Make the establishment relevant again

Published April 7, 2022

By Thomas Mills

The Republican old guard in North Carolina has had enough of Madison Cawthorn. He’s been an embarrassment to a party that seemed beyond embarrassing. The leading members of the Republican Party are coming out against him and endorsing one of his numerous primary opponents, Chuck Edwards. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger are hosting a fundraiser for Edwards. Senator Thom Tillis blasted Cawthorn in a press release and threw his support behind Edwards, too. 

It’s rare to see prominent members of either party endorse a primary opponent to a sitting Member of Congress, but Cawthorn had it coming. His latest lie accused fellow Members of Congress of drug use and orgies. Since he only hangs out with Republicans, we can only assume he’s talking about members of his own party. Moore also had plans to run for a Congressional seat until Cawthorn announced he was switching districts. The courts ultimately squashed both politicians’ plans, but I’m sure Moore holds more than a little resentment since Cawthorn called him a “go-along-to-get along establishment Republican.” 

On narrow terms, this intramural squabble is personal. Cawthorn is a renowned liar who leveled accusations at political leaders with greater experience and standing. He’s only a freshman Representative despite the celebrity he’s earned. He’s shown a lack of respect for those who came before him and have been fighting the good fight long before he even knew the difference between Congress and the legislature. 

 But this fight is bigger than that. It’s part of a larger battle to determine direction and control over the GOP. Cawthorn has been a disciple of Trumpism, spouting nationalist ideology rooted in the politics of resentment. Like Trump, he’ll do anything for ratings and has shown little respect for the establishment Republicans who built the party that took control of the state back in 2010.

Cawthorn represents an ascendant wing of the GOP that includes opportunists and grifters like Mark Robinson, Dan Bishop, and Bo Hines here in North Carolina and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert nationally. They appeal to the basest instincts of people, using resentment, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia to animate their supporters. They are the political wing of groups like the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo bois. 

 Tillis, Moore, and Berger represent an establishment fighting back. Sure, they’ve cynically appealed to the white nationalist base to get elected, but they never expected them to be in control. Finally, they’re pushing back. It’s a relatively low-risk, high-reward situation but at least they’ve said “Enough!” about something. Until now, they’ve either stayed silent or exploited the dishonesty of the Trumpists. Tillis even let himself be publicly humiliated by Trump, afraid of alienating his base if he stood up for himself. 

I’m pulling for Chuck Edwards and the establishment in this primary. I think we’ve got a long way to go before we can reach a functioning political system again, but defeating the extremists and the scam artists who take advantage of their ignorance is the first step. Cawthorn is still the frontrunner, but only because the primary field is so crowded. For the moment, Trump is losing his shine and those that have emulated him are vulnerable. Let’s hope this effort can make the establishment relevant again.