Until this weekend, I managed to avoid parodies of George Santos for over a month. I didn’t need them; with all due respect, you don’t, either. That’s not to say that the late-night takes are somehow harmful and bad —only that it’s nearly impossible to make the real-life event much funnier.
Santos, the new Republican Congressman from Long Island, isn’t just freshly-minted; apparently, he’s been invented. His resume is essentially a parody of a congressman’s resume — nonexistent stints at Goldman Sachs, unexplained successes as an investing entrepreneur, Jewish grandparents who fled the Holocaust, and a laundry list of luminescent life stories.
None of it actually happened, which is bad enough: Santos, who self-identifies as gay, also claimed to have lost four employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting, which he did not, and to have lost his mother during the 9/11 attacks… on a day when she was actually in Brazil.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, no one, literally no one, cared during his campaign. Long Island’s underfunded local news essentially snoozed throughout Santos’ election, and his most rigorous interrogation to date came at the hands of Tulsi Gabbard, the former progressive Hawaii congresswoman-turned Fox News substitute host. (To her credit, Gabbard pressed Santos like Aaron Donald in a wafflemaker for nearly nine minutes, partially about a quote in the New York Post in which Santos blurts, straight-faced, “I said I was Jew-ish.”) Now that Santos is in Congress, it’s House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s turn to not care, having placed Santos on a congressional committee and ignored calls to cast him out.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s funny? Well, yes, it is. But the real comedy lies in the mirror Santos holds up to politics. If we haven’t all imagined our politicians like this at some point — sleazy, unprincipled, duplicitous — then we probably know someone who has. Politicians usually spend their careers in a constant struggle against this reputation, to paint themselves as honest, courageous citizens. When convenient, they leverage it against their enemies, to tar and feather them as creatures of a corrupt system. When it’s expedient, politicians try to cast themselves as outsiders to politics, driven more by some dedication to the common people than any institutional knowledge. There is a certain kind of person who exists in politics — the liar, the spineless cynic, the heartless striver who just wants power and titular status. Your congressperson is not that; they guarantee it!
Now more than ever, it’s obvious that some of them are.
It’s not just Santos, who lied his way to Congress like the Music Man with a pension. It’s Elise Stefanik, the once-moderate congresswoman who hitched her wagon to Santos’ as part of a far-right reformation. It’s Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker with a spine thinner than angel-hair spaghetti, who has yet to demonstrate that anything could motivate him to discipline his members. And it’s Ron DeSantis, one of two potential Republican presidential nominees for next year, who essentially copied the mean-spirited mentality that got his party to this point without embodying the embarrassments of the man who led them over the edge. Virtually every moral standard that the voters are supposed to value has gone unenforced by the Republican Party’s leaders; now, they’re reaping the fruits of their malfeasance.
November’s elections were the New York GOP’s first taste of real power since 2006. Their nominee for governor, Lee Zeldin, came within 7 points of unseating Kathy Hochul and only lost after President Biden made the trek up I-95 to personally intervene in the race. They made inroads in New York City itself, in part because Mayor Eric Adams has spent years making the case that Democrats don’t care enough about public safety. (“I hope the guy succeeds,” Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld declared on an autumn episode of “The Five.”) And, most importantly, New York’s Republicans overperformed in Congress, outpacing expectations when Republicans disappointed nationwide and helping the Party salvage its sliver of a House majority.
Yet, when the evidence that Santos was a snake became too much to deny, what did his local and state parties do? They massed a grits blitz of Republican officials to call on their congressman to step down. To them, the success of electing a Republican in a once-Democratic domain didn’t justify the lies that had put him there, if only because his presence was a little embarrassing. Faced with a choice between power and integrity they chose the latter — if only just this once.
The federal G.O.P. hasn’t made that call in a long time, instead opting to replace truth-tellers like, say, Liz Cheney with hard-right sycophants of the Santos variety. Sure, it was shameful. Sure, it’s bad for democracy. But it’s also rendered them comically incompetent at governance: Would McCarthy have taken fifteen ballots to become Speaker if he’d kept his colleagues on a tighter leash as Majority Leader? Would the party be dealing with the embarrassments of George Santos’ lies if they had taken less time to turn their backs on certain other liars? Probably not. Funniest of all, they’ve had the chance to fight for a different party for the last seven years and refused to take it, because it would cost them seats and offices in the short term.
Every time the party of Lincoln gave its most prominent members a free pass in the wake of bad governance and bad behavior, the G.O.P. inched farther beyond repair. Now, they’re beyond parody.