vows to oppose “leftist coastal elites like Nancy Pelosi and AOC.”
Now, like Trump, he often flouts C.D.C., state and White House guidelines for combating the spread of Covid-19.
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