George Santos won his election on Nov. 3 against Democrat Robert Zimmerman in New York’s wealthiest district, and one of the wealthiest in the country. But as we know now, the person for whom the majority of voters cast their ballots was an imposter created to appeal to the district’s Wall Street types with big checkbooks and politics that have reddened in the Trump years. Suddenly this Brazilian, Jewish, immigrant, gay, CUNY Baruch graduate and Goldman Sachs alum was possibly none of those things.
Still, Santos’ election has provided a valuable service for his district by exposing something deeper than a fraudulent résumé: the dirty laundry of a local Republican Party with big ambitions but a weak leadership pipeline. And ultimately, that’s a good thing — for Democrats, as well as for the Republicans whom Santos deceived during his campaign.
It’s been equal parts fascinating and horrifying to see the area of Long Island where I grew up making national headlines. I always understood it to be a fairly liberal district, though throughout the ’90s and the aughts it was represented by Republican mainstay Peter King. But when a new district map was drawn in 2012, King’s district was redrawn, and Jericho and its neighboring towns became part of a more liberal district represented by Democrat Steve Israel. And when Israel announced his retirement from Congress in 2016, local politician Tom Suozzi threw his hat in the ring and won.
The Suozzi years in NY-3 were, to put it nicely, unremarkable. As a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan group of members of Congress that included Democrats who thought working with Republicans was more important than passing legislation to guarantee basic human rights — he hugged the middle of the road and championed a provision of the Build Back Better bill to save money for the rich. So when he decided to run for governor last year to challenge incumbent Kathy Hochul, he was widely met with questions like “Why?” and “Who?” But Suozzi’s vacancy created an opportunity for a new representative to make a splash. And with Santos, we got a full-blown tidal wave.
Now one of the local party groups involved with Santos, the Nassau County GOP, is trying to distance itself from this political third rail, and it even convened a news conference Wednesday morning for what it billed as a “major announcement.” The party chairman, Joseph Cairo, stood in front of cameras with a gaggle of fellow Republicans behind him and said of Santos: “He’s disgraced the House of Representatives, and we do not consider him one of our congresspeople. Today, on behalf of the Nassau County Republican Committee, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
Other local Republican officials took the mic to say they, too, would never stoop to cavort with the likes of George Santos. It was an incredibly rich display: a group of steadfast Donald Trump supporters convincing themselves they’d taken some moral high ground by denouncing a proven liar. “He’s unified the country in their opposition to him. He’s a national joke. He’s an international joke. And this joke’s got to go,” said local leader Donald Clavin. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman added: “How do you deal with someone who is an out-and-out liar? And I couldn’t stomach doing that anymore. He’s basically confessed. He needs help. This is not a normal person.”
But the real tell was Cairo’s admission Wednesday that Santos came recommended “not enthusiastically” when New York’s new district map dropped last spring and suddenly it appeared a Republican might have a chance at the seat. He admitted the county party’s vetting system was weak, but it sounded an awful lot like trying to pass the buck to a newer part of the district.
Santos had run in 2020 with little money or fanfare and lost handily to Suozzi. But he’d hitched his wagon to Trump, having attended the Mar-a-Lago New Year’s party last year, and suddenly his star in the local party was rising. And come Election Day 2022, the district was crawling with Santos signs, with barely a trace of his opponent, Zimmerman.
Now, as much as Long Island Republicans try to say Santos isn’t representative of who they are, if they’re really honest with themselves, he is the very embodiment of their values. And the more people who know that, the better off everyone is.
Although it may be wishful thinking, perhaps this puts politicians everywhere on notice that in this age of information, telling tales will come back to bite you.