You’ll never guess what’s gotten stuck in the craw of the perpetually bothered GOP doyenne Peggy Noonan. This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal columnist took to the paper’s doughty op-ed page to sound off on George Santos, the human falsehood fountain who now serves New York’s 3rd congressional district. In a column titled “George Santos Has Got to Go,” Noonan says that she doesn’t “get why members of Congress would let the George Santos story” drag on. “It diminishes them,” she writes. “It is both a daily insult to the American people and a taunt.” She joins a boomlet of conservatives, from within and without New York, who’ve called for Santos’s exit in recent days.
As The New Republic’s Alex Shephard recently wrote, Santos actually does bring something to the table: His daily cascade of lies and humiliations provides the GOP with a much-needed distraction. Every day, his peccadilloes hit the headlines, pushing down discussion of, say, the crazy “fair tax” on which Republicans are going to vote. Perhaps Noonan and her fellow critics do not share this visionary strategy. But they’re also lacking in perspective. It is said that Santos wanted to find a way to receive lifetime health care coverage and a pension. These aren’t unreasonable things to want. It’s further said that he eyed becoming a member of Congress to get these perks, which is also quite reasonable. And then he arrived at the most reasonable conclusion of all: Where would an inveterate liar and con man be most welcomed in politics? The clear answer was the Republican Party.
Anytime a conservative gets on their high horse about Santos, the derelict lawmaker ends up looking more sinned against than sinning—and not just because it’s clear that plenty of Republicans knew what Santos was all about. Noonan says that Santos “waged war on reality”? Hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be welcome in the party that popularized this practice in numerous ways, rejecting the fruits of science and academia and turning its base against these professions. Noonan complains that Santos has “stolen from voters … a sense of what’s true.” That’s rather rich coming from someone who touts the party that lied the nation into a destructive war.
“The only entity that smoked out a fake was a small local newspaper, The North Shore Leader,” writes Noonan, seemingly unaware of the long war her party has waged to discredit the press, a project that accelerated after Newt Gingrich’s ascension. Does anyone imagine that the GOP is going to play a role in reassembling a robust, adversarial press in the numerous news deserts that have bloomed across the country? Like everything George Santos says, it is not to be believed.
Noonan’s far from the only Republican celebrity who needs to get off the fainting couch and take a look in the mirror instead. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan recently accused Santos of being a “fraudulent candidate” who “hoaxed his viewers.” It’s an interesting take! Here’s a fun fact about Paul Ryan, though: During the 2012 presidential campaign, Ryan staged a fake photo op at a Youngstown, Ohio, soup kitchen, where he pretended to wash some already-washed dishes long after everyone had already gone home. (Another interesting fact is that after Ryan’s ruse was exposed, his supporters took it out on the soup kitchen.) Maybe he’s not in the strongest position to be chiming in on the matter of George Santos.
Was Santos really so wrong to imagine that he wouldn’t be welcomed into the Republican Party with open arms? The GOP has a rich tradition of scams and flimflam, so much so that not only can you easily see how the road got paved for a celebrated con artist in the form of Donald Trump to become the standard-bearer of the party of Paul Ryan, but you can also surmise that Trump is insignificant to this larger and long-standing tendency within the contemporary Republican Party. In 2012, The Baffler’s Rick Perlstein spelunked into the depths of the conservative movement’s grift-industrial complex, chronicling how direct-mail titan Richard Viguerie unleashed the floodgates for a million get-rich-quick schemes and snake oil testimonials to find their way into their supporters’ mailboxes, the better to shake them down for whatever loose change could be prised from their pockets. Writing for The New Republic, Jeet Heer explained how the GOP’s anti-intellectual bent softened the brains of its base, making them more susceptible to the waterfall of bunkum that routinely comprises the whole of the Republican rhetoric.
The big swindle never stopped. From penny stock scams to pump-and-dump schemes to fake medical cures, the Republican Party has become associated with treating its own voters like rubes and fleecing them to the hilt. Just this week, Talking Points Memo’s Hunter Walker reported that the people who formed the “People’s Convoy”—the aborted effort of truckers to encircle the District of Columbia in protest of various Covid-19 public health mandates—have seamlessly transformed themselves into a multilevel marketing scheme. And why not? Betsy DeVos surveys her domain from atop a mountain of Amway funny money. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
At any rate, while various conservatives pile up the hypocrisies because they’re angry at George Santos for getting caught, I have a good feeling he’s going to stick around for a while. The new GOP House majority has slim margins and its poor bedraggled leader, Kevin McCarthy, is going to need every vote he can get, up to and including that of Santos. Frankly, I don’t think Santos played his hand too badly, and given time, perhaps he might form the same strong bonds with McCarthy that the speaker has forged with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who believes that the California wildfires were caused by Jewish space lasers.
This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.