George Santos, the human, has been around since 1988. But George Santos, the nationally known, notoriously deceitful Republican congressman, has been around for only about six weeks.
Most people were introduced to that Santos in mid-December — a simpler and much more boring time. The midterm elections were over. Congress was in a lame-duck session, preparing for new leadership thanks to the GOP’s incoming sliver of a majority. And the dominant GOP storyline was Kevin McCarthy’s quest to become House speaker.
Several weeks and many news cycles later, any control Republicans once had over the narrative of their resurgence has been completely co-opted by a single freshman lawmaker from New York.
There’s been a lot of exceptional reporting about Santos that has exposed the serial liar behind the fake résumé. But there are many other members of Congress who deserve the obsessive scrutiny being leveled at a guy who is plainly using the media to further his own celebrity — and having fun doing it.
The dead-winter news cycle has only fueled the breathless coverage of Santos, who got caught lying about his education, career, finances, living arrangements, religion and name. Not only did Santos make up an entire persona, he touched the third rail of things decent people never, ever lie about: the Holocaust and 9/11. And if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Santos literally stole money from a dying dog.
Since The New York Times came out with its initial investigation into Santos, the news cycle has been churning a steady drip of new revelations, ranging from potentially criminal (Santos’ campaign logged a statistically impossible number of $199 expenses) to purely entertaining (Santos has a Brazilian drag alter-ego and enjoys a good bop!) to ridiculously speculative (Santos apparently wore a stolen $520 Burberry scarf to a “Stop the Steal” rally) to nauseatingly Beltway-centric (Santos has been spotted all over D.C., including at a popular karaoke bar near Capitol Hill.)
For six weeks, it feels like we’ve learned too much about Santos and also nothing at all. Every twist of the Santos saga is like a new episode of a show you’re being forced to watch because everybody else is — like Tiger King, but it’s 2023 and there are no tigers, only fraud.
The product is a cartoonish rendering of an allegedly corrupt congressman, one who is apparently so money-obsessed that he’ll sell out your pet and lie about his own mother for clout. Santos even blasts journalists for doing their jobs, when he isn’t trolling them with doughnuts and chicken sandwiches, a gross ploy to string along the people hounding him for answers, of which there are still none.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Santos is eating up the attention. He’s been impersonated by multiple comedians on late-night TV — performances that Santos winkingly called “terrible” in a tweet. At a recent fundraiser for McCarthy, Santos reportedly told people that he, not McCarthy, was the most famous person in the room. In what was generally seen as another trolling of — his colleagues? journalists? human decency? — Santos, who lied about being Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, delivered a speech Friday on the House floor commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Presiding over a tenuous GOP majority, McCarthy has strenuously resisted telling Santos to resign. A month into the new Congress, Santos has become the primary noise distracting from the fact that House Republicans haven’t delivered a substantive policy agenda to tackle all of the things they talked about during their midterm election campaigns, like fixing the economy, un-indoctrinating “woke” schools and combating crime.
The crime issue was something Santos campaigned on successfully to swing a battleground seat in a race that was mostly framed as a matchup between two out gay men, Santos and Democrat Robert Zimmerman. That race will go down as the biggest collective fumble of the media, political operatives and their vetting structures. “We knew this guy was shady, that he was engaged in some sketchy stuff and there was some element of grifter fraud around the campaign — to what extend, we didn’t know,” one Democrat involved in the race told HuffPost. “But much of the coverage was ‘Here’s two gay candidates’ — what does that tell anybody?”
The appetite for more Santos drama has swept up even minor characters in his life. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Gregory Morey-Parker, a Santos friend first quoted by The New York Times as a former roommate. Morey-Parker, who now lives in Massachusetts, told me the Times contacted him because it noticed he had commented on one of Santos’ old Facebook posts. He said that he and Santos first met to pursue a romantic relationship, and when that didn’t work out they remained friendly. The two briefly lived together at the home Santos shared with his mother and sister in Jackson Heights, in the Queens borough of New York City. This was roughly a decade ago and only for several weeks while Morey-Parker was looking for an apartment. He couldn’t recall the dates or Santos’ exact address.
He said it was clear to him that something wasn’t quite right about about his friend “Anthony” (Santos has gone by the name Anthony Devolder). “Things weren’t making sense. They weren’t adding up,” he said, alleging that Santos, who has claimed in financial disclosures that he is rich, didn’t work.
Morey-Parker went on to give many, many, many other interviews. We kept in touch. Then five weeks into the Santos news cycle, I got a final text from him: “Thank you for reaching out. I currently have no further comments on Congressman Santos. Best Regards, GMP.”
Around this time, I also spoke with Grant Lally, a former GOP congressional candidate and publisher of the North Shore Leader, a Long Island newspaper credited with being the only news outlet to sound an alarm about Santos before the election. Lally is another former loose Santos acquaintance who has found himself very in-demand recently. The two first met at a Long Island diner in 2020. Lally described Santos as “evasive, strangely boastful and very insecure.” For a person seeking mentorship and a political endorsement, Santos acted strangely, Lally recalled, slouching back in his chair and “enjoying himself tremendously” while “having attention paid to him.”
Though Santos is regarded with curious detachment by his colleagues in Washington, he’s viewed as a pariah back home. Long Island Republicans are already clamoring for his replacement, in two years or sooner, should Santos resign or face indictment. The GOP seems to be taking its mission more seriously now. “We just elected this guy and who is he?” Lally said, describing the initial stunned response to Santos’ unraveling. “The general perception is that he wasn’t serious and Zimmerman was serious. But elections produce strange consequences sometimes.”
Barring the revelation that Santos has invented the cure for cancer, there’s little expectation that he’ll win another term, positioning him to become one of the most notorious one-term congressmen in history. That might be exactly what he wants.