Photo by Gage Skidmore

It is clear, without any stretch of the imagination, that Congressman Madison Cawthorn is being unfairly and aggressively targeted by some fierce opposition. While he has faced detractors from the Left, he is now facing opposition by some on the Right. 

Of course, Madison has made some unforced errors and handed his opponents some things to use against him. But those things do not rise to the unprecedented level of scrutiny he has faced.

Let’s dissect this all.

In The Beginning

There is no doubt that Madison has a compelling story. At the age of 18, he was in a horrific car accident which paralyzed him and took away his ability to walk. His recovery lasted almost 2 years, all while his small community of Hendersonville, North Carolina rallied around him. 

He ran for Congress in a loaded Republican primary and even beat the Trump-endorsed candidate in 2020 – by more than 30 points!

When he was given an opportunity to speak at the Republican National Convention in August 2020, he fired up a nation with his three-minute speech, delivering lines that propelled him to national stardom: “You can kneel before God but stand for our flag.” Then, with the help of two friends, he stood up out of his wheelchair – for the flag. It was the most talked about speech on that night of the convention. 

All of a sudden, the nation was introduced to a good-looking, strong, 25-year-old man in a wheelchair, who can deliver a captivating address in front of a television audience. While Republicans were enamored, his enemies on the Left started digging.

They went through his social media and pulled out pictures of him visiting the Eagles Nest, a place that I have been and that hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. It is the site of American conquest over the Nazis, featured in the HBO series, Band of Brothers. His opponents attempted to use this against him, claiming he was some kind of Nazi sympathizer. Even CNN didn’t buy it at the time – laughing off the attempt to cancel him. Yet to this day, this story, like many below, still surfaces in media reports about Madison’s “controversial” history.

When the “Madison is a Nazi” narrative failed to land, they went after him like they went after Brett Kavanaugh. Young women came forward making claims of sexual aggressiveness. The reports were filled with lots of innuendo about how Madison took these women on dates during his one year in college. The best they could do was say he made a move on them – like most young men do. Never had any of these women ever filed any criminal reports. The only reports they filed were years later, in Left-wing media sources, and only when he ran for public office. While these attempts to diminish his reputation failed to land at the time, they still surface in media reports today, attributing them as part of his supposed “controversial” past.

Then Madison won the general election. He made history, becoming the youngest member of Congress. 

A Meteoric Rise

The Left and its allies in the media did not like that Madison was one of 147 members of Congress to vote to contest the results of the 2020 Presidential election. They also didn’t like that he spoke at a Trump rally at the White House on January 6. They continue to claim he was part of instigating an “insurrection.” They tried to pin this on many other members of Congress, including U.S. Senator Josh Hawley – for simply waving at the crowd of protesters. 

None of them knew what might take place later that day. By the end of the evening, Madison’s first speech on the floor of Congress denounced those who trespassed and committed acts of violence at the Capitol that day, putting the lives of him, his staff, and his colleagues in jeopardy.

Over the course of 2021, Madison continued to challenge Democrats and the Republican establishment. As a freshman member of Congress, with a young staff, partially made up of some of his longtime friends, he advanced some serious pieces of legislation, including a bill to help veterans have access to funds they could apply to trade schools, as I noted in May 2021. This was especially noteworthy considering he has been in the minority party in Congress.

Madison not only continued to get invitations to speak at major conservative conferences from CPAC to Turning Point USA and many places around the country, but has become one of the most requested conservative speakers in the country. 

The man is in a wheelchair with all the related health issues that someone with spinal cord injuries has to deal with on a daily basis. Yet, he travels the country relentlessly, not just for himself, but for many other conservative candidates. As a friendly advisor to him and his staff, I have sometimes suggested he focus more on building his own war chest. But he has taken an approach of trying to find more America First patriots like himself to replace radical Democrats and the spineless Republicans he has encountered. While I sometimes disagree on this tactic, it also shows me he cares more about the cause than himself.

Opportunities for the Opposition

In these first few months of 2022, Madison has made some unforced errors – some political and some personal. None of them rise to the level of being a bad guy – but simply a human being.

However, as Madison should know, when you are in public office, everything you do is under a microscope. This is why many people do not run for public office. They do not want their entire life, past or present, to be subjected to opposition research, on full display for the public. Most people would not be able to handle this emotionally. And, when you rise to the level of influence and media stardom that Madison has achieved, you are an even bigger target. The opposition is relentless and they look for every opportunity to attack. 

On a policy front, Madison’s position on the war in Ukraine is very much in line with his America First values: he is a solid non-interventionist. When asked, at a town hall event in his district, about his views on what the United States should do, he expressed these views. His “political” miscalculation was calling the President of Ukraine a “thug.” This gave his opposition an opportunity to label him “pro-Putin,” which he clearly is not, based on many of his other statements, including a floor speech in Congress.

On a personal front, Madison has made several unforced errors. 

On not one, but two occasions, he has shown up to the airport with a handgun in his carry-on bag. Anyone who knows Madison knows he is not only a fierce supporter of the Second Amendment, but also frequently carries a firearm on him for protection. He is also well-trained in using many different weapons. However, I think someone forgot to tell this young man he might have been trying just a little too hard to earn the endorsement of the NRA. 

More seriously, by making these personal errors, he gave his opponents fodder to show him acting irresponsibly. Thousands of Americans actually make this mistake each year. In 2021, over 5,000 firearms were confiscated at the airport. But, I bet Madison’s mistakes are the only ones you heard about.

In a span of the past six months, he was also pulled over and cited for driving with a revoked license, which apparently came from a number of speeding tickets. There are a lot of members of Congress who do not drive themselves, but have a personal chauffeur. Madison is cut from the cloth of the average American. He isn’t content just having someone drive him around all the time. And, apparently, even though he doesn’t have use of his legs, he has quite the lead foot. 

So again, he made a couple of unforced errors. He should have never been driving with a revoked license. And, as a member of Congress with a huge target on his back, he gave his opponents another opportunity to attack him.

A Step Over the Line

Madison is a very funny guy. When I’ve been in his presence, he is always throwing around plenty of jokes. He’s really a light-hearted, humorous guy. It’s hard not to laugh hard when you are with him. I think every single friend of mine who has met him has gotten a good laugh even when with him for just a few minutes.

When I watched his appearance on the Warrior Poets Society podcast, I saw him talking like he does with his friends. He was clearly in a friendly environment with a friendly host. There were no “gotcha” moments. During that interview, when asked if Congress was like the popular Netflix show, House of Cards, Madison said that some people in Washington DC have invited him to “come to an orgy” and that they might even “do a key bump of cocaine right in front of you.”

I watched this podcast before it became a national story. I thought these were wild, but probably true accusations. Anyone who has been in and around politics, knows it attracts narcissistic, power-hungry people who think they can get away with anything – and who do engage in naughty behavior, especially when they are away from their constituents and their families. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of outstanding well-behaved people in politics too. But let’s be honest – there’s a reason why well-behaved people like Mike Pence stand out (only to get ridiculed for it by the media entertainment complex).

I was only disappointed when Madison didn’t publicly back up the statements he made on that podcast. After meeting privately with Madison, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said that Madison “exaggerated” when making those claims. Madison has not (yet) denied this publicly, but my wild guess here is that both men must have come to some kind of agreement as to not get some of their colleagues in trouble. After all, it pissed off many members of Congress – and likely some of their staff. 

Politicians can get away with a lot of things, but there is one cardinal sin they cannot commit: divulging personal things about their colleagues – especially colleagues on the same side of the aisle. And that was Madison’s biggest mistake. Yet, it still doesn’t make him a bad guy. 

After this incident happened, the flood gates opened on Madison. That’s when we learned about his traffic violations. That’s when photos were released of him having fun on a game show on a cruise ship (wearing ladies clothing), from a time long before he was a candidate for Congress. As he said in a statement this week, his mom was in the audience on that cruise. And he wouldn’t dare do anything inappropriate in front of his mother, a Southern Christian woman.

The silliness of things released about him has continued and has quickly become absurd. Pictures and videos of him with a younger, male staff member suggested he was doing sexual things with that person and paying him and giving him gifts in return. The staff member is not only one of his longtime best friends – but also his cousin. And they weren’t doing anything sexually with each other. They were horsing around and exchanging funny comments on Venmo, like many young people do all day, every day on that platform. But the fact that someone would use this and try to make it a serious story is a very good example about how his detractors will go to any lengths to try to embarrass him and bring him down.

As I stated above, Madison did make a few unforced errors – bringing a gun to the airport (twice) and driving with a revoked license. He wasn’t given any special privileges and even the dashboard camera on the police cruiser, during the traffic stop, showed Madison admitting to his driving mistake to the officers and acting like a gentleman – the gentleman many of us know and love. He never once tried to use his position to get out of a ticket.

Every other negative story I have seen reported about him in the media are completely false and untrue stories, whipped up by a media that is hellbent on trying to cancel this young man’s career before it’s really even taken off. His detractors have been strategically smart by dropping these false stories into the same narrative with his unforced errors, to position him as a liar or at least irresponsible and undeserving of being a member of Congress. It’s devious, for sure. 

There is another part of the narrative against Madison that keeps coming up. I see it written about in story after story and repeated by many people who do not know any better. Many claim that Madison “lied” about being accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. They claim he said if it wasn’t for his car accident, he would be going there.

I saw this claim in the summer of 2020 and researched it before I interviewed him for an episode of the Agents of Innovation podcast on August 29, 2020. At the time, before my interview, I was also under the impression he had been accepted to the Naval Academy but didn’t go because of his accident. However, once I researched his actual statements, I could never find a place where he ever said that he got accepted.

Perhaps, he and his team were politically clever in maybe making people think that he did. He certainly had aspirations to go there. He also was offered an ROTC scholarship to attend N.C. State (a place he never went due to his accident). 

I told someone on his team at the time: Madison is a great story teller. He also has a great story. There is no reason for him to try to embellish it or make people think otherwise. Again, I never found where he said he did get accepted in the Naval Academy, only that he gave the impression that he did.

The Make It or Break It Moment

The biggest thing I got from these aspirations, which are part of his personal journey, is that Madison Cawthorn wanted to serve his country. He told me in August 2020 that every generation of his family served their country in uniform going back to the Revolutionary War and he felt like he “let that down.” When he said this to me on the podcast, I couldn’t help but think: Let that down? You’re in a wheelchair, man!

All of those ancestors served in uniform as residents of North Carolina, where every generation of his family has lived since the time of this country’s founding. While his car accident sidelined his ability to serve his country in uniform, he found another way. 

But now some are trying to take that way. In fact, not only has there been a media smear campaign against Madison, but there are even organized activists trying to get him removed from the ballot by filing procedures in court in relation to the allegation he was part of an “insurrection” at the Capitol in January 2021. A car accident took away the use of his legs. Activists are trying to take away his ability to serve. 

Madison survived a horrific car accident. He not only lived to fight another day, but he used his experience to help others overcome the kinds of sufferings and setbacks they might face in their own life. He used his talent and his gifts to do this through motivational speeches, podcast and television appearances, and by eventually bringing his voice to the halls of Congress and to forums in North Carolina and across the country. His story and his voice are nothing less than inspiring.

Going forward, Madison needs to realize his compelling story, his good looks, and his ability to speak are his strengths – and that the flip side of strengths are that they are very close to one’s weaknesses. Being a storyteller and a great speaker might lead you to a bit of hyperbole at times  – that might be helpful as a motivational speaker, but it is detrimental as a politician. Good looks and being in a position of power will attract people to you – they’ll also attract more temptations. 

Like anyone else with these kinds of strengths, Madison needs to be on guard against this at all times, to keep his head on straight. It will also help him prevent giving his enemies the ability to embellish his mistakes by weaving in false stories about him to create a narrative they want. His huge popularity on social media will also help those false narratives gain more attention than the average member of Congress gets.

And let’s face it. When you have 765,000 followers on Instagram, are constantly cheered on by thousands of adoring fans at conferences, and have a former President of the United States on speed dial, it’s easy to start believing you are invincible, no matter how clean a life you keep. And no one’s life is perfect. Detractors are bound to find dirt.  

As tough as this challenge is, Madison has to work especially hard every day to stay as humble as possible and remember that he is only human. The rest of us should remember this too.

Before running for office, Madison was a native son of North Carolina, celebrated for defeating the odds that none of us would ever want to have to face. But once one runs for office, becomes a national star, and takes the fight to their political enemies, they are going to be put under a microscope every day that remains in their life. It is a fearless path he has chosen – a path that comes with more challenges than the average person faces. 

However, Madison has faced bigger odds and defeated them. I am confident he will look within his soul and be guided by the Father above, to humble himself and continue to use his unique talents to be a champion for us all. I hope he keeps the faith and finishes the race.

Francisco Gonzalez is founder and CEO of Fearless Journeys and host of the Agents of Innovation podcast, where he interviews entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and artists. He is also visiting professor at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala City, teaching courses on entrepreneurship and innovation. He was previously the director of philanthropy for National Review Institute. He serves on the boards of The Philadelphia Society, AMIkids Orlando, and on the Advisory Council for Turning Point USA.

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TheyCan't Handle the Truth
TheyCan't Handle the Truth
1 year ago

I think Madison should tell the left that his dressing in women’s clothes as a game at a party reflects what the left ‘seriously pushes’ on us everyday why complain? He was doing exactly what they like, I mean LOVE!

Mom of 4 Boys
Mom of 4 Boys
1 year ago

I don’t live in NC, and have no “dog in this hunt”, but I very clearly remember seeing this young man coming to a cold, dirty parking garage, where Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrat hierarchy had sent the off duty National Guardsmen to sleep on the cold concrete floor, with no food or blankets, and questionable bathroom facilities. This so called “Nazi Sympathizer” (yeah right!) showed up with a car-full of hot pizzas for the troops, and, from what I saw on TV, stayed to visit with these young men and women. Yeah, this congressman is a real rotten apple! Keep it up, Madison, I’d vote for you, if I lived in Hendersonville.

1 year ago

We need more like him!!! Hey he is just human. None of us are perfect. Looks like has his
act together!! If he were a democrat he would be hailed as a saint and no one would be
looking for flaws!!! But that’s how this low life demo’s operate!!! They can’t stand for a
stand up good Republican as there has to be something they can find to diminish him and
they go for it!!! Shame Shame on them but they don’t care!!!! They need to police their own
but fat chance of that!!!! Their door step is normally cluttered if you get my meaning…..