Commentary

Democratic incompetence elected George Santos to Congress

George Santos
George SantosPhoto: George Santos campaign website

Among the many telling details that have emerged about the fictional character known as Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is the one involving his one-time boyfriend, Pedro Vilarva. Vilarva moved out when he discovered what a liar Santos was. How did Vilarva discover Santos’ lies?

He googled him. 

Or, more accurately, according to The New York Times, he decided “to plug Mr. Santos’s name into a search engine, where he found that Mr. Santos was wanted by Brazilian police.”

Which raises the question: with all the resources at its disposal, why couldn’t the Democratic party do the same thing that an 18-year-old did?

There are a lot of people to blame for Santos’ election. A significant amount of media attention has bemoaned the demise of local media that would typically smoke out such a monumental liar. One local paper in Santos’ district, The North Shore Leader, did write about Santos’ lies, pointing out the discrepancies between his claims of owning mansions and the lack of property records to back those claims up.

None of the other media outlets in the New York metropolitan region–home to four daily newspapers–bothered to follow up.

There’s no excuse for that oversight. But the absolute neglect is reporters taking their signals from the campaigns. Opposition research is bread-and-butter for political reporters, and it’s evident that the Democrats never did any oppo research on Santos because reporters would have salivated to have had the details that emerged post-election before voters went to the polls.

Instead, Democrats did not seem to know or care about the extent of Santos’ fabrications. What they decided to do was just use a standard template to run against Santos. Rather than taking the time to figure out who they were running against, they just decided to paint him as an extremist.

Just two weeks before the election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was branding Santos “one of the most radical Republicans New York has to offer. Unfortunately for the GOP, Santos’ inability to disguise his fringe far-right antics is sabotaging Kevin McCarthy’s dream of sneaking a GOP yes-man in New York’s Third Congressional District.”

The timeworn rhetoric just sounded like background noise to voters. It’s what Democrats were saying about every Republican. It didn’t tell them anything about Santos. It certainly didn’t tell them anything about Santos’ unending stream of lies, which were hiding in plain sight.

Santos’ Democratic opponent has claimed he tried, really tried, to tell voters, but, well, you know. “We always knew Santos was running a scam against the voters in our congressional district,” Robert Zimmerman told Semafor. “And we raised many of these issues and questions, but we were drowned out in a governor’s race, where crime was the focus.”

What makes this political malpractice worse is that this was Santos’ second time running for Congress in the district. Democrats were so confident that their political strategy was the right one that they never bothered to investigate who they were running against.

In a bit of karma, the head of the DCCC, gay former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, lost his bid for re-election in an upstate New York district after elbowing another gay congressman, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), out of the district. 

Indeed, the incompetence of New York Democrats this election cycle is often cited as the reason why the Republicans won the House of Representatives. Democrats lost four seats in New York state, the exact margin of the Republican majority.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of blame to go around for Santos’ election. The GOP didn’t vet him any more than the Democrats did, and much as Republicans want a winning candidate, they also want one that will last more than one term. The mainstream media was asleep at the wheel, too, preferring to cover campaigns as horse races instead of doing hard research.

But the Democrats had a unique role to play in Santos’ success. In other campaigns, like the Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign, they made a point of delving into the backgrounds of their opponents and broadcasting their findings far and wide. Of course, the stakes seemed higher for a statewide race where the candidate participated in the January 6.

So now the first gay Republican in Congress in years is a punch line under investigation. For Republicans clinging to a bare majority in the House, he’s an asset to be protected at all costs. For everyone else, he’s an embarrassment. It’s an embarrassment that could have been avoided if Democrats had just done the work they should have.

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