JOHN HOOD COLUMN: Cawthorn’s handlers got it wrong

When Carolina Journal first reported first-term U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s intention to abandon his current district next year to run in an adjacent one, CJ quoted Cawthorn as saying his decision was part of “a strategy to increase conservativism in North Carolina.”

John Hood

Here’s what Cawthorn said in a subsequent video making it official: “Knowing the political realities of the 13th District, I am afraid that another establishment, go-along-to-get-along Republican would prevail there.”

The “establishment Republican” Cawthorn was calling out was clearly N.C. Rep. Tim Moore, who’d been widely expected to seek the Republican nomination in the new 13th District stretching from the mountains to the Charlotte suburbs. To label Moore a “go-along-to-get-along Republican” is, among other things, to reveal an embarrassing ignorance of how legislative chambers work. Moore is the longtime speaker of the N.C. House. At worst, other GOP lawmakers may “go along” to “get along” with him.

Of course, one regularly finds the words “embarrassing” and “ignorance” in the same sentence as the name of the freshman congressman from Western North Carolina. Madison Cawthorn is an appallingly ignorant young man who regularly embarrasses conservatives and Republicans, whether they admit it or not.

My indignation about this episode, however, isn’t primarily directed at Cawthorn, who is likely a pawn in some broader (and sillier) scheme hatched by others. What appalls me is that out-of-state operatives are using him as a vessel to trash the very real accomplishments of conservative governance in our state. You can see the same dynamic in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, with the Club for Growth and other supporters of U.S. Rep. Ted Budd sliming former Gov. Pat McCrory as “unprincipled” with “a record of failure.”

Many North Carolina conservatives, myself included, have disagreed with McCrory, Moore and other GOP leaders from time to time. But you’d have to be living under a rock, or perhaps in some faraway beachfront resort, not to be aware of and appreciate their role in enacting some of the most far-reaching and successful conservative reforms in recent American history.

These leaders and their colleagues cut state taxes multiple times. The new state budget will phase out North Carolina’s corporate rate entirely. Since 2010, state spending has fallen significantly as a share of the state’s economy. Thanks to a thriving charter sector and an expanding voucher program, North Carolina parents have more school choice than ever before. During McCrory’s tenure, the state substantially reformed its system for financing infrastructure and curtailed costly regulations. Those are only some of the entries on a long list of victories.

Such victories, and the practical experience that comes with them, are the building blocks of a successful political movement with the goal and capability of governing North Carolina and the rest of the country. Soundbites and clickbait, on the other hand, build little except fundraising lists.

Speaking of which, the off-stage grifters and demagogues who’d like to portray Tim Moore as a do-nothing squish and Madison Cawthorn as a conservative champion seem to think they’ve mastered the art of political manipulation. Moore did, after all, bow out of a potential primary fight in the 13th District and announced that he would seek another term in the legislature — and as speaker of the house.

Mission accomplished? Depends on the mission you have in mind. The most-despised institution in American government right now is Congress. Hard-core partisans appreciate their own party’s members, perhaps, but a broad swath of voters from the center-left to the center-right view our federal legislature as a circus of ponderous pachyderms, braying jackasses and clueless clowns.

Although some may think otherwise, a feckless and disreputable Congress is a threat to limited, constitutional government. It concedes too much power to the executive and judicial branches. Our republic has grave problems — the impending bankruptcy of our entitlement state being a prime example — that only legislation can address.

Having more members with practical legislative experience will help. Incessant tweeting will not.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member and author.