Commentary

George Santos is a problem for Republicans because he’s such a small-time grifter

WASHINGTON, DC - September 30, 2023: U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) leaves the Capitol after voting no on a bill to avert a government shutdown.
U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) Photo: Shutterstock

A brash New Yorker with a fondness for porn stars likes to take people’s money but not deliver on his promises. He lies about his personal wealth and uses his campaign funds as a piggy bank.

So why is Rep. George Santos (R-NY) facing expulsion from Congress while Donald Trump, who can be described exactly the same way, is well on his way to being renominated for president?

Santos is hardly an outlier in the Republican party. The GOP has made grifting a kind of political art. This isn’t something that Democrats made up. It’s something that the National Review, the house organ of the conservative movement, has called out.

Right-wing PACs regularly rip off small donors by promising to take their campaign contributions and use them to fight evil liberals. Instead, the PACs use the donations to line their own pockets. In just one example the National Review cited, one set of PACs run by the same team raised $23 million dollars and gave only $109,000 to candidates.

Those are the supposedly sleazy PACs. Trump took the grifting to a whole new level. Of course, he was an expert, having already raked in money (and been sued) for his bogus Trump University, filed questionable tax returns, and inflated and devalued his property as suited his financial needs. (He’s now in court in New York for the last one.)

Trump set online donations up in such a way that people were unwittingly contributing weekly to his campaign, not just once. He used his Stop the Steal rhetoric to raise $250 million for what Trump called an Official Election Defense Fund. Instead, it all went directly to Trump’s PAC, where it was spent on heaven knows what. If the cries of a stolen election were the Big Lie, this was, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), “the Big Rip-Off.”

So why is Santos in so much trouble when grifting is all the rage in his party? His problem is that he thought too small.

While Trump was stiffing contractors to build skyscrapers and casinos, Santos was allegedly stealing money meant for surgery for a man’s dying dog. Santos was supposedly forging signatures on campaign documents himself instead of having an armada of attorneys arranging things for him. Santos is accused of repeatedly engaging in, by GOP standards, scrounging for couch change.

It didn’t help that Santos doesn’t have the personal charisma to get away with stealing. Instead of a larger-than-life figure full of charm, he makes it all too easy to believe every story told about him.

The Republican party is perfectly comfortable with defrauding its small donors, not just in campaigns but with products of all kinds. Mike Huckabee, a former presidential candidate and father of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee (R), pushes a sleep aid called Relaxium that was the subject of a class action suit for being useless. During the COVID pandemic, the right-wing preyed on the pocketbooks of its followers with bogus cures for the virus, like televangelist Jim Bakker’s “Silver Solution.”

So don’t believe for a second that Republicans suddenly have an outbreak of ethics in their ranks. Santos is an embarrassment the way a sloppy numbers runner is to a big mob operation. He’s expendable because he’s such small potatoes. If anything, Santos’ mistake was that he aimed too low to pass the party’s standard for grifting.

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