Madison Cawthorn calls Zelenskyy a ‘thug’? What was he thinking?

The Charlotte Observer editorial board (TNS)
CORRECTS YEAR IN SECOND REFERENCE TO 2022 FILE - In this image taken from video, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 7, 2021. A group of North Carolina voters told state officials on Monday, Jan.10, 2022 they want Cawthorn disqualified as a congressional candidate, citing his involvement in last January’s rally in Washington questioning the presidential election outcome before a Capitol riot later that day. (House Television via AP, File)

Madison Cawthorn seems to love getting people wound up. He’s only been in the spotlight for a few years — and an elected official for just over a year — yet he manages to generate enough scandal to stay in state and national headlines seemingly every week.

On Thursday, WRAL shared a video of him calling Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” to his supporters at an event last weekend. He also says Ukraine “is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Cawthorn tried to walk those comments back after WRAL broke the story Wednesday, posting on his congressional Twitter account that “the actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting. But leaders, including Zelenskyy, should NOT push misinformation on America.”

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is message, however, seems to reject America entering the fight altogether. And his villainization of Zelenskyy is akin to rhetoric coming from Russian officials. President Vladimir Putin has attempted to justify his invasion of Ukraine by framing it as a “special operation” to “protect people who have been abused by the genocide of the Kyiv regime.” Putin has also suggested that Ukraine is run by Nazis, despite the fact that Zelenskyy is himself Jewish.

Cawthorn’s comments are not only out of step with what Americans overwhelmingly feel about Ukraine; they’re also a departure from most of his fellow Republicans. As reports of Cawthorn’s remarks surfaced Wednesday, the Republican-led N.C. House of Representatives was unanimously voting on a resolution of support for Ukraine. House Speaker Tim Moore told The News & Observer that Cawthorn’s comments are “unfortunate.”

“We need to very clearly condemn someone who’s a bad actor like Vladimir Putin, and everything I’m seeing about Zelenskyy is, this is a guy who cares about his country, and is literally putting his life on the line,” Moore told The N&O.

It isn’t clear what Cawthorn is thinking. It’s possible he has a soft spot for Vladimir Putin, given the similarities in their hyper-nationalistic rhetoric. It’s also possible he wants to once again mimic former president Donald Trump, who expressed an early admiration for Putin’s invasion. But even Trump has since read the room on what America feels about Russia and Ukraine, which leads us to believe that maybe Cawthorn was speaking without thinking much at all. It wouldn’t be the first time.