Skylar Baker-Jordan, The Independent
As if the Ukrainian people weren’t suffering enough from the real war being waged on them by Russian invaders, Madison Cawthorn wants to engage them in a culture war, too. “Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” the Republican Congressman from North Carolina said in a video obtained this week by WRAL, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
The particular viciousness of Cawthorn’s remarks is shocking, as is how quickly some in his own party — who for years let Donald Trump get away with praising autocrats and who seem incapable of condemning white nationalists in their own ranks — have distanced themselves. The frosty reaction to Cawthorn’s pro-Putin posturing could — and I stress could — signal that Trump fever, with all its autocratic side effects, is breaking in Republican ranks.
Considering he is borrowing talking points straight from the Kremlin — which has also attempted to paint the Ukrainian government as evil — it is worth unpacking just who Madison Cawthorn, and what his relationship to Russia, is. This is a man whose “bucket list” included a trip to Hitler’s vacation home and who helped Donald Trump attempt to steal the 2020 election. Last year, the bizarre story of how Cawthorn met his Russian wife — through a friend he made in what was apparently an illegal casino in St. Petersurg — emerged, spawning unproven conspiracy theories that the Congressman is compromised.
We needn’t rely on rumour and innuendo to condemn Cawthorn, though. In a speech last year, Cawthorn explicitly said, “I don’t give a damn about the border conflict in Ukraine,” Fox News(!!) reported at the time. In December, he went on Fox News to praise the Russian armed forces. And, of course, Cawthorn has been licking the boots of Putin’s man in Mar-a-Lago for years. His is a Trumpian worldview — which is itself a Putin-esque, or at least Putin-envious, worldview — where might-makes-right and Nato is wrong.
Why does this matter? Well, beyond the fact that Cawthorn is a member of Congress, it matters because his views have served as a barometer of where the Republican Party stands. Cawthorn was elected in 2020 in a wave of Trumpian victories that also saw Marjorie Taylor Greene sent to Washington. At 25, Cawthorn was the youngest congressman elected since 1965. He was the future of his party, and that party’s future was Trump.
There are signs, however, that may be changing. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has seemingly jarred the West awake just as the nightmare of our own unravelling democracies was reaching its nadir. When autocracy explicitly and violently attacked democracy, we snapped into action, acting in unison to impose historic sanctions at breakneck speed.
In the United States, that was done in a bipartisan fashion — something so few things can claim anymore. 72 percent of Americans support sanctions against Russia, while 65 percent support them even if it raises gas prices. And on Wednesday night, the House voted 414 — 17 to impose sanctions on Russia and ban oil imports. 15 of those voting against sanctions were Republicans, with Cawthorn one of them, calling the ban on oil imports “virtue signaling.”
Yet far more interesting are the Republicans supporting sanctions, including the 196 GOP Representatives who did vote for the bill — and what they and their colleagues have been saying about the Russian invasion generally and Cawthorn specifically. On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy publicly broke with Donald Trump when he told reporters “I do not think anything’s savvy or genius about Putin.”
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