When Madison Cawthorn Felt 'Invisible'

When Madison Cawthorn Felt 'Invisible'

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because he represents a new generation of the Republican Party.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Madison Cawthorn became the youngest member of Congress by defeating the preferred choice of President Donald Trump in a Republican primary, but the wheelchair-bound 25-year-old has forged ahead in a Trump-less world by embracing the former president — including a speaking spot at the infamous “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Cawthorn joined OZY’s co-founder and CEO on The Carlos Watson Show for a spirited conversation about the future of the country. The following are some of the best cuts from the full interview, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.


Carlos Watson: You spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally … later on there was violence, there was death. Do you regret any of the things that you said during that time?

Congressman Madison Cawthorn: I don’t regret it, actually, Carlos. Obviously, I think what happened on January 6th was despicable. I thought it was conducted by weak-minded men and women who were unable to check their worst impulses and had very little self-control. So completely condemn it.

But when I did go speak at that rally, I was specifically trying to get across to the people in that crowd, and I think I did the overwhelming majority of them, that, hey, I am in Congress. I’m going down to the Capitol right now to speak on your behalf. I wasn’t down there saying that there was a fraudulent system within the Dominion voting machines or there were U-Haul trucks being backed up with tons of ballots and then they were fraudulently marked, because I couldn’t personally prove that, Carlos. And so I definitely didn’t try and feed into that narrative.

But I do believe that, specifically in Wisconsin, which was the state that I personally debated upon, there were some constitutional infractions about the way they carry out their elections. So when I went down to the “Stop the Steal” rally, I was explaining to the people there, hey, I am going down to Congress to represent you. I feel like a lot of frustration from Americans comes from when they don’t feel like they’re being represented in politics. And so, if anything, I hope that my words brought peace into the hearts of more people than violence. And so …

Watson: Would you do it differently, though? I know that … a friend of yours was attacked in a political setting. So I know you know that real things can happen. Is there any part of you that would go back though and do it differently?

Cawthorn: Well, one, I mean you know that President Donald Trump said, “I want you to peaceably and patriotically protest.” So that’s good on his part. But if I could go back, I probably … and I had an opportunity to speak with the president, which I did not. I would have asked that he did not tell the crowd to go down to the Capitol.

I think that that just put everything in a dangerous setting. The Capitol complex is so large that it’s just hard to keep that entire area covered with only 1,800 uniformed officers in the Capitol Police.

And so, when President Trump told the protesters to go down to the Capitol, I thought that was fraught with danger in and of itself. I don’t think he was inciting violence by that, but I do think that it led to a dangerous situation.

But if I could go back, I wouldn’t have changed any of the words that I did say, but I probably would have added some lines. I probably would have encouraged more peace. Obviously, if I had a crystal ball and knew what was going to happen, there’s many things I would’ve changed.

But, unfortunately, with the benefit of hindsight, there’s so many ways that I’ve thought, Oh, wow, I could have prevented violence. I could have prevented death. But you know what? You just don’t know what you don’t know.


Watson: Congressman, if someone were to push you and say, “I like the vision. I like that desire for peace. I like that desire for public service. But the truth is, Congressman Cawthorn was fortunate to grow up in a relatively solid, strong household, good financial situation. And so, when he and others say, ‘I’d get the three-letter agencies out of your life,’ that’s coming from a position of privilege. That’s coming from a position of the top 10 percent, the top 20 percent, whereas many others may need more help. They may need more help on health care. They may need more help on education. They may need more help in any of a number of ways.” How do you hear that?

Cawthorn: Carlos, that’s a very nuanced question. I actually really appreciate you asking that. So most Republicans, I feel like, push back on the idea of privilege or having a privileged upbringing. But I would say I had a charmed childhood. We grew up in the upper-middle class. I knew very little struggle in my life until actually my car accident happened. I remember the first time I left the hospital, it was after about a year of being in rehab, in ICU, and all the various things that I went through. I was over 6 feet tall before my car accident, I was a middle linebacker in high school. I felt like I had a presence when I walked into a crowd. People would part ways, I would notice a girl checking me out every now and then. It made me feel good. I felt good about myself.

But then when I first left that hospital, I went to a Braves game in Atlanta with my older brother. I remember I was rolling through that crowd and I felt completely invisible. I felt completely disenfranchised, like society had left me behind.

At that moment I realized that not everybody has the exact same perspective, not everybody has the exact same upbringing or the exact same privileged and fortunate life that I had. And so, that has enabled me to have a lot more empathy.

And so, I would say because of what happened to me, the hardships that I went through, just created an empathetic level in my life that I’m willing to put myself in somebody else’s shoes. Carlos, to that point, I can absolutely say that there are people who do need more assistance.

This is a big reason why I’m such a strong proponent for Tim Scott’s Opportunity Zones going in. … Because there are areas in our world that, whether it was because of redlining or poor financial decisions in the past by city planners, there are areas that have been financially depressed for a very long time, and that has led to less opportunities for those communities. And I absolutely think that the best way we can help those communities is to lower regulation, lower taxes, so we can encourage more investment in those areas.


Watson: Congressman Cawthorn, if we were doing the Constitutional Convention again, I often say that if we were to freshly think about America’s next chapter — America 2.0. — so not just the last 250 years, but the next 250 years. And if we were to gather people together, call it in Philadelphia, have a new Constitutional Convention, try to reset America, maybe instead of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, maybe the founders would sound like Gladwell and Cawthorn and Ocasio-Cortez, and Lakshmi and others. What would be one or two big ideas that you’d want to put on the table as you look again, not backward, but you look forward at the next 250 years and what America can be, what would you want to put on the table?

Cawthorn: Carlos, I think this is probably one of the coolest questions I’ve ever been asked, so I love this. But if I really sit down and think about it, the thing that really lights my fire and gets me up in the morning and makes me want to gain more influence here in Washington is a very simple principle that I think has a lot of wisdom to it.

Back in the 1900s, we actually passed a constitutional amendment that limited the president to two terms. And I think that since then, we’ve seen the wisdom in having a nice, peaceful transition of power every four or every eight years. And because of that, I think that we could see the exact same thing happening inside of Congress and in the Senate. I think term limits are extremely crucial. I believe that, whether it’s Mitch McConnell, who’s been in politics for, I believe 37 years or Nancy Pelosi, who’s been in politics for longer than I’ve been alive.

I think that on both sides of the aisle, you see these entrenched politicians, this entrenched political class who have a very narrow viewpoint of how the world should act. And because of that, you see very little change happening in our government. So I think that if we could get term limits on Congress, we could get more fresh faces, more fresh ideas. I’m not just saying younger people. I want a diverse representation inside of Congress in the halls of the … in the House and the Senate. I think that we would see the country in a much better place right now than we do see it where we’re at.