How Rep. George Santos uses MAGA playbook to survive amid lies and scandals
Rep. George Santos has a plan to survive — and it’s straight out of the MAGA playbook.
Mocked by late night comics and mostly shunned by his own party’s leaders, the controversial Long Island Republican has found a political home in the far-right wing of the GOP.
Santos, who admits to lying about much of his background, now says he’s a victim of the liberal media, Deep State prosecutors and so-called Republicans in name only, the same cast of villains that former President Donald Trump and Fox News hosts rail against.
“MAGA world is a safe harbor for Santos, perhaps the only one he has left,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University on Long Island. “This is the ultimate play for him. He’s been embraced by them.”
After winning election as a trailblazing gay son of Brazilian immigrants, Santos has started taking unlikely hardline stands on guns like honoring the deadly AR-15 assault weapon used in most mass shootings as America’s “national gun.”
He also sides with MAGA colleagues like Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on banning LGBTQ-themed books and opposing drag shows, even though he has been pictured dressing as a woman in his parents’ homeland of Brazil.
The end game for Santos may not be winning reelection to the suburban seat filled with moderate swing voters that he won last year in a huge upset. The NY-03 district includes most of northern Nassau County and a slice of eastern Queens.
“It makes zero electoral sense given the district he’s in,” said Jacob Rubashkin, a reporter and analyst for Inside Elections, a non-partisan group that lists the seat as a toss-up in 2024. “This is suburban Long Island, not Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert country.”
He may aim to become a martyr to the MAGA cause to help him launch an enduring career as a talking head — or at least help keep him out of prison.
“He’s effectively giving up the seat by going so far to the right,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of public policy at CUNY’s Baruch College, coincidentally one of the schools that Santos falsely claimed to have attended as a star volleyball athlete. “But he’s keeping himself in the MAGA cocoon, which may be the point.”
Santos was a virtual unknown when he burst on to the national political scene last year for all the wrong reasons.
He was hammered by reports that he lied about his education and work experience. He falsely claimed Jewish heritage and that his grandparents fled the Holocaust.
Santos has even been accused of running off with $3,000 in donations earmarked for a homeless veteran’s dying dog.
Federal and state prosecutors are investigating a raft of potential crimes, including recent reports that he brokered a murky sale of a $19 million mega-yacht from one GOP donor to another. An ex-con former roommate accuses Santos of running a credit card-skimming scam.
The House ethics committee launched its own probe of campaign finance discrepancies.
The seemingly never-ending string of scandals has made Santos political poison, especially for fellow Republicans.
GOP lawmakers in the New York delegation have rushed to put as much distance as possible between them and Santos. Several have called on him to resign.
“There are a lot of rational Republicans on Long Island,” said Bob Liff, a Democratic campaign strategist.
Santos isn’t getting much love from voters, either. Nearly 80% of those surveyed in his NY-03 district want him to quit, including a majority of Republicans.
The biggest fear among the GOP is that he will refuse to go quietly — and singlehandedly drag them down in the upcoming 2024 elections.
“Long Island Republicans see him as an existential threat,” Levy said. “They are terrified of paying the political price for him. They will go to the end of the Earth, or the Island, so to speak, to get rid of him.”
That may not happen.
Santos defiantly refuses to step down and recently filed legal papers to run for reelection.
Despite all the baggage, he could certainly make life difficult for the GOP if he runs in a primary next year, especially if Trump is running as a MAGA standard bearer.
Democrats, on the other hand, want Santos to hang around as long as possible.
A liberal group recently unveiled plans for a $45 million campaign to take back the seats of all six New York Republican freshmen congressmen who won election in a remarkable midterms sweep in the Empire State.
The poster child? George Santos.