Can Santos Survive the Lies?
For a couple of days, Congressman-elect George Santos was the subject of a lot of notoriety. The good kind. He was a gay Republican who took a New York Long Island congressional seat – one of three who flipped seats in that very blue region. They represented most of the margin by which the GOP took control of the House. Santos was a rising star in the Republican Party – or so they thought at the time.
What we see is not a rising star, however. It appears to be a flaming (no pun intended) meteor falling from the political firmament. His fame brought attention to his resume. He had fibbed. Oh, not an exaggeration here and there, but bald-faced lies here AND there.
Virtually everything in his published biography was untrue. He did not attend college. He did not work for Goldman Sachs. He was not Jewish – or even “Jew-ish,” as he later explained. His family did not escape the Holocaust. The person on paper was a fictional character. The lies were so deep and so extensive that it would be fair to question whether he was even gay.
He certainly was elected under false pretenses – but ironically, virtually all the lies were NOT reasons that generally influence votes. He was elected for what he said on the campaign trail in terms of issues. Voters decided to vote for Santos because of his stand on inflation, immigration, crime, and other Republican issues. Voters do not generally vote on personal resumes – the thing you see on the front page of campaign brochures along with photos of the family.
In my long career as a political consultant, I have always advised clients put the personal biography stuff on the back of the brochure. For the most part, voters do not care about what college a candidate went to … or where they worked … or what hobbies they have. My mantra was “put the issues up front.”
On the other hand, voters do not like to be lied to … period. And especially on such a grand scale. We can never know if Santos could have been elected by being honest – the poor boy making good is a great personal history.
Santos’ fate is still uncertain. There are calls for his resignation – even among some Republicans. Democrats are calling for all sorts of investigations – by prosecutors and by the House. It would seem that a censure is possible — but being booted from the House is unlikely. That extreme punishment is generally reserved for members who commit serious crimes.
To the best of my recollection the last House member to be denied his seat was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of New York. In 1967 he was barred from taking his seat for a series of misconducts – taking lady friends on congressional junkets … not paying a slander judgement … and for hanging out in Florida instead of in Washington during sessions. The voters of Harlem put him back in Congress in the next election.
Santos may be in more trouble than he might have been because of the way he has handled the matter. He has been dismissing the criticism as unjustified. Yes, he made up his personal history, but it is no big deal. That was exactly the wrong way to address the matter.
He should have admitted to his sin with an abject apology. Talk about how he has always felt inferior because of his minority background and sexual orientation. How he had low self-esteem and indulged in self-hate. That he did not create the phony Ron Santos for the campaign, but it was part of his weakness since childhood. (I am speculating, but I do think that may be the explanation. There always is one.)
He then should have made an abject apology to the voters – and committed to setting himself on a path of honesty in the future. He should have announced that he was entering treatment to specifically address his problem. Americans are very forgiving.
House Speaker McCarthy could have taken a “let’s give him a chance” approach – instead of seeming to hold off criticism or punitive action because he needed the vote. It is certainly arguable that McCarthy’s response would have been different if he had a 20 to 30 seat margin.
Members of Congress have survived worse. Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank survived having his male lover running a prostitution operation out of the Congressman’s apartment – and Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds survived statutory rape when he engaged in sex with an underage male page. Both went on to become highly “respected” members of the Democrat House Caucus.
Unfortunately for Santos, he chose the dismissive route over a sincere mea culpa. Rather than seek public sympathy and forgiveness, he projected the opposite – diminishing his transgression … appearing arrogant … and making himself even more unpopular.
In one sense, there is no excuse for the gross misrepresentations he advanced, but there can be a reason – one that could have been more acceptable to the voters. Is it too late to come clean and beg forgiveness? Never too late – but it will be a lot harder now. And so far, he does not seem to be inclined to do so.
Democrats will be chewing on the Santos issue for some time – knowing that their allies in the news media will keep the controversy on the front burner as part of their ongoing anti-Republican narratives. As far as the outcome for Santos, we will have to wait and see. Unless he is motivated to resign, he is most likely to hold his congressional seat until the next election.
So, there ‘tis.