Just a month after he invited Cawthorn to speak at a North Carolina rally, Trump has grown increasingly annoyed and disappointed with his MAGA apprentice. The twice-impeached former president has described some of what he’s heard about Cawthorn’s latest woes — and the online sexual imagery associated with it — as “gross,” according to two sources who’ve heard Trump speak about the matter in the past couple weeks.
Over the past three weeks, someone (or some group) has shared personal videos of Cawthorn engaged goofing in sexually suggestive antics with the apparent aim of raising questions about his sexuality to North Carolina voters. Cawthorn has pushed back by dismissing the videos as years-old attempts at humor, saying their release is part of a plot from “the left.”
Trump, for one, is not impressed. “Trump is not at the point of pulling his endorsement, but the [former] president says he wants to sit back and see what happens,” one of the sources recalls. “But he’s been disappointed with Madison, and thinks he has problems handling his [public relations],” specifically with the video and photos that have surfaced.
The other source said that lately Trump had voiced bewilderment and disgusted confusion about what he’d been told of the flood of leaks and footage, asking at one point in recent days if one of the allegations was that Cawthorn was “fucking his cousin?” (That is not one of the allegations. Instead, Cawthorn’s cousin, who is also on his staff, appears in some of the videos where sex is discussed.)
Former “President Trump is completely weirded out by the allegations,” a third source, a Trump ally, bluntly relayed to Rolling Stone.
“President Trump is my friend and the leader of our party. I don’t trust anonymous sources and nameless accusations,” Cawthorn tells Rolling Stone in a statement. “The fake news attacks MAGA warriors every single day. Their lies won’t distract me from fighting for an America First agenda in Congress.”
A Trump spokesperson did not provide comment on this story.
Cawthorn has courted controversy on a number of occasions before the recent leaks. He spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on the day of the insurrection and urged voters to “lightly threaten” representatives who refused to help overthrow the election during an appearance at a Turning Points USA conference. He has also called besieged Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky “a thug,” threatened “bloodshed” over future elections, and posed for some unnervingly enthusiastic selfies at Adolph Hitler’s former mountain retreat.
But his gaffes never hindered his rise as a star within the MAGA world until the attacks on him took aim at his sexuality.
The source who heard Trump’s lewd question about Cawthorn’s cousin noted that the ex-president made a point of saying that though Cawthorn needs to “get his act together,” as the source paraphrased, he did have the “good” opinions and did say what Trump wanted about the 2020 presidential election, for instance. (Trump has demanded that his allies propagandize his anti-democratic lies about that election being “stolen,” and has largely made it a litmus test for who in his party he endorses and who he tries to destroy politically.)
While Cawthorn’s endorsement is safe for the moment, his political fate now lies in hands that have been notoriously fickle throughout Republican primaries and the buildup to the 2022 midterm elections. (Throughout the primaries so far, Trump’s decision-making has repeatedly been guided by whether or not he thinks a conservative is, for instance, “fucking disgusting,” “fucking gross,” or “fucking weird.”)
The recent lack of outward, vocal support from Trump has left Cawthorn — facing a seemingly unending series of scandals including, insider trading allegations, multiple firearms violations, and leaks of sexually charged videos — vulnerable to attacks from his many mainstream Republican enemies. And he’s facing defections even from among the MAGA faithful.
“What I find interesting is that no one’s really coming out and defending him on a national level. The Marjorie Taylor Greenes, the Matt Gaetzes, the Lauren Boeberts — those people aren’t coming out to defend him,” George Erwin, a former district director for Cawthorn who regrets his support for the U.S. congressman, told Rolling Stone on Friday.
Cawthorn’s extremely online friends in Congress — House Republicans such as the aforementioned Greene, Gaetz, and Boebert — have not stepped up to defend him since the videos and photos began to leak in late April. A review of congressional tweets by Rolling Stone shows that so far only Rep. Paul Gosar has offered praise for the embattled North Carolina Republican, while the House and Senate GOP have remained silent.
In recent years, Cawthorn had also made his share of petty enemies among his fellow MAGA politicians and candidates in the Tar Heel State, privately pitching himself to his Trumpist compatriots as the state’s true gatekeeper to the 45th president, two people with knowledge of the situation said. “He thinks he’s such a big shot,” one of the people said.
Erwin — a one-time sheriff in Henderson County, N.C. — says he’s seen a similar pattern play out locally. “I know a lot of people that gave substantial amounts of money to him, worked hard for him, supported him and, buddy, they’re just pulling back or saying ‘no way. We’re not going there,” he added.
Over the past few months, Cawthorn has hemorrhaged scandals. Experts have questioned whether his ownership and endorsement of a “Let’s Go Brandon” cryptocurrency violated insider trading rules. And in late April he was stopped for the second time at a North Carolina airport and issued a citation for carrying a loaded handgun while attempting to pass through security.
Cawthorn critics have also repeatedly distributed photos and videos — each allegedly sourced to someone formerly close to Cawthorn or his campaign — showing him in embarrassing situations. The leaked content appears aimed, at least partly, at baiting conservative voters into questioning Cawthorn’s sexuality.
“That guy is a hot mess,” said Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor and MAGAland stalwart who occasionally advises Trump on 2022 candidates. “I think he needs to pursue another line of work in the private sector. There’s too much drama swirling around him that he has to explain. He constantly dismisses sketchy behavior by saying it was a long time ago; but he’s only 26 years old, so it wasn’t THAT long ago…I have nothing personal against him; I just don’t think he needs to be a ‘new face’ of the party with all of the photos and videos coming out. It’s hard for established politicians to stand next to him.”
In April, Politico obtained photos of Cawthorn on a cruise dressed in lingerie and posing with two women. A week later the Daily Mail published a video of Cawthorne saying he “would like to see a naked body beneath my hands” while a staffer’s hand lies near his groin.
The video came from an ethics complaint against Cawthorn filed by American Muckrakers PAC, a political action committee run by Democrats opposed to his reelection, which asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate “whether any House Rules or statutes were violated by the relationship between Rep. Cawthorn” and the staffer depicted in the Daily Mail video.
This week, the PAC released yet another video showing a nude Cawthorn “dry humping someone’s head” allegedly shared by “a former Cawthorn supporter and big donor who asked to remain anonymous.”
Since the video of what appeared to be juvenile antics by Cawthorn, critics have skewered the leak as an irresponsible attempt to stoke and legitimize homophobia in the quest to unseat the North Carolina Republican. In an interview on Thursday, Morris Davis, a former Air Force colonel who ran against Cawthorn as a Democrat in 2020, defended the PAC’s decision to release the video and its alleged relevance to the campaign.
“The reason we put it out is just the blatant hypocrisy of Cawthorn. His bread and butter is the Christian Right. He’s trying to, according to him, stop the liberal, anti-family, anti-American—that whole narrative that he’s adopted when he does stuff like this,” Davis told Rolling Stone. “I don’t lose any sleep worrying about Madison Cawthorn. I think people have the right to know what a hypocrite he is.”
By Friday, however, the PAC had quietly removed the video from its website.
Cawthorn also ran afoul of much of MAGAworld when he endorsed Josh Mandel in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary. That put Cawthorn on the wrong side of the former president’s feud with the more mainstream conservative Club for Growth and its president, David McIntosh, who served as one of Mandel’s main backers.
Trump stayed out of officially endorsing in the primary fight until the final weeks of the race, when lurid rumors about McIntosh’s personal habits spread by Fox News host Tucker Carlson helped nudge Trump into further spurning the Club, and ultimately endorsing Vance. But before Trump weighed in, Cawthorn’s closest allies in the MAGA caucus had already signaled they were steering clear of Mandel.Greene endorsed Vance in January, describing him as a “conservative warrior that the entire America First movement needs fighting for us.” Gaetz hailed Vance as having “put on a clinic in the Ohio senate debates” in early April and echoed Trump’s endorsement of the Ivy League financier days later.