Amazingly, George Santos Is a Member of Congress

The GOP strategy of acclimatizing us to scandal is still working.

George Santos stands at a lectern and points toward the camera, smiling.
George Santos speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas in November. (Scott Olson / Getty)

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Amid the fight for the House speaker’s gavel, it was easy to forget that George Santos is now actually a member of Congress.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.


This Guy

Remember Herschel Walker, the Georgia football star who was a shoo-in for a Senate seat—until the press discovered the children he didn’t acknowledge and the abortions he’d allegedly paid for? The Republican Party decided to tough it out with Walker, but the humiliation was too much for voters in a state that sent Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress, and Walker narrowly lost.

Narrowly. It is amazing to realize that Walker lost by only a few points, when not so long ago, a candidate with his baggage (and inability to speak in coherent sentences) would have simply dropped out of the race. Surely, we’d reached the bottom of what even the most jaded voters would tolerate.

Or so I thought until I started following the improbable tale of George Santos—so far, that does seem to be his name—the weird fabulist who has been elected to the Congress of the United States of America. Almost everything about the life story Santos has told is a lie; likewise, he has not, so far, been able to adequately explain where he got all the money that he poured into his campaign.

As you might expect, this has caused fury in his district, powered a recall movement, and led the national Republicans to act on principle and refuse to seat him in Congress.

I am, of course, kidding. Nothing in that last sentence happened. If George Santos can make stuff up, so can I, but The Atlantic requires that I tell you when I’m joking.

There was a time when congressional candidates generally had to tell at least some of the truth if they were caught lying. Santos is amazing: His double-downs and elisions tumble out effortlessly but pointlessly, even if he does manage to muster a certain amount of boyish charm while stepping on rake after rake. When did his mother die? Well, that depends on what when or die means. Did he work in high finance? Well, not really, but again, it might depend on what high means. Did he go to college? Well, he’s been near a college or two. Close enough. Is he gay or straight, Jewish or Catholic? Did his family die in the Holocaust in Europe? Are they from Brazil, or anywhere in this solar system on our side of the asteroid belt?

You can trip over some fibs in public life, and you can weather a few indiscretions. Normally, however, you cannot survive telling a tale that has more fakery in it than the entire cover story of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, the two fictional Soviet spies in the TV series The Americans. (At least Philip and Elizabeth have real jobs.) I am not saying that George Santos is a spy or a plant. Deep-cover agents are far more competent than Santos is at … well, everything, but especially at lying.

Even one of Santos’s campaign fundraisers tried the Man of Mystery approach, reportedly presenting himself to GOP donors as Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff. This might even be a crime, which is probably why Santos, his lawyers, and everyone else have dummied up and refused to answer any more questions about it. But it is revealing that some guy allegedly impersonated the Republican leader’s chief of staff to raise money and gave it to a serial liar who then got elected to Congress—and that this escapade hasn’t been even more of a story.

Like Walker, Santos himself isn’t really the issue. The problem is a Republican Party that has come to expect its voters to put up with anything rather than lose one vote in Congress. And with rare exceptions, this gamble—that the party faithful are either too polarized, too numb, or too inattentive to care—has paid off. This is why Kevin McCarthy had to fight for his political life against the likes of Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert and Andy Biggs. Worse yet, it’s why he had to count on Taylor Greene and Donald Trump himself as his allies.

Santos, to his credit, sat there quietly and did as he was told during the speakership fight. (There is an accusation that he flashed a white-power sign when he voted, but even if true, that’s not even close to disqualifying in the GOP these days.) But now that most of the drama is over, no one cares that a complete fraud is sitting in the House. If he’s removed from Congress, it will likely be over money, not ethics; both U.S. and New York State officials are looking into his murky finances. It might have been nice to see the voters and a political party stand on principle, but the Republican project of telling us all to just get used to it is proceeding apace.

Related:


Today’s News

  1. Intense rains have caused flooding in parts of Los Angeles. At least 15 people have died across the state since late December, and tens of thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate.
  2. The Justice Department launched a review into the discovery of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, where Joe Biden had a private office after serving as vice president.
  3. On a surprise trip to Ukraine, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed that Berlin will send more weapons to the country.

Evening Read

An image of blue birds flying away while holding a red circle with a dash through it, of the sort seen on "No Smoking" signs
Paul Spella / The Atlantic; Getty

Twitter Was the Ultimate Cancellation Machine

By Kaitlyn Tiffany

Whatever else it is, Twitter is a place where the average person can subject others to their displeasure. They have been mistreated by Southwest Airlines. They have been angered by the comments of a man who sells beans. They have learned, to their horror, that the father of their favorite indie-pop star previously worked for the U.S. State Department. In posting about these things in a venue where the target of scorn might actually see the complaint—along with perhaps millions of other people—the aggrieved may experience some instant relief. If you want accountability on social media, you tweet.

Which raises a weird question: If Twitter withers under Elon Musk, where will we go with our beefs? Even before Musk’s takeover, the platform was supposedly shedding its most valuable users; now many others are expected to leave as the platform becomes glitchier and more toxic.

Twitter has never been perfect, but it has been functional. The options for those seeking justice there exist on a spectrum from the silly to the profound; most are somewhere in the middle.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break

A woman consoles her young niece, while a robot-doll creepily observes them in "M3GAN"
Geoffrey Short / Universal Pictures

Read. The first three books from Atlantic Editions, our new book imprint: essay collections by Atlantic staff writers Sophie Gilbert and Megan Garber, and senior editor Lenika Cruz.

Watch. M3GAN, in theaters, a zany horror film starring a killer-robot doll that is just what 2023 needs.

Play our daily crossword.


P.S.

When I was a boy, I loved astronomy. I even had a telescope for a while. I was never very good at using it, and I could really focus only on the moon. But I still remember the thrill of using a lunar map to find the landing sites of the Apollo missions and some of the earlier unmanned probes. I did manage to spot Mars—it was just a fuzzy red disk—but I was (and remain) a science-fiction nerd, and so, after years of watching Star Trek and reading The War of the Worlds, I felt like I was peering into a dangerous mystery.

I am older now, and when I look to the sky, the beauty of the stars is tangled up in questions about eternity that these days, as you might imagine, seem more pressing to me. Perhaps this is why I find myself boyishly excited all over again about the approach of a green comet that last visited Earth some 50,000 years ago. There is something comforting in thinking of the universe as a cozy place where a comet, last seen by Neanderthals, returns to find us a spacefaring species. We spend so much time worrying about our own extinction that it’s a relief to think of ourselves as the descendants of creatures who might well have looked up with the same wonder as I will soon, and the ancestors of beings whose lives we cannot even yet imagine. Fifty thousand years isn’t an eternity, but for me, it’ll do until eternity gets here.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.