(August 26, 2020 / JNS) In June, a brash and photogenic “Zoomer” named Madison Cawthorn drew national headlines after a surprise Republican primary win for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district.
Cawthorn, 25, is being touted by Republicans, including U.S. President Donald Trump, as a rising star in the party. He is slated to speak on Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention. If elected, he would become the youngest member of Congress, filling in the vacated seat left by Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows.
“I am honored and humbled by President Trump’s invitation to speak at the Republican National Convention,” Cawthorn said in a statement. “I’m ready to join a new generation of American leaders who are eager to stand up and fight for the future.”
However, Cawthorn’s increased attention has also lead to closer scrutiny, including allegations of aggressive sexual behavior by several young women, questions over his campaign biography and possible ties to the alt-right.
For the Jewish community, Cawthorn came under fire in recent weeks as Instagram photos resurfaced of him and his brother visiting World War II sites, including the Eagle’s Nest—the vacation home and mountain retreat of Adolf Hitler.
“The vacation house of the Führer. Seeing the Eagles Nest has been on my bucket list for a while, it did not disappoint. Strange to hear so many laughs and share such a good time with my brother where only 79 years ago a supreme evil shared laughs and good times with his compatriots,” read a photo caption. Cawthorn has since deleted the posts.
The “Führer” is what Hitler’s followers called him.
In a statement to JNS, Cawthorn defended the photos.
“In 2017, my brother and I visited the Eagle’s Nest as part of a European holiday,” he said. “I took a few photos of the visit and posted them to my Instagram account. In my caption, I referred to Hitler as the Führer. My understanding of this word at the time was that it meant a ‘ruthless, tyrannical leader,’ a term I certainly don’t view as a compliment. I also noted that it was strange to share a laugh with my brother in a place where supreme evil had laughed previously.”
Troubled by ‘uptick in hatred’
Democrat Morris “Moe” Davis, a decorated retired U.S. Air Force colonel and attorney who is Cawthorn’s opponent in the congressional race, told JNS that his social-media posts concerning the Eagle’s Nest visit were “troubling.”
“My opponent raised serious questions within the Jewish community about a ‘bucket list’ trip to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest vacation home, when he referred to Hitler reverentially as the ‘Führer’ in an Instagram post. His campaign was specifically asked if Mr. Cawthorn reached out to the Jewish community to explain this and his spokesman said no because ‘it’s not a particularly large community,” said Davis.
“I’ve always considered diversity to be a strength in our country and our community,” continued Davis. “That’s why I would never write off a segment of the population as insignificant, no matter how small it numbers. When you represent the district, you represent the entire district. The thousands of Jewish people who call Western North Carolina home matter.”
Davis added that he is also troubled by the “uptick in hatred in general” and accused Cawthorn of fanning the flames of bigotry.
“I think it’s this whole bigotry and hatred—the kind of stuff that Mr. Cawthorn’s promoting with his far-right nonsense. I think the first thing is to work as hard as you can to elect people who promote unity and oppose hate, rather than letting these extremists have leadership roles in our country.”
‘Young generation of patriots to rise up’
Nevertheless, what has made Cawthorn stand out is the fact that at such a young age—and with relatively no job experience or a college degree—he is so firmly in support of Trump and his brand of conservatism, while many of his “Gen Z” peers are out protesting the president and his policies on immigration, gun violence and race. Cawthorn, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a car crash when he was a teenager, has positioned himself as a bridge between the Republican Party’s aging leadership and the next generation of Republicans.
“I think that it’s time for a young generation of patriots to rise up, and try and take the helm, and combat this liberal ideology that seems to have taken root in our generation,” he recently told Fox Business News.
Cawthorn has styled himself as a staunch conservative aligned with Trump and the Republican Party, and as such has highlighted his support for the Second Amendment, religious freedom and opposition to abortion, socialism and the left.
He grew up in western North Carolina and has credited his evangelical Christian faith as informing his conservative views, which includes support for Israel.
“I believe the Jews are G-d’s chosen people. Israel is a vital ally to the United States, perhaps our most important ally, so I can’t imagine a world where we wouldn’t support Israel,” he told JNS.
On the flip side, he believes that the Democratic Party is “anti-Semitic” and expressed confusion over why so many American Jews support Democrats.
“I can’t understand that. There’s not enough we can do to appease,” he said, referring to American Jews. “I think there’s a lot of Jews in America who care about the Zionist state and want to say it nominally, but they don’t put their money where their mouth is.”
He said that while it’s not “beyond repair” for the GOP to appeal to all Jews, “until cultural Jews all over the world start actually supporting the Zionist state as much as the Republican Party does,” the GOP won’t “take away Democrat votes.”
Cawthorn’s campaign adviser, Andy Knapp, who is Jewish, dismissed the notion that Cawthorn is anti-Semitic or leans too far to the right.
“The recent accusations by Moe Davis and a few media outlets related to Madison being a white supremacist or anti-Semite offend me deeply. Madison has always embraced me and my faith, as have his parents, his brother and his inner circle,” he said.
“I have known Madison for a long time and have always known him to be a friend to the Jewish community, to minority communities and to the LGBTQ community. I look forward to the rest of the world getting to know him better when he takes his role in the House of Representatives in November.”
Moving towards the November election, it appears that Cawthorn’s missteps and scrutiny have led to a tougher than expected race with Davis in a district than leans Republican, despite the district’s boundaries being redrawn in 2019 over concerns of gerrymandering. An internal Democratic poll from earlier in August shows Cawthorn leading Davis by just 5 percentage points, 46-41. An earlier July poll had the candidates in a dead heat.
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