Nicholas Goldberg: George Santos is trying to take out a De León

It was great fun watching then-Congressman-elect George Santos duck and weave to avoid the media frenzy on his first day on Capitol Hill. In and out of corridors, chased down corridors by reporters, he often looked lost but kept moving, refusing to answer questions about the embellishment of his CV and the lies he has told about his background.

“Hi George, what’s your name today?” shouted a reporter. “Do you plan to resign?” called another “Why did you lie on your resume?” Santos didn’t make eye contact, but continued walking, stone-faced, often talking on his phone, though I doubt anyone was on the other end.

Santos is under extraordinary pressure. Especially when you add the growing allegations and official investigations to the incessant media attention. But, at least for now, he shows no sign of caving under the stress or resigning.

Dotted style portrait illustration by Nicholas Goldberg

Opinion columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion section.

It’s not that different from the situation of Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León, who for the past three months has barely been able to set foot in the council chamber because he’s been followed everywhere he goes. taunts angry protesters over his offensive comments about a leak. audio recording. De León ignores his opponents whenever possible (except when he gets into physical fights with them) and, like Santos, refuses to quit. “No, I’m not going to resign because there’s a lot of work ahead,” he told an interviewer.

Then there’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who has just been sworn in for a sixth term as Israel’s prime minister despite a string of bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. His criminal trial has been ongoing since May 2020, but when asked if he will resign, he says he is not going anywhere. “I feel a deep obligation to continue leading Israel in a way that guarantees our future,” he explained.

Do you see the pattern? It’s the latest trend among politicians accused of crimes: brazen about it. Stand firm in the face of accusations that in any previous era would likely have ended your career. Pretend to be on the phone, ignore the cursing and yelling, deny the charges. stone wall And see what happens.

Because why not give it a chance?

I think of it as the Al Franken effect. Franken (D-Minn.) resigned from the U.S. Senate when he was accused of sexual misconduct in 2017 rather than stay and fight, only to later conclude that he had resigned too quickly. His peers and colleagues on both sides watched closely and saw that he could have saved his job if he had just held on.

Meanwhile, they were also watching President Trump as he modeled the alternative approach, taking the brazenness to a whole new level. When candidate Trump was caught on tape singing about grabbing women by the genitals, he offered a perfunctory apology and dismissed the brouhaha as a “locker room joke.”

The Teflon president then resisted two impeachments (compared to President Nixon, who in 1974 resigned rather than face the possibility of even one), insisting that he was the victim of a “hunt of witches”.

When Trump ran for re-election, he got 74 million votes.

Wait for it as long as you can.

It is the height of arrogance and cynicism, of course, to assume that you can just shut up voters and their anger will fade away thanks to their short attention spans. But as often as not, it seems to be a decent strategy.

President Biden himself called on De León, a member of the city’s City Council, to resign, but he ignored him.

To be clear, I do not believe that politicians should necessarily resign the moment they are accused of a crime. Politicians accused of criminal behavior should be given the opportunity to stand trial and present a defense before they are hanged. Unproven claims shouldn’t destroy careers.

But many of these cases are not about unproven claims. Santos, for one, faces the facts, as far as I can tell. The schools he says he attended, the jobs he said he had, the properties he owned, whether he was Jewish—documents and direct fact-checking do not support his claims. I shouldn’t wait for this scandal to be over and then proceed as if everything is normal.

In the end, whether the quarry works comes down not to the seriousness of the transgression or even the quality of the evidence, but to simple politics. Santos could successfully hang on until voters forget about him, or he could be forced out tomorrow.

“I’ve done nothing wrong, period. I’m not resigning,” the New York governor said. Andrew Cuomo in 2021, when he was facing allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. Three months later, however, he did just that, because he had few political allies left, new allegations emerged, and the state attorney general, from Cuomo’s own party, had issued a 165-page report on his misconduct.

Franken resigned after losing the support of Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and other key allies in the early days of the #MeToo movement.

In the case of De León, politics continues to play. It looks defiant, even with a recall campaign underway. We’ll see if he can avoid the resignation.

But the larger point is this: We’re living in an age where voters not only have short attention spans, but the bar for what constitutes unforgivable misconduct has been raised beyond previous imagination. Thanks in part to Trump, but also to many others, voters are used to, and even expect, bad behavior from their leaders.

No wonder officials who get caught think they should also wait and see if voters will forget or forgive.

But when it comes to serious transgressions — and Santos’ repeated lies to voters surely qualify — they shouldn’t.

@Nick_Goldberg

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