Politics / December 1, 2023

The George Santos Show Was Fun, but It’s Time for the Series Finale

Santos is undeniably captivating, but he is not a lovable scammer. He’s a hard-right ideologue, and we will all be better off without him.

Faith Branch
George Santos speaks during a press conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 30, 2023.
George Santos speaks during a press conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on November 30, 2023. (Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images)

The bell has finally tolled for Representative George Santos’s congressional career. On Friday, the already-infamous New York Republican was expelled from Congress by a vote of 311-114; 105 Republicans joined 206 Democrats in the push to oust him.

Santos had narrowly survived the last round of voting to knock him out of Congress when the GOP-led measure failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote for expulsion. But following an extensive 56-page House Ethics Committee report detailing Santos’s flagrant disregard for campaign finance laws and basic government ethics, his colleagues redoubled their efforts and secured the votes to remove him.

“His conduct is not only unbecoming and embarrassing, it is criminal,” said fellow New York Republican Mike Lawler, who had been pushing to oust Santos for months. Santos’s Republican colleagues from out of state were no more forgiving. Chair of the Ethics Committee and Mississippi Representative Michael Guest, who voted present during the last expulsion vote, filed the latest resolution to expel Santos, saying, the evidence uncovered is “more than sufficient to warrant punishment and the most appropriate punishment, is expulsion.”

According to the House committee’s detailed report, “At nearly every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles,” and Santos “cannot be trusted.” The Department of Justice agrees. In October, the federal agency charged him in a 23-count indictment, including one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, multiple counts of wire fraud, multiple counts of aggravated identity theft, multiple counts of money laundering, and one count of theft of public funds.

The only people who appear happy with the knavish politician lately are late-night hosts, and Internet users who want a laugh. “My dream House of Representatives is 434 Democrats and George Santos,” read a recent tweet. Another read, “At this point, every revelation about George Santos just makes me love him more.” On social media, Santos isn’t a corrupt politician; he’s a fabulist and a rising star. In this age of the grifter, his allegedly criminal behavior is an even trade-off for his entertainment value.

Objectively, Santos, even in all of his blatant criminality, is amusing to watch and fun to talk about—a generally enthralling personality. But to view him as a harmless personality who accidentally fell into politics would put us all well below the 2016 learning curve.

It’s not because there’s any shame in joining the collective laughter at a politician. The country hasn’t felt a rush similar to his daily high-speed chases by foot through the Capitol halls since the paparazzi mania of 2007. It would be absurd not to find humor in the Santos circus. However, once you strip Santos of the gilded grifter’s clothes he dons so comedically, what you’re left with isn’t a loveable scammer. It’s a nasty, hard-right ideologue—and even though he’s been booted from Congress, the troubling dynamics that have turned him into an unlikely pop culture icon aren’t going anywhere.

Santos’s well-known inability to identify the truth stretches back several years. In February of 2021, he claimed, “My family and I [are] nearing a 1 year anniversary of not receiving rent on 13 properties.” He later told City & State New York that he had never owned property. In July 2021, he tweeted that his mother died because of 9/11; she wasn’t even in the US at the time. In November 2022, he told WYNC that four of his former employees died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre; The New York Times proved that was a lie. During his 2022 campaign, he claimed to have started a nonprofit animal rescue called Friends of Pets United; neither the attorney general offices from New York and New Jersey nor the IRS could find any record of a charity with that name.

But it’s not just bizarre personal lies that Santos enjoys telling. Potentially one of his most dangerous inventions of the mind is his propagation of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from his fellow spreader of alternative facts Donald Trump. He even adapted this lie for his own circumstances. In January 2021, a few months after Santos’s loss to then-Representative Tom Suozzi, the future congressman attended a multi-day DC Stop the Steal rally that would later serve as the preamble to the insurrection at the US Capitol. At the January 5 event, Santos told the crowd, “They did to me what they did to Donald Trump. They stole my election.” He gave this speech while wearing an allegedly stolen Burberry scarf.

Last May, Santos’s preoccupation with the Big Lie led him to introduce the Hands Off Our Election Resolution of 2023, a bill to fight “Democrat subterfuge and claims about enhancing voting rights.” More than a love of unsubstantiated stolen election claims, Trump’s protégé also seems to share his obsession with China. This year, Santos introduced multiple pieces of legislation aimed at the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, several of which appear to be fueled by unproven conspiracy theories that Covid came from a Chinese lab. One of the 2023 bills would allow states to take the Chinese government to court for any harm caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

All the Santos fanfare obfuscates his far-right tendencies. It’s also helping him, as Jimmy Kimmel put it, “live to scam another day.” The ex-congressman is already posting cryptic tweets about his next chapter, signaling that Santos-mania may go on longer than is good for the country. For now, he maintains that he does not intend to run for reelection. Even that announcement probably shouldn’t be believed, given the source. Just this week, he told reporters during a press conference that his current desire not to seek reelection “doesn’t mean that it’s goodbye forever.”

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It’s unclear if this latest song and dance is part of a circuitous audition for the lead role in The Music Man or merely a welcome distraction from the real and serious allegations lobbed against him. What is clear is that Santos, despite the laughs he provides, shares the same views that threaten to further disfigure the government as his (now former) colleagues on the far-right fringes of the GOP. In the same Twitter announcement where he declined to run for reelection, Santos pushed a far-right organization’s attempt to amend the Constitution via a process that experts have called unrepresentative and undemocratic. “THE TIME IS NOW FOR THE STATES TO RISE UP AND COMMENCE AN ARTICLE V CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION!” he tweeted in all caps.

Like the grifters before him and the ones yet to come, Santos doesn’t seem to want to go gently into the night. Instead, he’s been escalating his attention-grabbing behavior. From wielding unidentified babies through the Capitol while screaming at activists to telling The New York Times that his 5-year-old niece was kidnapped in a convoluted Chinese Communist Party plot—she wasn’t—he clearly wants to get as much time in the spotlight as he can before the fame well runs dry.

Tweets insisting that he “should be on the throne” and is “the least harmful Republican in the congress” sanitize a person who has shown he is equally as troublesome as the likes of Lauren Boebert and Tucker Carlson. With the warm welcome he’s getting from his public, Santos could land himself a far-right show on Rumble or go the Sean Spicer route and appear on Dancing with the Stars after his possible stint in prison. Worse, he could run for another government position and win. If we don’t want to further fuel the right-wing attention racket—or inspire the next George Santos type to try out politics—Santos needs to be recognized for what he is: an unscrupulous politician who cannot be trusted.

Note: This piece has been updated to reflect the news of George Santos’s expulsion from Congress.

Faith Branch

Faith Branch is an East Coast–based freelance writer. She is currently an intern at The Nation.

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